Is theism evil?
July 17, 2015 at 10:01 am #802
I’m entirely aware I may be over-simplifying the matter here, but I believe the problem not only with Christianity but religion in general (not to confuse with spirituality) is really a rather trivial one in its nature—cognitive dissonance. We, as animals, social animals with certain amount of consciousness, need to feel good about ourselves, our lives and the choices we make (or not make). Religions, especially those which have caused the greatest deal of tensions over centuries, are strongly embedded in an archaic way of thinking about and explaining the world—the state of scientific knowledge that transpires through Judaism, Christianity or Islam was radically inferior to what we have today, and it has been reflected in the convictions about the nature of things. 2,000 years ago, the theories about frogs falling from the sky or droughts and earthquakes being the results of gods’ wrath may have been sufficiently good explanations, but today they have no rational value whatsoever.
Yet, throughout the ages that have passed since these ridiculous (today) ideas were coined, they have been promoted rather ruthlessly, with a little help of sword and gold, in the name of domination and material gain; over centuries, they have grown deep into our cultures and mind-sets—out of fear, survival instinct, mental laziness. I think the so-called ‘religious’ people, deep down their souls, at often disturbingly subconscious levels, realize the ideas are outdated, false, harmful and plain wrong, but nevertheless feel the need to defend them, otherwise their whole system of values, built on such a shaky ground, would tumble down—hence the proportional level of aggression, hostility and ill will against those who point the fallacies out. Of course, it would be unfair to put all religious people in one sack—there are good, humble people of faith who try their best to be genuinely good, not of fear of not being accepted in heavens after they leave this world, not of calculation and cynicism, people who do not judge hastily and act with modesty, not imposing their views of reality on others. But, unfortunately, those progressive believers, who I have my utmost respect towards to and believe to be intrinsically good, regardless of their religious beliefs, are in underwhelming minority.
The majority acts rather to the contrary and it’s hardly surprising why—again, if the basis of one’s belief is so weak, they, if they want to feel internally safe, and they, which is obvious, do—they need to persuade themselves that what they believe in is good and worthwhile, they need to receive some sort of confirmation—from the outside, because there’s none from the inside—hence the need to preach and teach and convert; aggression, active or passive, when they meet logical counter-arguments and resistance from both the rational people, and those of other faiths, is the only way to defend their beliefs, because aggression is (usually) the means of last resort—the way of winning a debate or an argument when logic and rationality fails, which is exactly what defines the medieval, or even older, ways of perceiving the world—there is no way of dealing with them in a contemporary, rational way without feeling in a sort of cognitive schizophrenia. If an idea is intrinsically a good one it doesn’t require spreading or defending, it spreads itself and defends itself as well without having to resort to aggression and violence, without the need of imposing itself upon others in order to be valid.
Compassion, determination and assertive communication are, in my belief, the only ways to make this world a better, safer and happier place for everyone, a place where everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, no matter how ridiculous, as long as they do not impose them upon, and hurt, others. A belief which assumes its superiority and therefore grants itself the right to be imposed, a belief which has suppression and discrimination as a core of its dogma, is wrong and harmful, even if not instantly, even if, initially, it doesn’t seem malignant—as many examples throughout our history have proven.July 17, 2015 at 3:34 pm #816
That was well thought out, thank you.
I would, however, disagree with your claim that an overwhelming majority of the 6+ billion theists in the world are aggressive, hostile, evil, etc. I think with a few moments of examination you will recognize that such a claim is unsupportable. From my experience as a theist, the vast majority of folks are ordinary people doing their best to live good lives. Like any group of humans, we have had, do have, and will continue to have those who are evil among our members, though. Neither theism nor atheism are immune to humanity.
May I ask, though, what you mean by “evil” or “good” or “wrong” in your text? On what basis can you make a claim that something is objectively “wrong” or “evil”?
And if you believe in an objective “good” or “evil”, doesn’t that imply a superiority of viewpoint that grants itself the right to be imposed? Isn’t it our duty to fight or resist evil and to promote or teach good?July 17, 2015 at 3:49 pm #818
Evil implies malicious intent. I’m afraid that most of the Christians I grew up with had good intentions, not malicious ones. So, no, Christianity while not inherently good, for sure, is equally assuredly not evil. What nefarious purpose might they have in mind in building the many hospitals across the country? Perhaps as many as half of our hospitals have the name of a Catholic saint or the word Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, or Adventist in their very name.
While we may disagree with the evangelism which is built into Christianity, the requirement to spread the faith, they often do better the lives of those they seek to evangelize in obvious and measurable ways. While espousing their faith, they often dig wells, build schools, and bring vaccination and basic medicine to communities which had never known them before.
While the education they bring may include their religious catechisms, they are also teaching arithmetic and reading skills, giving their “victims” the germs of the basic skills needed to think freely.
No. While individual Christians may be evil, Christianity is not .
One more thing: Evilness is a property of a mind. Christianity is a doctrine, not a mind. It is subject to wildly different interpretations as between, say, Episcopalians or Unitarians vs. Baptists or strip mall storefront evangelists.
July 17, 2015 at 4:50 pm #827
- This reply was modified 5 years ago by Unseen.
Theism is way too broad for that kind of adjective. Asking if theism is evil is like asking if Americans are tidy…the answer is…some yes…some no…some sort of…some N/A…and so on. A theist believes in a God…nothing more. There are numerous types of theists and even within their various clans they can have wildly different ideologies.
Are ISIS style scum an example of theists with an evil ideology? Yes…according to the theory of evil that I dig the most. Are Catholic theists scum? I would say a very small percentage of them are…and those who are could really write the book on long-term-full-out-how-to-be-evil-and-get-away-with-it-for-a-long-time. There is nothing about only believing in a god that is evil.
As for evil…my preferred definition is by Paul Draper (despite his sceptical theism) as “Evil as sustained indifference to sustained suffering” which becomes more extreme the more one is responsible for the suffering of another subject (or the more one can do to end it). Defining (secular) evil is difficult and could easily fill up many forums…but just on this definition alone…we don’t have to search far to find some ideologies that encourage massive doses of sustained indifference to sustained suffering. As Hitchens said…just take the letter B and look at Belgrade, Belfast and Beirut. There are virtual supermarkets of evil religious ideologies there. And for those religious apologists who claim that such conflicts in those cities all really about a cultural war rather than a religious one…then move on to the letter K…you can find truly wretchedly evil ideologies in Kabul, Kirkuk and Karachi where cultural differences have next to nothing to do with it and where religious extremists say as clearly as possible “our religious ideology is behind everything we do”.
July 18, 2015 at 4:51 am #849
- This reply was modified 5 years ago by Davis.
@Kuba, this is a nice piece. My personal view is that people, regardless of religious affiliation, are generally just trying to make their way in life and most are a long way from being considered evil under any definition. I think the most important thing, as you have pointed out, is to avoid dogmatic and entrenched thinking. All of us, theist and atheist alike, are susceptible to it. We must work to accept valid criticism of our views and re-evaluate them rather than just dig ourselves in. It is a hard but rewarding process to adjust your worldview if the only reason you are holding on to it is because that’s what you’ve always been told.
My biggest problem with most organised religions is not to do with good and evil but the way they actively encourage you to just accept unquestioningly certain articles of their dogma.July 20, 2015 at 9:14 am #1032
@drbob, @unseen, @davis, @simon—Thank you, I’m genuinely grateful for your thoughtful words. It’s a never-ending journey for me, with quite a few arrogant and not-quite-informed claims (some really ill-informed ones, sadly, too) over the years. Your responses give me hope and encourage to tweak and verify my views. My use of words and the editorial choices I make are far from expressing the universal truth (English not being my first language makes it even further from it), which I will never be capable of, and are more thinking aloud with a hope that some wiser, more skilled and better-read than me (like you guys) will read and verify my mental paths. Just like you, I gather, by posting here I seek not the ‘pat-on-the-back, you’re-so-right’ confirmation from a hermetic mutual admiration society, but the genuine discussion and thought exchange. I’ve been now assured with the people like you this is the place.
As for the ‘unfortunate’ title for the post and a few claims in it—I absolutely agree it’s a massive over-generalisation that suffers from my very personal stance, experiences, arrogance and some deeply held grudge I’m trying to work through. I was born and raised in Poland, a beautiful country of mostly good but very often confused people, a country rooted deeply into Roman Catholicism, and that was one of the most important reasons to leave it (I live in Edinburgh now). I’ve experienced that confusion on many levels, and although I have to admit that, being from a buddhist background (which is not, as any other non-Cathlic system of beliefs, very common in Poland), these experiences have never been for me, personally, too harmful, the general mental climate I grew up and lived in for quite a long time has never been favorable for those trying to think for themselves, with a lot of instances of direct religion-based hostility and aggression. This is my grudge. There was one thing my late grandma, who I had a very close relationship with despite her being a devout Catholic, said that struck me, and that was along the lines of ‘If you don’t believe in God, heaven and all that—what stops you from doing as you please and hurting people along the way.’ I’ve seen that many times—God and the fear of eternal punishment being probably the only factors keeping some people from hurting others, and in some more radical cases God and the promise of eternal pleasure being the very reason for hurting others.
I’ve read and thought quite a lot on religion from the moral, social and behavioral perspective (surely, not as much as you have—that seems rather obvious to me), and my conclusion so far, a very general one, which I’m always willing to alter when confronted with some more compelling views, is that theism, while—that I absolutely agree with—not being, as a concept, inherently ‘evil’, is a mental device that is useful and serves its purpose only on a very basic level—when applied to more complex dilemmas, it loses its applicability as the dogmas which serve as the basis, are too often too inflexible and rooted in the archaic and out-dated visions of the reality which may have sufficed two thousand or even two hundred years ago, but can’t stand their ground nowadays. This is also, I agree, a simplification, but the majority of the theists I’ve ever met, who are mostly generally ‘good’ people, display this quality to a lesser or a greater degree, some of them being extremely radical. That radicalism, although—one might say—statistically marginal, and its consequences, outweigh, as I see it, the benefits, which do exist, that is hard to disagree with. The fact that atrocities may be, and have been, committed with the support of theism of some sort is, for me, a reason enough to denounce it. Any ideology that takes the burden of thought, compassion and responsibility from people and places it upon some vaguely and imprecisely described deity, is—in my view—harmful, even if not directly, even if not immediately. But I may be wrong, of course, and, in this respect, I’m always ‘happy’ to be proven as such—imperfectly as it goes, I do try to grow beyond my grudges, convictions and prejudices.
So thank you once again and I’m looking forward to more inspiration and thought-provoking exchanges, hoping I won’t be the only side benefiting from them.
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