Broadly speaking, skeptics rarely differentiate between the world’s religions. When it comes to the real or perceived evils done in the name of religion, or by religious adherents they’re one in the same. This is especially true when discussing Islamic terrorism or the Crusades and Inquisition. it works both ways too. By and large each religious system claims to be “the way”. Each seems to preach peace and love toward your fellow man. I suspect that this is an intentional blurring of the lines. The skeptic feels intellectually insulated from having to fuss with the details if religion can be dismissed right out of the gate. But the details are the most significant aspect of the religions.
The world’s religions affirm a particular deity or deities (except for maybe Buddhism). For many skeptics, the “god” is the single most important identifying factor, and therefore, it is “religion” — regardless of the details – that matters when the subject comes up. This means there are at least two important distinctions to this discussion that skeptics fail to make.
The first is the differences in the details of the religions. Since I like analogies, I’ll offer one. Poisons and medications both come in tablet form. If these three tablets are defined only by their relatively similar shape and size, they do appear to all be alike. But would it be reasonable to say poison and medicine is pretty much the same? Obviously not. Their differences are more important than their single unifying feature.
In fact, it would be silly to blame Tic Tacs or Excedrine if people started dropping dead of cyanide or arsenic poisoning. To be sure, even skeptics would see such an equivocation as nonsensical. But for some reason, it seems perfectly rational to some to lump all religion together because they all come in “God” form. Post-September 11th, some skeptics started blaming tablets rather than cyanide.
The second problem, is the lack of differentiating between actions done in the name of an ideology, and actions done by a person who happens to hold a particular ideology. This might not seem to be a big deal, but the difference is important.
Teachers are expected to educate the children in their charge. However, some teachers have abused their authority and engaged themselves in inappropriate sexual relationships with their students. This is an abuse of the role of teacher. They become a teacher who abuses students. However, the majority of teachers are wonderful educators who have nothing but the best of intentions for their profession.
Again I ask: Does it make sense to blame the occupation of teacher because of those who abuse their authority? Or do we rightfully blame the particular teachers who abuse their power, acting outside the capacity of their official duties? This is one of the more important and precise distinctions.
There is one religion in particular, that by prescription — and in context – advocates violence. In this case, the adherents who perpetrate violence in the name of their religion are acting in accord to its teaching. Other religion’s adherents who perpetrate violence, however, are acting outside the dictates and — though are members of the religion — are violent not in the name of their religion.
It’s my opinion, that these equivocations are made by skeptics in order to afford them — in their own mind — the intellectual satisfaction of their skepticism. If all religions can be reduced to tablet form, it’s much easier to fight against (i.e., “tablets are dangerous”). Getting in the lab and breaking down the tablets to examine and assess the ingredients takes a lot more effort.