About halfway through my junior year of high school, I got more interested in the world around me and started following a whole bunch of left-leaning blogs like Slate and Salon.
And I did get a lot of left-leaning news on politics and culture.
But from time to time, I also come across headlines like this:
- “6 Reasons Religion May Do More Harm Than Good”
- “Why Religion Unleashes Humanity’s Most Violent Impulses”
- “Is Religion Evil? Weighing Centuries Of War, Body Counts, Abuse”
- “We Must Offend Religion More”
- “It’s Time To Fight Religion”
- “Science And Religion Can’t Be Reconciled”
- “If You Believe Both In Science And Religion, You Are Not Doing Either Properly”
And then quotes from people like Richard Dawkins like:
I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.
What has ‘theology’ ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has ‘theology’ ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
And you know what? Stuff like that hurts. Stuff like that makes me feel bad about myself and my beliefs, and introduces into my life a whole bunch of doubt that I frankly don’t really need.
Atheists certainly don’t like it when religion intrudes in everyday life. They don’t like the people who wave religious pamphlets in your face (which I absolutely understand), they don’t like the influence of religion in public schools, and there shouldn’t be religion in government.
And I get that. The pamphlet people are annoying, religion in school should only be allowed in literature classes examining allusions in text, and there should absolutely be no religion in government. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I won’t say the Pledge of Allegiance.
But just like atheists don’t like religion intruding on their personal life, religious people don’t really like it when atheists push their ideas on them. And when atheists aren’t promoting their ideas, they’re condemning religion and making religious people feel bad about the decisions they’re making.
Now, one of the things atheists really like to do is list out their reasons for being atheists that usually refutes a lot of religious arguments. And that’s important, because we need different perspectives in this world. But for now, I’d like to return the favor, using the arguments made in the first article, “6 Reasons Religion May Do More Harm Than Good”.
“Religion promotes tribalism”: This is the ‘us versus them’ argument. It’s an argument centered around the belief that religion causes us to divide. But it’s forgetting one big thing: the tendency to separate ourselves into groups is an inherently human quality, not a religious one. Now, it’s true that religious groups do tend to demonize others, but in this case, religion is merely a classification. In reality, people can divide over anything. Take, for example, Republicans and Democrats. They can’t agree on anything, and religion is not the reason they’ve separated into groups. Or if that’s still too close to religion, take sports. Giants fans will get together without regard to race or religion and hate the Dodgers. But maybe you think that baseball is just another type of religion, and you need more convincing. In that case, think of atheists. Some of those really extreme atheists seem to be part of a group and act as if it’s them against the world.
“Religion anchors believers to the Iron Age”: First of all, may I say that it’s a great idea to call (about) 3/4 of the world’s population backwards. That usually makes people more likely to accept your point of view.
But moving on. The thing people don’t seem to understand is that, as people evolve, so does religion. Sure, back in the day, religion was used to justify slavery. But now, it does the opposite and condemns it. Back in the day, being gay was a big no-no in religion (I’m sure you’ve heard about Leviticus 18:22) but now there are gay priests. And I should know, as I was baptized by a gay priest. So don’t say that “religion anchors believers to the Iron Age” because just as humans have evolved, so has religion.
“Religion makes a virtue out of faith”: Followed by “religion trains believers to practice self-deception, shut out contradictory evidence, and trust authorities rather than their own capacity to think”.
In some cases, that’s true. There are some religious extremists, in particular those who take the Bible or other religious texts by their word, that do feel threatened when their beliefs are challenged. But there are also those of us who take religious texts with a grain of salt (that story about the Virgin Mary doesn’t really ring true, and that’s just one story). And when you don’t take everything for its word, it becomes a lot easier to reconcile seemingly contradictory evidence with your faith. That then eliminates the need for self-deception.
And finally that thing about trusting authorities: In my church, I have never felt pressured to take my priest’s word for anything. I have always been encouraged to think critically about religion and my faith and to ask questions. As a result, I’ve been able to build my own faith and that, I think, is a virtue.
So actually, the statement “religion makes a virtue out of faith” is true, but it’s not necessarily a negative thing.
“Religion diverts generous impulses and good intentions”: No. No, it doesn’t. Religion concentrates generous impulses and good intentions and gives people a way to help those in need. And, contrary to what some people may believe, it’s not all about the money, and when it is, the money goes to those in need. For example, after a terrible fire in San Francisco, my church collected money for the victims and sent it to them. We also invited them to a picnic our church was organizing. I have a Facebook friend who organized a church picnic and invited refugee families to help build bridges between communities. After the Orlando shooting, a team of chaplains was at the hospital doing all they could do to help. Religion encourages people to have these good intentions and provides a way for people to act on them.
“Religion teaches helplessness”: But does it really? Non-religious people might see helplessness from the outside, but done properly, religion gives strength and a motivation to change things. It’s true that some people use religion to oppress others or ignore real problems, but that’s not the case for everyone. For a lot of people, religion motivates them to take action, to find ways to help people, or change corrupt systems. And on a personal level, religion does give strength. When I was depressed, it was my faith and my church that gave me the strength to get through each day. So when Richard Dawkins asks, ‘What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody’, here’s his answer: It kept me from self-harm and possibly worse.
“Religions seek power”: That may be true, but our world is a struggle for power. Without religion, there would still be the same war and violence, just with different excuses. And in terms of power-seeking institutions, religion is a more benign one, because at the same time as it seeks power, it also encourages people to be kind and compassionate. Compare that to institutions like the military, corporations, and even political parties, and suddenly religion doesn’t seem all that bad.
One last thing: if religion is considered a power-seeking institution, then non-religion/atheism should be considered one as well.
“Science and religion can’t be reconciled”: This is false. As a religious person, I have never had any trouble reconciling my beliefs with what I learn in biology, chemistry, or any other scientific class. Part of it is because I don’t take some of the stuff in the Bible for granted (three cheers for evolution!). But another part of it is that what I learn in these science courses only deepens my faith. When I look at the miracle that is the Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone, or study chemical reactions, or learn about the beauty of the world around us, or the complexity of our brains and thoughts, there’s part of me that knows how to explain it, but there’s also part of me that thinks that something so wonderful could only be here thanks to a loving God.
I get this feeling especially when I look at the stars in the middle of nowhere, where you can actually see them. I dare you to look up and admire the beauty of the night sky and tell me there’s not some kind of higher power.
So finally, a note to atheists and non-religious people: Most religious people are going to respect your choice to not believe in any kind of god. But just like no one likes the get-in-your-face, superiority-complex pamphlet wavers (trust me, no one is immune to them), religious people really don’t like it when you treat us as less intelligent just because we’ve chosen to believe in a higher power.