Recently I commented on a blog which belongs to a Christian. I must admit as far as I have seen he is mostly about how Christianity could be good in a sentimental way, and he himself seems rather naive in his content (but I shall suspend judgment on that, after all I do not have enough information about his state of mind).
I commented on his post titled “The Faith of Atheism“. I started with a hypothetical example about the statement “If the atheist truly did not believe, he or she would not bother to deny” and then moved to point out why Pascal’s wager (the other part of his post) was rigged. In his response he entirely missed the points I made, and when I made another comment addressing them, I’m fairly sure he erased my comment (though I asked him since I thought I might have forgotten to post it, but have not received an answer to this day).
Now, I do not wish to bash him much, though I think the irony of one putting oneself on a moral high ground but then trying to shut other people out is too much not to mention.
But in his response to my comment he asked a question about what I had said: “May I ask what bothers you about faith, or people of faith?”. Of course I had said “I am bothered and appalled by religion, that’s why I think about it, and that’s why I will keep rejecting it.” One immediately realizes that the question asked is irrelevant to the comment made. “People of faith” do not necessarily bother me, some of them do and some of them don’t. But religion is another story.
I wish to elaborate a little more than my answer to him about this particular question. Aside from the constant harassment from some fundamentalist religious people directed towards gay men and women, and aside from death threats and being called almost all the names in “the book” by the very people who think they are fulfilling their moral duty, I don’t have much problem with “people of faith”. Perhaps a part of this is because I do not tend to have the mindset of collectivism, rendering judgement upon individuals based on the “label” or “tribe” I think they belong to. Some people of faith are purely evil (in a very earthly sense), and some are genuinely good people with a heart.
But, what is it that religion does to its devoted followers that bothers me? Could I name anything that the institution does, and cannot be blamed on small groups of fundamentalists? In other words, the whole issue of: is it just some bad people, or is it religion?
I believe the worst damage that religion does is to morality: Religions are in the business of creating mindless beasts out of ordinary people. When a certain perception of morality in a part of history is hijacked by an authority, every inch of moral progress becomes laboring for the society that bears such surrender of mind. Contrary to what people may think, what we perceive to be “the right thing to do” is not always the same. Never an everlasting “moral law” has been found to be able to determine what is the right thing to do, nor any of the theories that we know about morality are complete.
In the midst of all this, you find those who dare suggesting they have access to what is right and what is not, and more importantly, that knowledge is absolute. The very notion of morality from authority itself is philosophically problematic as Euthyphro dilemma shows. But regardless, to them “Being gay is wrong” is an example of a value that never changes because it has been dictated by their all knowing authority, no matter how much one reasonably argues against it.
And after 40 years of scientific and medical discovery, when finally that one inch of progress is achieved regardless of the tireless resistance of the very same mindless beasts, again they turn and say “Oh wait, that was not what the “real” religion says. Our “real” religion is completely innocent. In fact, it has been saying the very same thing all along!” No it has not. The irony that yet again another set of seemingly “known” values has been hijacked by the same authority is just too great not to cry out for. The same story yet again. Never the question is asked “What if we are wrong?” No. That authority does not allow it.
I believe the notion of “moral hijacking” to be the real harm of religions, particularly Abrahamic ones. Those who gather crowds in churches and mosques and create sheep like followers. Sadly the sheep is far less of a brainless danger than a lot of followers to these religions.
Note: I do not think that all who call themselves “Christian” or “Muslim” are mindless beasts. I happen to think that they are not religious if they use reason to judge things as good or bad rather than what is dictated to them.