UI 066: Would the World be Better Without Religion?


By Jsjsjs1111 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

While having discussions among friends I’ve hearing a recurring theme.

“Religion is the cause of much of the evil in our world.”

When I ask them to elaborate and give examples, they come up with the most obvious first:

Radical Islam:  ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, Iran, Al-Qaeda, on and on.

Okay, so lets move beyond the low hanging fruit.

Any non-Muslim examples?

Answer: “Sure.  Hateful ban on gay marriage.  Pro-life is anti-woman.  Anti-science creationism. ”  Basically, it comes down to the notion that the Religious Right are fascist totalitarians conspiring to take away freedoms, rights, and intelligence.

These are pretty typical answers from those who are self identified as secular, non-religious people, of which I myself was for much of my life.  But, though I was an atheist, I did not believe religion, nor money, nor greed, nor anything like that was the root of evil.  It seemed like evil was a choice, and man can choose to act evil or not… regardless of their religion (or lack of), money (or lack of), or any other factor.  Ultimately it came down to values.  Regardless of my insistence that values was the determining factor and not religion (nor class, race, sex, etc.) my fellow secularist held fast to their beliefs.

In high school and college I debated these issues regularly with a variety of people, and I would frame different arguments and debate either side.   Typically the  thoughtful “believers” had better arguments, than the thoughtful agnostics and atheists.  At times it seemed permissible to allow other people to use the “religion is evil” argument when it served me in a public debate, but privately we would discuss why I found their premise wrong and detrimental.

My spiel went something like this:

“Look, you should not try to argue that religion is evil or the root of evil, because it is too easy to refute.  Are there religious people who commit evil? Yes.  Are there nonreligious people who commit evil? Yes.  Are there acts of evil that have no connection with any religion what-so-ever?  Yes.  Do you really believe that man did not begin to act evil until religion?  Of course not.  Do you really think that were we to have some kind of cosmic white-out that erased religion from all aspects of human history there would be no evil… or even less evil? No.  So, let’s just drop that cliche as an argument against God or religion.”

Now keep in mind, those were my thoughts from my high school and college years as a struggling atheist.   Why?  It has nothing to do with me being intelligent or special… I’m average at best.  No the main thing is I strive for intellectual honesty and I welcome challenging ideas.  I did not only read atheist philosophers.  I read C.S. Lewis and Maimonides as well.  I listened to people like Dennis Prager who had intellectually sound discussions regarding God and religion.  And I valued truth over my beliefs or agenda.

Most of the people I knew then and know today who are outspoken atheists live in an intellectual bubble.  They only read Bertrand Russel, Sam Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, or the like.  While they like to think of themselves as contrarians they don’t engage the myriad brilliant authors who hold the opposing view.  It is painful.   “Why won’t you read just one theist for every 5 atheists?”  I would ask.  The typical answer, “Because there is nothing intelligent coming from believers.”

It is the same answer I heard from liberals in college who would never even consider reading a conservative essay or book.  They completely dismiss the other side as “unintelligent.”  How open minded is that?  Do liberals really think Thomas Sowell or George Gilder are not intelligent?  Do atheists really believe Maimonides or Abraham Joshua Heschel were not intelligent?  I don’t know what they really believe, but whatever it is – their default setting is “If you don’t agree with me, my university, or research studies, then you are unintelligent and are to be dismissed.”  It’s just sad and painful.

So, let’s try to take an objective look at the alternative.  What would the world be like without any religion?

First lets get clear on what “religion” is.

While religion is difficult to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who simply called it a “cultural system” (Clifford Geertz, Religion as a Cultural System, 1973). 

~ Source Wikipedia 

So broadly speaking,

religion is an organized collection of beliefscultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. 

~ (ibid)

Since religion is simply an organized system of ideas relating the human experience to some kind of organized system of existence, then a world void completely of religion would necessarily be chaos.

In other words, no religion of any sort means no structure, no organized system, and no standards or rules of behavior or consequences.  It would be the truest form of anarchy.

This is actually how Genesis describes the creation of the world.

Gen. 1:2  Now the earth was formless and empty…

והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על־פני תהום ורוח אלהים מרחפת על־פני המים׃

tohu vavohu:  Everything was without form and void.

You could understand this as “without any organization and empty of value”… a world without religion.

Ironically, people talk about the far right extremist and the religious right totalitarianism, but they don’t understand that the further right a person goes, the less government power they desire.  Hence the extreme right is anarchy (a world without religion or government), and the extremely left is totalitarianism (as the further left one moves on the political spectrum – more government power is desired.)  Interestingly both extremes must hold a fundamental belief to justify their politics: Man is basically good.  The right wing anarchist believes that man can rule himself and needs no outside influence, and the left wing totalitarian believes that man can rule man in a benevolent and upright manner.  I suppose either could also have no care regarding human goodness, and just rely on the strongest surviving.  So it could be argued that both the anarchist and the totalitarian have a similar religion where man is god and determines the system (either for himself alone or for everyone else.)

Now if you think the world would be a better place were it to be in total chaos and anarchy, then we are clear on where we differ.  But if you don’t think anarchy is a good thing, then maybe we can agree that the world is better off with religion… but we may still not agree on which religion.

Maybe you like the religion of the Left.  As Dennis Prager has stated “Leftism is the most dynamic religion.”  What does he mean by that?  Well, Leftism is a religion, as stated above, but not one that we can easily define or clarify.  The religiosity of Leftism is constantly changing and morphing to fit its agenda and keep people interested.  Hence the manipulation of language and name changes though out the years.

But there are some fundamentals of Leftism: It believes in government power (i.e. More government influence and power is good.)  It believes in rule of law (i.e. Since the other religions are hogwash, man is to regulated by a strict rule of law to ensure politically correct behavior.) It believes in limited freedoms (i.e. Criticisms of Leftist ideology means you are a “hater” and perhaps your free speech is criminal in nature.) .  Actually, there are many beliefs (dogmas) one must hold in order to be a devout Leftist.   The main one though is that your values and standards come from Leftist ideology and not any other religion.  This is why we find so many “Jews” on the left, and so much influence of the Left on religions in general.

People in general are inherently religious, but especially Jews.  We Jews need a religion like a fish needs water.  But unfortunately many Jews don’t choose Judaism as there religion.  Rather they choose Leftism or some other “ism” (environmentalism, feminism, Marxism, etc.)  All these “ism”s are modern pseudo-religions.  They give people a structure of beliefs and a like-minded culture based on those beliefs with lifestyle standards built in.  Understanding that, we can easily understand why so many Jews are on the Left even though many of the ideologies are directly opposed to Judaism (and even the state of Israel.)

So getting back to the original question: Would the world be better of without religion?

Since I think anarchy would be disastrous and lead humanity into a descent beyond my imagination. No! The world would not be better if it had no religion.

And if you are of the opinion that Left wing ideology, secularism, humanism, or any other modern form of religion would be a better alternative to the classical notion of Ethical Monotheistic religion (One God created everything and demands we act ethically towards one another), then please explain your hypothesis (you can do so in the comment area below.)

Bear in mind that every attempt man has made thus far to rid society of God based morality has led to a nightmarish existence.  Whether it be Mao and his torturous slaughter of the Chinese, or Hitler and the Holocaust… Every time man tries to rules as if he were a god tremendous tragedy ensues.

Below is from the HuffPo article I read from:

In his hilarious analysis of The 10 Commandments, George Carlin said to loud applause, “More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason,” and many take this idea as an historical fact. When I hear someone state that religion has caused most wars, though, I will often and ask the person to name these wars. The response is typically, “Come on! The Crusades, The Inquisition, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, 9/11. Need I name more?”

Well, yes, we do need to name more, because while clearly there were wars that had religion as the prime cause, an objective look at history reveals that those killed in the name of religion have, in fact, been a tiny fraction in the bloody history of human conflict. In their recently published book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone.

History simply does not support the hypothesis that religion is the major cause of conflict. The wars of the ancient world were rarely, if ever, based on religion. These wars were for territorial conquest, to control borders, secure trade routes, or respond to an internal challenge to political authority. In fact, the ancient conquerors, whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman, openly welcomed the religious beliefs of those they conquered, and often added the new gods to their own pantheon.

Medieval and Renaissance wars were also typically about control and wealth as city-states vied for power, often with the support, but rarely instigation, of the Church. And the Mongol Asian rampage, which is thought to have killed nearly 30 million people, had no religious component whatsoever.wars-pie-chart


And how does all this compare to “non-religious warfare”:

Most modern wars, including the Napoleonic Campaign, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, the Russia Revolution, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were not religious in nature or cause. While religious groups have been specifically targeted (most notably in World War II), to claim that religion was the cause is to blame the victim and to misunderstand the perpetrators’ motives, which were nationalistic and ethnic, not religious.

Similarly, the vast numbers of genocides (those killed in ethic cleanses, purges, etc. that are not connected to a declared war) are not based on religion. It’s estimated that over 160 million civilians were killed in genocides in the 20th century alone, with nearly 100 million killed by the Communist states of USSR and China. While some claim that Communism itself is a “state religion” — because it has an absolute dictator whose word is law and a “holy book” of unchallenged rules — such a claim simply equates “religion” with the human desire for power, conformance, and control, making any distinctions with other human institutions meaningless.

(source:  Huffington Post)

So in the final analysis, when we set aside our agendas, misinformation, and preconceived notions we find that:

  • Man is a religious creature.  One way or another we will formulate a system to rule and explain our existence.
  • A human world void of religion would be anarchy and chaos, and cease to have any semblance of morality.
  • There are good religions which promote good values and ethical behavior, as well as try to prevent destructive values and immoral behavior.
  • There are bad religions which promote bad values and evil behavior, and go against any opposition.
    • When these collide we see a religious war.  But most wars are far more about power, land, money, and materiality than spirituality.
  • Religion does not guarantee anything.  Neither does being without religion.
    • There are good people who are nonreligious.  There are bad people who are religious.  And vice versa.
  • Ultimately it comes down to a choice on what you choose to believe:
      • A) People are basically good
      • B) People are basically flawed (both good and evil)
        • If you believe A) then you’re religion will tend to either be based in Leftism or Libertarianism.
        • If you believe B) then you’re religion will tend to be based on the traditional religious notion based on Ethical Monotheism.


    From Prager University: What Matters Most? hint: It’s not religion, money, class, race, or sex…



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