Eric_PK

There are sociopaths, and while they can be prevented, once they’re out there you can just lock them up.

But for others, to get them to kill, there are well-established ways to do it. You need to dehumanize “the enemy” – they’re cannibals, they have done bad things, or they want to attack us.

That allows you to set up a “us good them evil” dynamic, and then you can get some good killing done.

Unfortanately, it turns out that if the groups get together, the find out that the other side don’t eat their children, and they really aren’t interested in attacking us.

So, you need a more persistant difference. There are two that I know of.

The first is nationalism – we are good, and they are communists, who are by definition bad. My country right or wrong is a pretty good way to motivate some of your population.

But, by far, the best way to set up and maintain a difference is through religion. If you can convince somebody that those who have other religious beliefs are bad, then you have some really good leverage.

If you look at non-religious groups throughout the world, you won’t find a lot of hate, so, yeah, I think the world would be a lot better if there wasn’t religion.

And as a final note, for a long time, “godless communist” was a really powerful label.

Posted: December 30th 2007

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bitbutter www

First of all some disclaimers. Not all atheists want to see religion disappear. Some atheists wish they could believe in a god. Some think that, on balance, the world is better off with religion in it. Having said that, it’s true that many other atheists would be happy to see religion fade away entirely—if at all possible. I’m part of this last group.

In order to answer the question, I’ll assume for simplicity that we have already agreed that religion does do more bad than good.

Religion is just a tool

In response to the suggestion that it would be a good thing (in terms of reducing conflict in the world) if religion was to fade away there’s a frequently heard reply that goes something like this:

Leaders will cynically employ any mechanism which allows them to control their subjects including leading them to war if it’s in their interest.

Religion is one of the tools they use, but in its absence powerful elites will harness other ideologies (eg. nationalism or communism) to the same effect.

The implication is that there’s little point in working to destabilise the power of religion because if it were gone, the 'tool’ that replaced it would do the nasty work just as well.

One at a time

Imagine that there are three ways an intruder could easily break into your house. You’d likely take steps to secure the places of possible entry. It wouldn’t deter you from your work on the first entry point to know that there were still two more unsecured points. This knowledge would just bring a greater urgency to the task.

The same applies if we’re aspiring to defuse the systems which self-serving leaders use to lead people to war. The fact that there are multiple systems suited to this kind of manipulation doesn’t have any bearing on the question of whether or not we should work to eliminate any one of them.

What to think vs. how to think

A crucial consideration when thinking about whether a world without religion would be a better or worse world to live in is how religion would become extinct.

The way religion was suppressed under Stalin seems to have been an attempt to forcibly stamp out one type of dogma and replace it with another. This way of eliminating religion does nothing to help protect people against manipulative leaders.

But if instead a decline in religious belief was driven by people’s increasing capacity for and willingness to engage in critical thought, and a growing resistance to accepting things on authority, then it wouldn’t be just one of the traditional tools of control that was being eroded but the foundation for very many of them—all at once.

Is the extinction of religion a realistic goal, or even possible? I don’t know, but i think the scenario described above is one that’s worth shooting for.

Posted: June 14th 2007

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RTambree

This is like saying “If AIDS was wiped out, there would still be other diseases that kill people, so why bother eradicating AIDS?”

Sure, religion is just one of many reasons people can use to engage in violent disputes that escalate to bloody wars. But, it has been a leading cause of in/out group division. The arbitrary nature of doctrine, the adherence to idea of an Absolute Truth, and the untestable nature of religious propositions further exacerbate the potential for tragedy.

If religion is removed then there is a greater chance that parties can negotiate territorial, social, economic and political disputes using rational arbitration with recourse to law and scientific evidence.

Posted: June 13th 2007

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