For centuries people have used willow bark (aspirin) to relieve pain. No one knew why it stopped pain, but they kept taking it because it worked. One way to evaluate a religious system is to ask, “Is it workin’ for ya?”
Folks love to say that there are many paths to God, and all of them will get you there, but do some provide a better highway? As you read my perspective on the various religions in coming weeks remember that each religion is a massive topic. I will select aspects of each religion which are central to that belief system.
To be fair, we must look at the broad effect of a religion, not exceptional instances. A Hindu medical doctor in my city treated many patients using unsterile needles resulting in patients contracting hepatitis C. The doctor was trying to cut expenses and make more money. Does this mean Hindus encourage greed? No.
Here is a list of categories showing ways a particular belief might be influential for good or bad. Let’s start with a non religion, atheism. Fill in your scores before reading my perspective, evaluating each on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the worst and 5 the best.
- Human equality – Race, class status, women _____
- Civil liberties – freedom of speech, religion _____
- Rational – encourages reason and science _____
- Respect for life – protect humans and nature _____
- Family roles – marriage, parenting, children _____
- Work ethic – laws against stealing and lying _____
- Ecological care – environment, animals _____
- Merciful – forgiveness and rehabilitation _____
Many people are atheists. How does this affect their culture? Nietzsche so disliked what he saw as the effects of religion that he said, “I find it necessary to wash my hands after I have come in contact with religious people.” Bertrand Russell believed religions do more harm than good. In recent years atheists have decided to become anti-religion crusaders. Here in Las Vegas there was a billboard that read, “Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” A sign in Seattle said, “Millions are good without God.”
Can we document that an atheistic society somewhere on earth produced a halcyon world or a hellish world? How about communist regimes such as North Korea, the former Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, or the Shining Path in Peru?
Atheists don’t have absolute rules such as the Ten Commandments. Therefore there is no way of predicting what they will promote as good behavior. For example, the Shining Path terrorized villagers believing that they had to kill all the religious people before they could set up a communist state that would better people’s lives. The Christians had to hide in the fields at night when the Shining Path came seeking to kill anyone they could find.
Marxism was based on the idea that religions were the cause of much social injustice. But it is also historically accurate that Marxist communists perpetrated many evils such as Stalin’s absolute government where some 40 million Russians were murdered for “the good of the state.”
In theory an atheist could justify various behaviors from veganism to cannibalism. You may recall the account of the man in the Netherlands who invited anyone to come visit him, have sex and then be eaten. Someone actually turned up, had sex and was subsequently eaten. Since the behavior was consensual who’s to say it was wrong? A song by Cole Porter comes to mind.
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked upon as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything goes.”
Some will argue that atheistic states can be amazing places to live. China is officially atheist, but a survey cited in the state-approved China Daily, found that 31.4% of Chinese aged 16 and above, or about 300 million, are religious. Their culture is influenced by Buddhism and other religions. Sweden has a low percentage of people attending church, but their Lutheran history has had a major effect on the culture. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2009/02/28/us/28beliefs.html?referer=
Are atheists a good source for logic and science? Don Sutterfield, a former pentacostal Christian now volunteers each summer at Camp Quest. The goal of this camp is to give children of humanists a summer camp experience kind of like Christian camp. The children learn about the scientific method and study environmental issues. They are given a project to prove that invisible unicorns supposedly found in the forest, do not exist. I kind of hope none of these kids grow up to be scientists, since it’s pretty tough to prove a negative, especially when you are looking for one creature in one little woods. Does this unicorn search help atheists extrapolate that you cannot find God in the universe? I’m confused.
Now go back to your original scores for atheism. Would you change any scores? We will consider the effects of animism in my next blog. Hold that thought.