Are We Better Off Without Religion?: Essay

I recently finished an essay for my philosophy class tackling various issues relating to the dangers of religion. Is it morally defensible to be religion? Are We Better off Without Religion? Is religion to blame for many evils done "in its name?" It was very difficult to limit this paper to three pages, but without further ado, my essay:

Religion is often a force for great evil, moral confusion, sexual repression, and a catalyst for uncritical thinking. We need not look at many of what would consider to be the “extremes” of religion such as suicide bombers, the Westboro Baptist Church, or Spanish Inquisitions to arrive at this conclusion. Almost exclusively because of religious beliefs, various religious leaders(and laypersons) have misled people into thinking that abortion is murder of a child and it should be illegal. Members of the Knights of Columbus have marched in the Philippines in an attempt to ban governmental distribution of contraceptives. Religious organizations have funneled millions of dollars into a massive campaign against gay marriage. Parents and priests teach their children that they may burn in Hell if they misbehave. Religion leads many to unhealthy sexual repression. Religion sneaks its nose into politics and tries to enforce laws based on religious beliefs instead of concerns of everyone. As Voltaire once said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Religious belief obviously has dire consequences. Beliefs inform actions and actions can harm others. We don't live in vacuums where no one else is effected by what we think and do.

Religious people often claim that while religion may appear to be responsible for a great deal of harm in the world, religion leads many to do great things. People who commit atrocities in the name of religion, they might say, are misinterpreting religion. Perhaps, one might think, religion is like a gun in which if you use it in the wrong manner, people can be harmed... as the old adage goes “Guns don't kill people, people kill people.”

Atheists would argue that all the good that can be had from religion can be had more honestly without religion and the added negative baggage from religious belief. “Who can declare what the proper interpretation of religion is,” the atheist should say. Isn't the whole name of the game to be open to interpretation? How can we only claim that someone is interpreting wrong when they do harm? Religion is very much unlike a gun because a gun is simply a vehicle to do harm while religions provide ideas and profess that such ideas are mandated by a divine authority. People don't do harm because they have a gun, but rather deal harm because of ideas they have.

I will argue that religious belief is not morally defensible. To defend my conclusion, I will argue that all good that can be had without the extra harm religion can bring about, there is a logical connection from religious commitments to harm, and that religious belief can warp one's moral concerns.

Religious persons often point to many good things that religion can bring about such as soup kitchens, hospitals, charity efforts, etc. All of these efforts can be had without referencing a deity or being religious. Non-believers, just like believers, participate in volunteer work and give to charity. The unfortunate consequences of some religious-based organizations and efforts is “selective charity.” Some groups that provide for the common good tend to exclude homosexuals, for example. Many Catholic charities have closed their doors because they refuse to provide services for homosexuals (Beckford). Some groups have gone as far as to almost blackmail cities that intend to pass gay marriage (Boorstein and Craig). The motivation for Catholic groups to exclude homosexuals is clearly religious as indicated in both articles. Charities operate under the banner of “helping everyone” instead of “helping everyone who isn't homosexual or the son or daughter of a homosexual parent or couple.” We should prefer to have charitable organizations that do not discriminate. If we can have all of the good without religion, why bother with religion?

Theists may say that people only use religion to mask bad behavior, thus religion isn't actually the cause for the bad behavior. While this statement may be true in some cases – perhaps racists used the Bible to justify slavery even though they didn't actually believe in God – it is not in all. If we take away the religious explanation for behavior in many cases, the harm would not make any sense whatsoever. Consider a recent statement from John Shimkus (R-IL), "The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a Flood. I do believe that God's word is infallible, unchanging, perfect" (Dolan). Would a statement like this make any sense whatsoever if God was taken out of the picture? Only a severely delusional person can believe that the earth will never end. The atheist can also look at a statement like this and say, “If this man didn't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, a statement like this would never be uttered” and would be correct whether or not the statement would make any sense without religious belief.

Religious beliefs can easily warp one's moral priorities. People can act on beliefs of an afterlife and greatly devalue this life because they think there is another one. People can also believe that getting into Heaven is the most important goal and sideline other important moral concerns, ostracize family members who don't believe in God, and have many moral priorities that are out of whack. The Catholic Church, for example, considers stopping gay marriage, stopping abortion, stopping the ordination of women, and opposing stem cell research to be amongst its highest moral concerns because they think that God wants them to do these things.

It's important to note that with or without religion, we are still going to have evil in this world, but we would have less evil if religion were to go away. Places of worship can be converted into meeting places and homeless shelters. Former believers can still band together and do great things. People can still take moral lessons from religions and apply them to their lives. No longer would we have such a mass of unsubstantiated beliefs and the idea that faith is admirable. A post-religious society can be had in which people demand extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims and do good just for the sake of doing good. Without religion, we can still come to the conclusion that we should help others, make this world a great place to live in, and respect other human beings. Millions are good without God. If religion is needed for good, theists should be able to answer Christopher Hitchens' challenge, “Name one moral action or statement that a religious person can make that can't be made by a non-believer.” It is very clear that religion is not needed for good and we are better off without it.

Works Cited

Beckford, Martin. "The Telegraph." Last Catholic adoption agency faces closure after Charity Commission ruling. Telegraph Media Group Ltd., 19 Aug 2010. Web. 3 Dec 2010.

Craig, Tim, and Boorstein, Michelle. "The Washington Post." Catholic Church gives D.C. Ultimatum. The Washington Post, 12 Nov 2009. Web. 3 Dec 2010.

Dolan, Eric. "God won’t allow global warming, congressman seeking to head Energy Committee says." The Raw Story, 11 Nov 2010. Web. 3 Dec 2010.