By Ed Buckner | 8 January 2024
Letters to a Free Country
I have long admired the late Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) and agreed with him on many things. I think his book, god is not Great (2007), is excellent:
And I appreciate how provocative and, in my opinion, mostly true his subtitle—How Religion Poisons Everything—is. But I’ve come to doubt, at least a bit, the absolute truth of that subtitle. I’m still a firm atheist, still persuaded there is no good reason to believe in any gods as great or even as existing. And I still think religion has seriously poisoned much of human life and still is doing so.
But not quite “everything.”
This means I have some doubts as well about the implicit truth of Nobel-prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg’s most famous nonprofessional quote—
With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.
I still think that explains many things many times. But not all things all the time.
“If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.” – Christopher Hitchens in “God is not great”. #Doctrine #OriginalSin #Christianity #Religious #Logic #Humanism #WWJD #Sins #Secularism #God pic.twitter.com/09gOTdxWMW
— Humanists Universe (@humanistsmy) January 13, 2024
First, let me clarify and enumerate some examples of just how I do think religion helps to poison things—
- In Burundi the national leader, based on his “African values” that are nearly certainly grounded in religious values, declared, just late last year, that gay people should be taken to a stadium and stoned to death.
- In Israel, a sephardic Jewish leader has declared that even more ashkenazi Jews deserved to die in the WWII era holocaust.
- In Gaza and many other Islamic societies, school children are taught to hate Jews based on religion.
- In the US, especially in Indiana and across the American South, Christians were taught, effectively, that their religion required them to hate, persecute, terrorize, and kill black people, Jews, and Catholics.
- Buddhist believers and nationalists have relentlessly and viciously persecuted and killed Muslims in part over religion.
- The Protestant and Catholics of Northern Ireland hated and abused each other for reasons beyond religion, but religion was certainly part of the motivation, part of the deadly poisoning of neighborliness there.
- Nor was Catholic vs. Protestant vicious evil limited to Northern Ireland. In Europe and in England, religious wars killed thousands, often quite cruelly, in the name of religion over several hundred years.
- And it was not just that religion poisoned via war. Untold numbers of people—mostly women but some men, too—died, often horribly, as “witches” fueled in large part by religion. The Bible—Deuteronomy 18:9–12—says,
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.
- And of course, it was not only witches who were persecuted based on religion. Many heretics and “blasphemers” like Michael Servetus (unknown birth date—around 1510—to death in1553) were burned alive for disagreeing about religious ideas.