Two Questions For Atheists…

I wish to pose two questions to atheists. They are not trick questions and there is no ulterior motive. I am genuinely interested in your responses.

First, let me state the obvious. Religion has had a greater affect on humanity than anything else. It has driven kings to conquer and nations to wage war. It has motivated heroes and villains alike. People live and die for their religion.  So, my questions:

1). In your view, has religion had a genuinely POSITIVE or NEGATIVE affect on humanity?  

and

2). Of the major religions, which has been the most POSITIVE and which the most NEGATIVE? Please explain why.  

Everyone is welcome to comment, but I’m most interested in hearing from atheists and agnostics.

Comments

  1. Interesting. I never really gave it any thought. I merely care whether or not it is true, not whether or not it is positive or negative.

    When I read the first question, I was inclined to say positive, but when I read the second and I started to think more specifically about religion, suddenly they all started looking highly negative.

    I’m taking a stab in the dark here; these aren’t well thought out opinions at all. I think a lot of what I see as positive results of religions are actions, like helping strangers or being generous, that come out of an impulse that many people would call religious but can be channeled through any specific religion and are displayed by people who are not at all religious as well. Then when I think of specific religions, I stop thinking of individuals doing good things and larger groups trying to impose their will on other people. As far as which religion has more negative consequences, the period in history we’re talking about probably matters. If you take the middle ages, Christianity was probably the worst because of the Crusades. Today, Islam is probably worse on a world wide basis. Here in the U.S., where I am, it’s definitely Christianity that has the biggest negative impact, but that may just be because there are more Christians here. Currently, I don’t think any religion has an overall positive impact as an institution. As I said before, individual believers might be positive.

    Hope that wasn’t too incoherent.

  2. Religion has definitely been a negative impact on humanity. Religion on it’s own has been the source and reason for more death than anything else. More caustic than others, monotheism has paved it’s way through history with death and mayhem. For all that carnage it has brought no more good than can be achieved by any non-believer. It was religion that instigated the “dark ages”, the inquisition, the holy wars, and so on. Even today there is much murder and mayhem founded firmly on religious principle and doctrine. The god of Abraham is at the center of most of it. If that was not enough, the story books say that the god of Abraham himself is responsible for more deaths than all the other efforts my humanity. On the opposing side, the devil or Satan can be attributed with one death directly. Elevangelists are all too eager to attribute death by natural disaster to their god. What good can come of a religion which itself claims their god is responsible for uncountable deaths and mayhem?

    Of the major religions, all are negative. At the very least they teach the adherents to not think for themselves. There is no ‘major’ religion which lifts the adherent up and teaches them to think for themselves. All the major religions are caustic to society. The answer to question two is ‘no’.

  3. Interesting thoughts, myatheistlife.

    What if I were to tell you that only 7% of known wars were due to religious conflict? Or that war actually predates religion? Would you then be inclined to believe that war comes naturally to human beings, whereas peace is taught – mostly by religion?

    The Prophets of Ancient Israel wrote: “One nation will not lift a sword against another nation, and they will no longer learn to wage war.” This radical concept of peace was during a time when war was an unavoidable part of life.

    Religion has been used as an excuse for war by many people, but war predates religion. People will always fight wars, with or without religion. Peace, though, is a religious concept that is taught. War comes naturally.

  4. And I want everyone to assume for a second that God does not exist and that all religion is wrong. Okay? Let’s assume this for a second…

    What, then, is the secular explanation for why human beings risk their lives for each other? Go to great lengths to help one another? And more than that, why do we risk our own safety to rescue drowning deers and dogs? It makes no evolutionary sense. It’s survival of the fittest, right? Why should we care?

    And why shouldn’t we wage war to advance our own tribes? Why should we have peace talks and all this nonsense, especially America. We’re the most powerful nation on earth by a mile. We could destroy ’em all if we wanted. Why shouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t we advance our own people? Our own pride? Our own pack? Why not? Why bother with peace?

    The answer, I think, is the deep-rooted faith in something higher than ourselves that all people, even atheists, feel. And I do believe that deep down atheists feel something much like God’s finger poking at them. By nature, we are sinful, vengeful, and creatures of war. But there’s something else there. Something that directs us on a righteous path. And that, I think, is religion – God.

  5. Myatheistlife, I thought someone might bring up the “Religion is responsible for the most deaths”. I’m not going to beat you up about it, but you happen to be wrong about that. I suspect you’ve been told that by some smart people, but please try to add up the numbers of specific deaths that are attributable to religion. Then compare them to the deaths that came at the hand of people’s own communist governments. I think you’ll be surprised.

    Please do this.

  6. A similar question worth pondering:
    In your view, have advances in science had a genuinely POSITIVE or NEGATIVE affect on humanity?

    I think it is a tossup. Sure, modern medicine is great. But what about gas chambers, nuclear bombs, and land mines?

    Sometimes I think we get confused about the questions. The consequences of a belief are independent of their veracity. Anytime a great power is placed in human hands, it has the potential for great good or for great evil. Religion and science are equal in this regard.

  7. When thinking about the net positive or negative effects of religion, I kind of have to split this question up into parts.

    The most harm to people within the religion, or to people outside? And the most harm per member, or in grand total?

    And I see several types of “harm” that we might be takling about. There’s direct violence commited against outsiders, direct violence against it’s own members, oppression of outsiders, opression of members, wasting of resources, and waste of human potential. There’s also indirect harm as a side effect of something else the religion was doing. There’s probably other categories, but that’s what comes to mind right now.

    For most violence to the people within the religion, per capita, I think the small personality cults win hands down. Jonestown, Heavens Gate, Branch Davidians, this sort of religion has a really high fatality rate.

    BIggest total waste of resources per member, the religion of the Old Kingdom in Ancient Egypt probably wins for sinking vast resources into building all those pyramids. Honorable mentions to other pyramid and mound-building societies, and to the people of Rapa Nui for their Moai building craze.

    Biggest waste of human potential goes to Islam for opressing and suppressing the potential acheivements of all the women in their society.

    Most harm to outsiders per member – again I think cults win. As an example, the Aum Shinrikyo cult killed 13 and injured 6000 with a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.

    Most total harm – I think the Catholic Church has this one hands down. Two thousand years of pogroms, crusades, inquisitions, conversions at swordpoint, and wars directly caused by or heightened by catholic-protestant conflict. The enslavement and deaths of millions and millions of native americans from the church’s attempts to “christianize the savages”. Continuing today, their direct violence level is down, but they exascerbate poverty in much of the world by actively fighting any attempts at population control, are increasing the incidence of AIDS in Africa, and of course have a long history of abusing their younger members: pedophilia, Magdalene laundries, baby-stealing. Honorable mention for most total harm to Stalinism.

  8. ubi,

    Specifically, I was thinking about the net positive or negative influence of a particular faith on all people, members and non-members alike, but I appreciate your expanded answer.

    Most of your response makes sense, but I can’t figure out why Islam didn’t get the title of most harm to outsiders. 19 radical Islamists are responsible for September 11th, 2001, which took the lives of over 2,000 people and shattered many more. Militant Islamists are also responsible for the 2005 London bombing, as well as over 500 other terrorist attacks since 2001. It seems radical Islamists have done far more harm than Aum Shinrikyo could have ever dreamed, per member or capita aside.

    And please expound on this:

    …but they exascerbate poverty in much of the world by actively fighting any attempts at population control, are increasing the incidence of AIDS in Africa,

    Such harsh criticism deserves explanation, I think.

    Thanks.

    • Sorry to be so long about answering. Life got busy.

      With Aum Shinrikyo and other small cults, I was looking at most violence to outsiders per actual member of the religion. Yes, Muslims killed over 3,000 on 9/11, but there’s something like 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, so per capita that’s still a pretty small number per Muslim. The 30 or so members of the Manson Family may have commited as many as 35 murders, or more than one per member. Islam may be violent, but I don’t think it’s quite that violent. I think cults lead that category, no question.

      As for the Catholic church and poverty,

      The World Heath Organization says:
      “Promotion of family planning in countries with high birth rates has the potential to reduce poverty and hunger and avert 32% of all maternal deaths and nearly 10% of childhood deaths. It would also contribute substantially to women’s empowerment, achievement of universal primary schooling, and long-term environmental sustainability.”
      (http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/general/lancet_3.pdf )

      And the Vatican says:
      “The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful”
      (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/family/documents/rc_pc_family_doc_12021997_vademecum_en.html)

      AIDS prevention in Africa (and elsewhere):

      The World Health Organization says:
      “The correct and consistent use of male condoms reduces the risk of sexual transmission of HIV by 80% to 90%.” (http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/priority_interventions_web.pdf)

      “The Catholic Church’s official approach to AIDS in Africa can be summed up in the speech repeatedly given by the late Pope John Paul II as he toured the continent in 1990. In his addresses to desperate communities, who often did not understand why so many people were dying, he preached that condoms were a sin in all situations.”
      (http://www.consultancyafrica.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1135:the-catholic-church-versus-hivaids-in-africa-&catid=61:hiv-aids-discussion-papers&Itemid=268)

      In the US Catholics largely ignore the condom ban, but that’s not the case in the rest of the world. It wasn’t until 2010 that Pope Benedict began to relent on this position, and discuss the idea that condom use to prevent disease transmission might be allowable. In the meantime, how many people have been infected because they listened to the Church? Since symptoms don’t appear for years after infection, it will be hard to know exactly at this time. I’m confident the number is not small. I’ll be watching for future studies on condom usage and transmission rates.

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