Facts about Misuse of Religion in Society

Natalie says:

Hi, im doing a research paper for my senior year about the misuse of religion in society in the past and currently. I’m having trouble finding facts instead of opinions . Do you have any reccomended websites for research? I plan on covering Hitlers hushed Christian beliefs and the obvious influence of religion on the 911 attacks, but i need a little something extra ! Honestly, Anything would be appreciated. I have been an Atheist for around five years now and i feel very strongly about this topic . Thank you :D

21 Responses to Facts about Misuse of Religion in Society

  1. The Atheist says:

    This is a tough one – not because the facts aren’t there, it’s because there are so many, it’s hard to know where to start!

    You’re already researching the Holocaust and the extremist Muslim suicide attacks. Here are a few other topics you can search for:

    • Wars and Religion – Religious Tolerance has a good list here. You can search on any of the wars listed to get more detailed facts.
    • Destroyed Temples – search for this to find examples of temples that were destroyed for religious reasons – including Jewish, Hindu, Muslim templates. Also, as a sub-search, try searching for Church Bombings
    • Witch Hunts
    • Human Sacrifice

    There’s a nice lists here (http://www.truthbeknown.com/victims.htm) that focuses on Christian atrocities. Here is some info about Islamic persecution of Hindus on Wikipedia.

    This is quite a lot, but really it only scratches the surface – the list is huge. Let me know if you need more.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You’re awesome , thank you !

  3. Demodocus says:

    I don’t necessarily want to discourage you from doing this paper, but what would be the point? The only reason I ask is because I hear people cite the misuse of religion as either proof that religion is bad or as reason to become an atheist. I find it interesting how quick atheists are to cite the violence done in the name of a religion, but make no mention of the violence done in the name of the nation-state. Case in point, every war America has been involved in has been in the name of the nation, not God. What I find interesting is how both atheist and religious unite under the cause of wars waged by nation.

    That being said, it seems to me that much more violence and injustice has been done throughout history in the name of the nation-state than in the name of any particular religion. For instance, Hitler’s political ideology was far more destructive than his “hushed Christian beliefs.” In Mein Kampf he blatantly lays his anti-Semitic attitude as well his justification for German’s expansion in political, not religious, terms. The largest war in history, as well as one of the largest mass genocides in history, was a political move.

    What follows from pointing out the misuses of religion? You can’t possibly make the point that the religion is bad based on its misuse. And I doubt you would be pointing it out in order to help those religions. However, pointing out the misuses of the nation-state, particularly your own, would be a much more honest approach because you do have grounds for critique as well as some power in changing it. To put it another way, if what you really car about is the violence and injustice done by a particular group of people in the name of “fill-in-the-blank,” then the nation-state should take first billing.

  4. The Atheist says:

    Hi, Demo. Long time! Welcome back.

    I think you’re right – misuse of religion is no reason to become an atheist; it doesn’t prove that religion is bad. I’m not sure I’ve actually seen that claim made, but I’m sure there must be a few people out there making those claims.

    The best reason to become an atheist is the lack of evidence for God. Misuse if religion is evidence that religion isn’t all good. Daniel Dennett argues in his book Breaking the Spell” that overall, religion might be a beneficial force in society.

    I’m guessing from your post (I could definitely be wrong here) that you presume that the purpose of Natalie’s paper is to argue against belief in God. I would be interested to know if this is true – or if instead Natalie’s paper is for a theology class.

    I think there is no question that the majority of human violence throughout history is motivated by other reasons, like power or greed for example, rather that by religion. However, we should agree that in the case of Hitler, there was a religious component, either in they way that Jews were mistrusted and as a result singled out for their religious beliefs, or in the way that Hitler had his own religion-based justifications for his actions.

    I agree that citing misuses of power by nations is a worthy endeavor. But how does that makes it inappropriate to cite misuses of religion?

  5. James says:

    why do all use the term religion to speak about supernatural beliefs, when in fact the term religion means a group of people who come together with the same belief in a certain subject

  6. James says:

    atheism is as much a religion as all the other belief system’s

  7. The Atheist says:

    Hi, James. The reason that, as you say, “all use the term religion to speak about supernatural beliefs” is that the commonly accepted definition of the term religion is “a belief system that includes belief in the supernatural” (see Merriam Webster for the complete definition). We also see from the etymology of the term “religion” that it involved supernatural beliefs from its inception.

    All religions are belief systems but not all belief systems are religions. For example the belief in the Loch Ness Monster is a belief, but it isn’t a religion because it doesn’t include belief in the supernatural. Similarly, atheism is a belief that there are no gods, however atheism isn’t a religion since by its definition, it doesn’t include belief in the supernatural.

  8. Mike Johnson says:

    Ten ways atheism qualifies as a religion:

    1. Atheists worship. We are all made to regard, respect and devote our lives to something greater than ourselves, and everyone worships something. Atheists do not acknowledge worship in a traditional ‘religious’ context. But in the vacuum of a recognizable God, they give themselves to human reason, materialism, wealth, science, naturalism, communism of sorts, nihilism, or themselves, or other prominent atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins).

    2. Atheism is denominational. Just as every major religion has subdivisions with varying shades of beliefs on certain doctrines, atheists have different denominations that distinguish their beliefs in what atheism means, for instance. And of course, “gods” vary too (see #1).

    3. Atheism is dogmatic. Atheists will deny this (as with most of these points), but if dogma is defined as “the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization”, atheism absolutely fits this definition. They follow ideological rules.

    4. Atheism is exclusive and narrow. Atheism excludes any other possibility other than the conclusion centered on the non-belief in God, so it is no different than any other religion that makes exclusive claims.

    5. Atheists seek converts. Well, some do and some don’t, just as some religions prosthelytize and some don’t. For example, the recent “We Are Atheism” movement hopes that there are closet atheists and seeks to add to their numbers by encouraging their coming

    6. Atheists have holy books. Take a look at the “Letters” section of RichardDawkins.net and you’ll find scads of letters from “converts” to atheism that praise Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”, testifying how it changed their lives and lit the way to the “truth” of atheism. They revere it as Christians do the Bible.

    7. Atheists have a worldview, including ideas about ultimate origins and the place of humans in the world, their overall purpose and destiny.

    8. Atheists have seen persecution. As is true with any religion, atheists have endured discrimination and persecution for their beliefs.

    9. Atheism appeals to universal morality. To even argue for atheism, the atheist has to appeal to “moral law”, a sense of right and wrong that he assumes to be true for everyone. Otherwise, there would be no reason to debate. Atheists love to point out the “despicable acts” of the Old Testament God, even though doing so implies moral good and evil that ultimately cannot be explained by nature or biology.

    10. Atheists have faith in the unseen. Many assert that the religious believe without evidence. Most religious people would say the same about Atheism. The evidence we all see, often the same evidence, is interpreted differently based on presuppositions. We all place faith in propositions that are not 100% empirically provable.

    @The Atheist: I admit the definition of religion itself is not very clear, but I would suggest that it is not as clear cut as you suggest. Buddhism does not have a god. “God” in Hinduism is often not even supernatural. Religion USUALLY involves “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe” and “often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs”. It seems to always involves the worship of some entity, be it personal or not, and practices that involve an element of faith. What religion accomplishes for most people, something outside of themselves to aspire to and live by, atheism accomplishes for those who choose not to believe in God. We are free to worship ourselves and our own ideas instead. The parallels between atheism and other religions I’ve listed are not perfect, but I think they do show commonalities that atheists do not realize and even take issue with when they see them in other established religions.

  9. The Atheist says:

    Hi, Mike. Interesting list of similarities! You seem to want to say that atheism is a religion but I’m not sure why you would care to think of atheism in those terms.

    Unless you want to redefine what we mean by “religion”, the common use of the term (and more to the point, the way it is used in this post) means “a system of beliefs in one or more gods”. Regardless of the similarities between atheism and religion, the reason atheism is not a religion is that atheism rejects claims that gods exist.

    Consider this example that illustrates why the kinds of similarities you list aren’t enough to make atheism a religion:
    1) omnivores eat plants, vegetarians eat plants
    2) omnivores drink water, vegetarians drink water
    3) omnivores sleep, vegetarians sleep
    Since vegetarians are similar to omnivores in these ways, then vegetarians are really omnivores.

    Obviously, we can’t say that vegetarians are omnivores because there is an important thing that vegetarians don’t do: they don’t eat meat.

    We can’t say that atheism is a religion because there is an important thing that atheism lacks: it does not include beliefs in gods.

  10. Mike Johnson says:

    From an atheist perspective and in the context of this site, I agree that the definition of a religion would include theism, but in truth there are many definitions of religion outside of this context. Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world, and nobody would argue that it is a religion, yet it is NOT a “system of one or more gods” but a myriad of systems that worship various aspects of humanity like self-improvement. No god in any agreed upon sense. Jainists don’t have a god either; instead they worship their own personal wisdom. I think atheism can be categorized similarly. In the absence of “god” in the traditional sense, atheists elevate something else as supreme ruler and first principal, be it the notion of reason, intellect, humanism, naturalism, ToE, etc.

    The point is there are multiple elements that many associate with religion that exist in atheism. I might be persuaded otherwise with a list of 11 differences. :)

  11. The Atheist says:

    I think you are right that there are systems that we might call “religions” that don’t accept a system of one or more gods. We could take a more liberal definition to include other types of belief in the spiritual, but I’m not sure how that would change the conversation here. I think it’s reasonable to consider Buddhism a religion in general, since most forms of Buddhism incorporate a belief in the spiritual (Buddhism’s is grounded in a concept of a cycle of death and rebirth). The agreement across sects about the nature of God doesn’t seem necessary to define a belief system as a religion. At most it means that the sects are simply different religions. As you point out, Jains don’t believe in a creator or destroyer God, but they do believe there is a “divine”. I think you could say that there is an area of overlap between atheism and certain religions like Buddhism and Jainism in that the thing that defines an atheist is the lack of belief in a god. One can believe in an afterlife without believing in a god and in that degree, some subset of atheists can overlap some subset of secular Buddhists. However I don’t think you can equate atheism to religions like Christianity and then draw conclusions on that basis.

  12. Mike Johnson says:

    I wouldn’t go as far as “equating” atheism with Christianity, especially not solely on the basis of the first of my ten points. Christianity has features that set it apart from other theistic religions, so the chasm would be even greater between it and a philosophy that excluded a personal deity or supernatural being. My point in listing characteristics of atheism that fit with other religions is to show that calling it a religion is not such as outrageous thing. The object of worship takes on a natural form, and atheism is set apart from most religions in its rejection of a supernatural form. In both ideology and practice, I really think there are more apparent similarities than differences.

    Thank you, I’ve enjoyed the discussion. I especially appreciate the overall civility of most users on this site. :)

  13. The Atheist says:

    I don’t think that calling atheism a religion is outrageous, I just think it’s an incorrect classification. The act of worship in itself is not enough to qualify as a religion, it requires the worship of the divine, or at least the supernatural.

    I’ve enjoyed the discussion too – I hope you’ll stay around and contribute to future discussions!

  14. Jason says:

    I can’t help but wonder why you feel the need to classify atheism as a religion, Mike. Somehow I doubt that you’re doing it to lend credence to atheistic thought. So what is your motivation? Not trying to be mean-spirited, but I really do want to know.

    • Jason, I compared atheism to other religions to show there are similarities that make it closer to a religion than not. I’ve said the comparisons are not perfect, but sufficient to show that the idea that atheism is nothing like religion is a big misconception. I in no way intended to lend credence to atheism, sorry if I came off that way. :)

      • Jason says:

        No worries about coming off as respectful of others beliefs, gan. It actually comes across as an attempt to lower others to your level.

        • “No worries about coming off as respectful of others beliefs, gan. It actually comes across as an attempt to lower others to your level.”

          How does THAT statement respect the beliefs of others? We are all exclusive and narrow in our beliefs, denying the validity of beliefs that contrast with our own. That’s further proof that truth, including moral truth, is objective.

  15. Jason says:

    THAT statement has nothing to do with the respect I have for the beliefs of others. It is a statment of your personal need to categorize people in an attempt to belittle their beliefs. Denying beliefs that have no basis in fact, and have no evidence to support them is perfectly reasonable. I don’t care at all what you want to make yourself believe, but it seems very unreasonable for you to expect to post whatever you please without expecting others to question you when you offer no evidence that what you believe is based in fact.

    “…denying the validity of beliefs that contrast with our own. That’s further proof that truth, including moral truth, is objective.”

    Denying the validity of beliefs that contrast with our own when they are in no way supported by facts and evidence in no way proves anything except that people will believe and defend some very outrageous things.

    • Jason,

      My goal isn’t to belittle anyone, and I’ve said nothing that should give that impression, but if someone comes to feel belittled by an honest presentation of the truth, there’s something else going on. I don’t mind if you categorize me though.

      Re: “Denying beliefs that have no basis in fact, and have no evidence to support them is perfectly reasonable.” I agree. I also think it’s reasonable to post questions of atheists on a site called Ask An Atheist. :) And to the contrary of what you think, I DO expect others to question me in return. That’s dialog.

      I have also presented facts and evidence, but our interpretation of them as either facts or “outrageous things” depends on your worldview. We all base our interpretation of facts (which have already been interpreted by others) gets filtered through our presuppositions. Atheism requires you to think the way you do; it’s not a purely rational choice.

      We can discern truth, however, by what makes sense of reality. The facts that we observe about objective morality is only part of the problem. Atheism doesn’t make sense of numerous aspects of reality. On atheism, there is no defense of reason except by virtue of reason. That’s hopelessly circular. On Christianity, a God who has reason and creates us in HIs image to use it explains the use of reason that you must borrow from Christian theism. That, just like any argument over ultimate convictions, is circular too, but it makes sense of our use of reason in the first place.

  16. Jason says:

    You previously said you in no way wish to lend credence to atheism, gan, yet you come to a site to pose questions to atheists and you expect to be taken seriously and treated respectfully, when you don’t offer the same seriousness and respect to others. That is both contradictory and hypocritical. Otherwise the rest of your post is a lot of words to say absolutely nothing except that you are going to believe as you do no matter the facts and evidence which makes any further discussion a complete waste of my time. Take care.

  17. I believe you asked me the first question. Regardless, don’t you hold to atheism to the exclusion of all other beliefs? I can and do respect others without embracing opposing ideologies; it would be self-contradictory and hypocritical if I argued for the truth of my own worldview AND others. Worldviews can be changed with compelling arguments, but I haven’t seen one here yet. But, sorry you feel that way. Thanks for the discussion, and the best to you.

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