Bad Religion - Can it Be Stopped?
By Steve Gillman
The idea of "bad religion" suggests that there can
be good religions. Given that all religions seem to rely on faith,
this seems unlikely. The idea that we should believe things not
based on evidence or on our own experience, but solely on faith
in some book or leader is a horrible idea which contributes to
or causes much of the evil in the world. In any case, be it one
bad religion or all, can we stop them?
(Note: See Natural Selection
in the Viral Spread of Religion for more on how religious
First the Bad News
Think of the people controlling the nuclear bombs of the world.
Now consider some of the things they believe. They believe in
virgin births. They believe that God wrote a collection of old
manuscripts which call for stoning people to death for working
on certain days, keeping cripples out of church and worse. They
believe they are the chosen people, and therefore other people
aren't worth as much. They believe that if they blow up the world
and themselves with it for the right "reasons" they
will be rewarded with paradise.
I could go on and on. It's a grim picture when millions of
people look forward to the end of life, and even the end of the
world as a time of promised rewards, especially when many of
them are the leaders of our nations. These religions are properly
seen as viruses which can destroy human life.
The Good News About Bad Religion
On the other hand, there is hope. More and more we are seeing
good ideas spread as well. Our sciences continue their revelation
of how things work in the world, and so the beliefs of religions
are made to look sillier and sillier. Few can still believe that
the planet is flat, and those who claim it is only six thousand
years old say so with some deserved embarrassment.
The bible may still order the killing of those who speak against
their religion, and those who love the wrong people, and those
who work on certain days, and may still exclude cripples from
church. But even those followers who call this the "word
of god" are constrained (at least in western countries)
from practicing their beliefs. They are constrained by their
own moral sense in part. They are also living in democratic nations
full of voters who still pretend the Bible is sacred, and yet
respect laws which prevent much of what that Bible recommends.
This suggest there is some hope of moderates prevailing.
Unfortunately, moderates encourage the extremists. They tolerate
the irrational beliefs that they have themselves have quietly
rejected. They let people think it is okay to believe in these
sacred books, ignoring the fact that those who actually take
their religions seriously can justifiably kill the majority of
humans on earth in the name of their gods.
And even those of us who share no common ground with these
infected minds, tolerate their views. We, who would openly criticize
Nazis for their beliefs, will not speak out against religious
beliefs which are equally evil. That has to change.
I think it will change. When a man or woman sees the reality
of the world as shown through the sciences, and his or her own
moral development advances through good teachings and experience,
he or she naturally comes to doubt much of what is in those silly
sacred books. And the moment one's mind is open enough to reject
the obvious garbage in these religious teachings, the fever has
broken. The virus is being fought off.
Consider a person who starts out believing some book is written
by a god, then finds that some of the teachings are incompatible
with what is known about the world, and that some are even immoral.
A compassionate Christian, for example, who not only doesn't
feel like stoning homosexuals to death, but actually decides
it is immoral. This is a dilemma for him. In an effort to save
his faith, he may adjust his belief that this is the "word
of God," to "this is inspired by God," to try
to hang onto his faith, while rejecting the more evil parts of
But his ideological immune system has been activated. If he
can doubt any tenet of faith, he can doubt another. By rejecting
one part of the faith, he has already decided to accept evidence
and the working of his own rational mind as standards of belief,
rather than faith. Once he decided he can safely reject any part
of his religion, he is open to rejecting it all. He may not,
but at least the first step has been taken.
This suggests a way to attack the virus of faith. If we repeatedly
point out the religious beliefs which are most blatantly opposed
to our modern understanding of reality and morality, we may plant
the seed of doubt. Doubt can be the wonder medicine that activates
the infected person's own ideological immune system.
Continues here: "Disabling
The Religious Replicators," with more specific ways
to stop the spread of bad religion (or any religion).