Part 1: The Problem
The topic of religion has gotten very heated over the past decade or so, and people are drawing lines with the most vocal seem to be on farthest extremes. But as President Eisenhower once noted, “People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. Actually, all human problems, excepting morals, come into the gray areas. Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters. ” And what is true for politics is, in this case, true for the discussion of religion. As people are taking polarized stances, they are dragging the conversation into the gutter. What I am hoping to do over the next few essays is point out how those in the extreme are running afoul and destroying the Grand Conversation as a whole. My hope is that eventually we can bring people back to some middle of the road that allows for less shouting and more actual discussion.
Before I continue, I have to state that religious belief and non-belief occur in a continuum. Though I will be making critiques of specific beliefs that exist in belief systems, I am in no way intending to generalize these critiques to the whole. Not every religious group, and not every member of the religious groups discussed will hold or agree with the topics of criticism. Likewise, not every non-believer will be represented by the critique of the anti-religious given. In fact, without an actual study on the occurrence of these beliefs within the specific groups to prove the contrary, it is impossible to say if these beliefs are are actually present in the majority of the belief and non-belief groups, or just overgeneralized stereotypes. The reason for this essay is that those who are dragging the issue into the gutters are spreading misinformation for the purpose of insulting, degrading, and inciting others. If, as a reader, you find these views don’t represent your beliefs, then you are not the target of the criticism. If, however, you find your views under scrutiny, you need to stop and look at how you are treating people. Every bully finds a reason to target their victim. It gives them a way to absolve themselves of the irresponsible harm they do. But in the end, the only thing that truly matters is how you treat others.
The following essays will focus on expanding and offering evidence to the following:
Religions of the world are far from being perfect or faultless, and individuals have used religion to justify violence and bigotry. At the same time, the realm of the religious has also inspired our greatest peacemakers, thinkers, artists, and, yes, scientists. People who attack religion like to make a lot of universal claims about the ills of religion, and though there is a lot of room for legitimate criticism for specific religious critique, they never stop to check if they are overgeneralizing, and therefor just hurting people with harmful stereotypes. When a religious person uses his or her beliefs to attack another, it is wrong, and they are taking their beliefs to a very bad place. But when the anti-religious do the same thing, people don’t seem to recognize that they are doing the same thing, and that it is just as wrong. Yes, religious groups can go wrong, but the anti- and non-religious can go wrong in just the same ways. I am going to attempt to point out where religious groups go wrong, but what will be seen, the reason that they do go wrong is not that they are religious, but because they are human. And because of this, the ant-religious have the same potentials to go wrong, not because they are not religious, but because they are human. But because the debate has traditionally dissected religion to find causes of the problems, it has just made the problem worse. Since the causes are human, not religious, then Religion is just a red herring, and the more you attack it, the more you let the real problems fester. When you attack Religion wrongly as the cause, you fail to address the actual cause. When you generalize Religion as representing only those who do harm, you are only feeding the voices of the harmful, and disempowering those who would otherwise offer solutions and change. Finally, when you externalize the blame for human problems, you are ignoring the potential for that blame in yourself. If you blame religion as causal for violence, however, you excuse the violence of the non-religious. The bullying that occurs at the hands of the anti-religious is a perfect example. They have blamed religion as the source of prejudice and violence, but then by classifying all religious people as worthy of their scorn, they feel justified in subjecting religious individuals to prejudgment and verbal violence without truly knowing their character. They ignore the reality that violence is violence, no matter who the target is.
To elaborate on these points, the following essays will look at the actual boundaries and relationships of Science and Religion, look at what real research has had to say about religion and the real causes for the ills attributed to it, and finally discuss in depth where religions can go wrong, and why the religion bashing only makes things worse.