Thursday, May 8, 2014

An honest question

In Pakistan, a lawyer has just been murdered for defending a client accused of insulting Mohammad:

In Nigeria, nearly 300 schoolgirls have been missing for nearly a month; they were kidnapped for wanting to better themselves through education.

In Brunei, a formerly relatively moderate Middle Eastern country, Sharia law has just been imposed; if actually implemented it could result in people being stoned for adultery, having hands amputated for theft, and being thrown off cliffs for being gay.

In Uganda, which at the behest of Western evangelicals just enacted legislation providing for life imprisonment for being gay (a death penalty provision was dropped), mobs of vigilantes are attacking the homes of people suspected of being gay and beating them to death.

Elsewhere in Africa, the Lord's Army, a terrorist organization most famous for kidnapping boys and turning them into child soldiers, continues a campaign of murder and mayhem in the name of Jesus.  All over Africa and the Middle East, girls continue to be subjected to deforming genital mutilation in furtherance of their parents' superstitions.

The Middle East is now in its 66th year of a bloody conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and trillions of dollars that is a dispute between two Abrahamic religions over which of them is entitled to a small strip of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

If you've read this far, you are probably thinking this post is an anti-religious screed that is an attack on faith and that lays all human misery at the doorstep of churches, synagogues and mosques.  Well, it isn't.

Though not religious, I would be the first to acknowledge that religion has at times been a force for good in the world.  It feeds the hungry.  It clothes the naked.  It helps people in need.  It educates poor children.  It runs hospitals.  At some times and places it has provided badly needed social stability.

But here's the question:  If we had a giant scale, and were able to balance on one side the good that religion has done, against the evil that religion has done, would we overall be better off with it or without it?  Taken as a whole, since the dawn of civilization, has religion done more good than harm, or more harm than good?

I don't know the answer to that question.  I don't think anyone else does either.  It's child's play for those who hate religion to assemble a set of talking points to support their position, and for people who love religion to assemble the mirror image set of talking points of their own.

But if we stop assembling talking points and earnestly seek to find the truth of whether religion has been good for us or not, I don't think the answer is at all clear.  And the fact that it's not clear should be deeply troubling to religion.

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