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Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Why All Religions Aren't Equally Dangerous" by Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby, "The Spirited Atheist," writes regularly for The Washington Post. On June 6, her article was entitled: "Why all religions aren't equally dangerous" . Recently I did a post entitled: "Will Atheism Eventually Replace Religion"? I was taken to task by some commenters who said I was being unfair in my criticisms of religion, especially of Islam. I, of course, don't think that every Muslim is dangerous nor do I think that every conservative Christian, whether Mormon, Roman Catholic or evangelical, is dangerous. However, I do agree with Jacoby that very conservative religions can be dangerous to society.

She writes:
The most dangerous religions in the world manifest three distinct, though related, characteristics. First, they hold absolute truth claims, generally based on a literal interpretation of some "sacred" book and maintain that nonbelievers, sooner or later, are damned. Second, they frequently attempt to impose their beliefs on others through violence and coercion. Third, they seek political power to further their aims--and to suppress dissenters--wherever and whenever they can find it.

Radical or fundamentalist Islam creates the most concern for Ms. Jacoby.

By my criteria, the most dangerous religion on the international stage today is clearly radical Islam. It possesses each of the characteristics I have cited---the absolute truth claim, adherents who advocate and use violence and coercion to achieve their ends, and aggressive use of political power in areas of the world where Muslims constitute a majority. Does this mean that all Muslims agree with those who would fly airplanes into buildings and prevent women from enjoying the hard-won personal freedoms (often over the dead hand of their own traditional religions) exercised by women in the West? Of course not. But as long as powerful segments of this religion hold the same view of the rights of nonbelievers and nonconformists as the Catholic Church did six hundred years ago, Islam is a major threat to world peace and individual rights.

As her last sentence above states, Christianity, in the past, has been guilty of some of the same crimes that radical Islam is guilty of today.

She continues:
Within the United States, right-wing Christians--whether Catholic or Protestant--pose the biggest threat to those who do not share their worldview, because they constitute a large and determined enough minority to finance and maintain a long-term movement to write their views into law. Like radical Islamists, they rely on an absolute truth claim to justify their actions. Unlike radical Islamists, even Christians on the far right have outgrown violence (except for individual psychotics) because Christian denominations exist under legal institutions--established by secularists and minority religious believers--that prevent them from doing what their historical predecessors tried to do to heretics.

In my prior post, I mentioned that many of the present conflicts in the world would disappear if somehow Islam disappeared. While Christianity doesn't at the moment present the same type of violent threat, I believe the potential for conflicts would be reduced if it were removed as well. That doesn't mean that I think all conflicts and wars would end if religion disappeared. I agree with Jacoby:

Human beings have shown themselves to be almost limitlessly inventive in their capacity to battle over sex, money, power, land--you name it. But only a fool could look at the recorded history of the world and not see that religion has always been one of the most significant rationalizations for violence and a reinforcer of violence over nonreligious disputes.

At this point, of course, someone is going to mention the violence of atheistic communist regimes. Jacoby anticipates this objection:
Here is the point where someone always brings up the evils perpetrated in the name of secularism--say, in Stalin's Soviet Union--as "proof" of claims for the superior morality of religious societies. It cannot be said enough that while secularism itself is not a religion, the kind of secular ideologies that deify leaders and ignore evidence that a particular secular creed isn't working, are indeed just other forms of the monist religious impulse. Stalinist Communism was a religion, and a terrifying one, in precisely the same sense that fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity are religions. The leader was worshipped and absolved of all blame for the manifest cruelties and economic failures of Soviet society. If you doubt this religious character of Stalinist Soviet society, read accounts by inhabitants of that realm (Evegenia Ginsburg, Yevgeny Yevthushenko, Joseph Brodsky, for starters) of their contemporaries' reactions to Stalin's death in 1953.

The fact is that the dictators of these communist regimes are often worshipped as if they were gods. See my prior post on "The Dear Leader" of North Korea. The problem is actually authoritarianism, whether that takes the form of a Communist regime, a theocracy run by Mullahs, or a Roman Church such as existed in the Middle Ages. The only hope for peace in the world is tolerance of divergent beliefs. Its okay to engage in intellectual and cordial dialogue about different philosophies and world-views but when one insists that only his or her view is the correct one and that those who disagree should be eliminated, conflicts arise.

Let me state for anyone that might be confused, while I think the world would be better off without religion, I am not advocating any type of force to remove it. I am not advocating the suppression of religion. I am a firm believer in the freedoms granted in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. What I hope is that eventually man will realize that his time, money, and energy can be spent on much better things than religion.

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