SmartLX www

The short answer is yes with a big but.

Good deeds done in the name of religion could have been done in the name of something else, or in no name at all. Charity for example is not an exclusively religious quality or act. It’s a natural urge.

By contrast there are bad deeds done which only the religious could have perpetrated. What possible rationale is there for female genital mutilation, other than saving the poor woman’s soul by crippling her sexuality? It’s like one of the horrible choices forced upon victims in the Saw films: be damaged or be damned.

To those who point to a religion’s benefits as evidence that the religion is indispensable, I say that without it we would easily find reasons to be just as good, but we’d struggle to find reasons to be nearly as bad.

Posted: November 13th 2007

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brian thomson www

I think it’s fair to say that religious authority provided a kind of civil government among the Bronze Age tribes of the Middle East. We’re talking about societies where there was no central authority in the sense we know today, and secular authority derived directly from religious leadership (e.g. Moses).

An example I like to use is Pork: it needs special handling, without which it can be dangerous to health. Before the days of refrigeration it was common to store meat by hanging in e.g. an enclosed tent or building, and cooking was not always possible. Trichinosis was a problem, as it can be today. Curing (with salt or smoke) had not been invented yet, so banning pork on health grounds was not unreasonable. (More theories and details: here)

In the absence of any “public health authority”, how do you get the word out to the people, in a form they will listen to? Make it an article of the dominant religion: thou shalt not eat swine. That way, the law becomes ageless, handed down from generation to generation, not subject to change in the light of new knowledge.

If this sounds like the way things are done in Islamic regimes, which do not accept any separation of Church and State, it’s not surprising, is it? The structure of Shariah law was set in stone well over a thousand years ago, and because it is “divinely ordained”, it is unthinkable to question its fundamental tenets. To insist on Shariah law is to wilfully ignore over a millennium of progress in understanding peoples, societies and governments, and to accept laws without questioning the reasons behind them. We’ve come a long way since then – at least, some of us have. 8)

Posted: June 20th 2007

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RTambree

Religion has inspired many people to create great works of art – e.g. Michelangelo’s paintings, Bernini’s sculptures, Mahler’s symphonies, Milton’s writings, and Eurasia’s many splendid architectural wonders: temples, mosques and cathedrals etc.

However, this artistic urge in humans can manifest itself in response to any prevailing cultural milieu. James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the great works in modern literature, is a secular work, Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen is based on Teutonic pagan myths, Tolkien’s much-loved The Lord of the Rings is partly inspired by Norse and Celtic mythology, while Frank Gehry’s modern architecture is free from religious inspiration.

So religion doesn’t have any special status in doing good.

Defenders of religion often point to the abolition of slavery or the civil rights movements as inspired by religion. However the same religions were used for centuries to defend slavery and racism.

An examination of the standard of living between the countries of the world reveal that it is the less religious countries of north-western Europe who have better standard of living across a range of criteria: gender and class equality, health care, education, literacy, longevity, low infant mortality, cleanliness of the environment, foreign aid, and civil liberties. On the other hand, many religious countries repress their populations by way of the subjugation of women, denial of equal rights to homosexuals, gross income and wealth inequality, high military spending, lower social outcomes, etc.

Posted: June 1st 2007

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