True religion

In the wake of the attacks in Paris last night, I once again have reason to write a few words on the corrupting influence religion has on the pursuit of truth and goodness in the world.

Dogmatism & irrationality make people immune to reason. Religion allows people to rationalize their selfishness as something holy, and hardens them to the erstwhile human capacity for compassion and empathy.

When extremists claim divine sanction for their barbaric acts of murderous tribalism, we can call this false piety if we like, or claim that it’s a corruption of the ‘true’ intent of religion; but this is just marketing. With deft and repeated application of the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, apologists for religion continually redefine religious faith in such a way as to exculpate it from all blame.

And yet the extremists sincerely believe that they are doing what is right and holy; the particularly religious character of this belief both shields it from criticism and makes it extremely resistant to change. If we are to make progress against the ideologies of fear, intolerance, hatred, and violence, we must have the courage to attack the irrationality and dogmatism that lie at the root.


Unknown said...

Religion is not the problem. Human beings are the problem. Great atrocities have been committed in the name of many goals, including religion, geopolitical designs, and just plain hatred. Religion is one of the many things that people use to justify hatred, along with race and national origin. Religion should not be the scapegoat for the evil that exists within many that walk this planet.

Many things have led us to to where we are today. Power and greed are among the most responsible -- no human, religious or otherwise -- can easily avoid these.

Michael A. Lowry said...

Gil, your reply is a good example of the sort of desperate exculpation of religion I mentioned.

Human selfishness is a problem. Tribalism is a problem. Dogmatism is a problem. And yes, religion is a problem too when it lends an undeserved mantle of sanctity and respectability to beliefs and actions that in any other context would be roundly condemned. It is this sanctimoniousness, and the concomitant claims of victimhood, offended sensibilities, and special privileges (sanctions on other people’s free speech, for example) that make religion a particular problem all its own. Religion provides cover for people to believe, say, and do terrible things.

No, religion is not a scapegoat for all evils committed in its name. Neither can it be a shield.