I once had a discussion with a friend of mine who believed that the world would be better off without any religion. “I think I figured it out”, he said. “[The one thing humans can] do away with that would make the world a much safer, brighter, happier, more progressive and innovative, and loving world [is religion]”.
Going with my own understanding of “religion”, I asked, “How could the world be safer, brighter, happier, more progressive/innovative/loving by doing away with a relationship with our Creator? Seems like that would be a step in the opposite direction. ”
We ended up talking about several different topics at once (whether we really know our Creator; whether He created evil/sin; the nature of free will; the state of humanity; etc.) but the main focus was religion, and whether the world would be better off without it.
I said, “Let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing:
‘Religion’: from the root word ‘relgio’ which means ‘to bind oneself’ or to enter into ‘relationship with’. It is also the means by which we express our bond to our Creator.
So, when you say we are better off without religion, or that we should abolish it, I hear you saying that we are better off without a relationship with our Creator and should abolish that relationship. Is that what you mean?
Or are you referring to having “rules” and “systems”…that we are better off without those things and should abolish all rules and systems? What do you mean by “religion”?”
By “Religion” , he clarified, “I refer to all belief systems from all cultures throughout history.” He wasn’t so much saying we should do away with a relationship, per se. He didn’t actually believe we had such a relationship with Him to begin with. Even so, I wanted to make sure he really meant “ALL” belief systems, or just certain ones.
“Something tells me that you don’t really believe that, but that you have specific systems in mind. For example: the cultural belief system that tells people that slavery and pedophilia are morally wrong, or that we should not steal/murder/etc., and that we should help those in need. You would not say that humanity is better off without that belief system, would you? Surely you are referring to a specific set of beliefs, and not ALL of them?
“No I mean all”, he replied. His belief was that, without any religion/belief system, “morality and humanity would remain and grow in some cases.” He brought up a contention that some belief systems which condemn certain acts had also condoned those same acts at one time or another. “Don’t forget that some of the popular cultural belief systems that condemn some of the things you talk about also once condoned them.” As an analogy, he offered the comparison to a cancer: “…when cutting out cancer, you don’t cut away 80% of it and hope things get better. You get it all.” In other words, certain religions/belief systems had led to some evils in the world and so proved the need to do away them all. At the heart of this, I believe, was the fact that he believed religion to be a man-made construct.
I understood what he meant from that perspective, but I was a bit puzzled. He was promoting the disposal of belief systems for the purpose of a better world because he was blaming religions for the evils done in the world. But at the exact same time, a belief system would be absolutely necessary in order to determine that those “evils” were actually evil in the first place. You can’t very well say something is either “good” or “bad” without some objective belief that something is good or bad.
It was his understanding that, without any belief system in place at all, people would naturally do “good”…that “morality and humanity” could only remain and grow. It sounded really nice in a utopian sort of way, but not realistic. The proverbial elephant in the room stomped loudly: without a “belief system”, how does anyone decide what is “moral” or not?
I pointed out the fact that some people who reject religion/belief systems ALSO commit acts which he and I would consider immoral, and they use the same argument he was using (abolish religion for increased happiness) to defend their immoral behavior. “Pedophilia Chic and the Man-Boy Love Association, for example, say that their adult-child sexual relationships are not immoral…USA Today summarized that adult-child sex is a “grey area”. I also pointed out the sad, but real consequence of having no accepted belief system: “If you condemn the pedophile, all you are doing is enforcing your own moral belief system/religion on someone who thinks pedophilia is okay. Without a belief system/religion in place (which has objective Truth), you have no basis upon which to claim that something is moral or not, and your only remaining option (if you are logically consistent) is accommodation.”
Then there was the issue of his analogy, comparing religion to a cancer, begging the question because it wrongly presumed that ALL religion is bad. “The better [analogy]”, I continued, “would be: ‘…when removing the cancerous cells from the otherwise healthy cells, you don’t destroy the entire person/organ, you only remove the cells that are cancerous, or those which pose a danger, and preserve and protect the remaining cells in that person/organ.’ Likewise in religion, you don’t abolish all religion/belief systems, or even an entire single one, just because there are ‘cancerous cells’ within one.”
I then asked several pointed questions, only two of which were pertinent to this particular part of the discussion:
- By what objective moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, can you say something is moral or immoral?
- Do you honestly believe that a life without religion/belief systems has led anyone to more happiness? Are there any cultures or people in the history of the world who truly found happiness (with progress, innovation, increased love, etc.) without a belief system/religion?
He made sure I understood that, when we talk about religion in general terms, we are talking about many religions, not just mine. “It seems to me when I say religion you hear “Just your religion” and you argue or defend your side, which is fine but I want you to know that when I speak to the abolishment of all religion I speak to many Religions such as Scientology, Christianity, Zionism, Islam and so on. So when you defend Religion…you are also standing up for those as well.” This was a fair point, and one I had considered. But my goal at that point was not to determine which belief systems were evil, just that not all of them are, and that some of them have good and bad aspects, and that it is only the bad parts that need to be removed…not “religion” as a whole.
He then made a comment which I took to be ad hominem, but perhaps he didn’t mean it that way. In the context of my mention of specific examples of evils, and my Catholic identity, this sounded like a jab at the Church: “You are basing morality off of Religion which saturated in sins and hypocrisy. Are these the morals you talk about? I’m sorry, but doesn’t the Catholic Church have a history here? Along with a few other religious faith cultures, they just don’t make it public. Poor example man.” His point here was only a superficial one. Yes, there were Priests in the Catholic Church who sexually abused children and these evils were handled improperly. (I actually wrote an in-depth and well-researched article on this topic some months back.) But his comment missed two very much larger points:
1) Those Priests were acting against Church teaching (against their religion]; the Church has never condoned such evil; in fact, it was only because the Church taught it to be sinful that it was so scandalous. The religion wasn’t the problem, sin was.
2) Without a belief system/religion in place to call this act evil, there would be no logical basis to claim that those Priests did anything wrong. [Recall that it was ALL belief systems he wanted to abolish.]
“The morals I am talking about”, I clarified, “are what YOU would consider “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “evil”.” It was right back to that looming question: “By what objective moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, can you say something is moral or immoral?”
While he didn’t address the facts regarding “Pedophilia Chic” and the “Man-Boy Love Association”, he did comment on the USA today article. “USA Today is a magazine trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator for ratings while balancing key highbrow topics to bring in the most revenue. The words they print are for sheep-people to keep them entertained. If they can mix one side up to make more magazines sale then that’s what they are going to do.”
I agreed with him 100% about that. But that wasn’t the question at hand. The question was whether they were right or wrong to call adult-child sex a “grey area”. Was the Man-Boy Love Association, who thinks that adult-child sex is okay, right or wrong? And by what moral standard, which also isn’t part of a belief system, were we measuring this morality? Those questions were not answered.
He summed up with a “perfect scenario” that might naturally occur without religion: “Tomorrow’s here: Religion is gone, the wars, the feuds, the church rivals, the hate, the hate of indifferences begin to melt away. Logic steps in, people come together to celebrate that which was once though so hateful. Wars fade, countries become one, nations become brothers, and people look after one another and thrive together. A world unity taking us into the future safely and harmoniously.”
It sounded great, but it wasn’t reflective of the reality. I pointed out that “a recent sociological study published in “Criminology” shows that people who identify as “not religious” are more likely to commit crimes. Why? This goes back to another question: Are there any cultures or people in the history of the world who truly found happiness (with progress, innovation, increased love, etc.) without a belief system/religion? Nope. Your futurist scenario sounds great, but it’s not realistic.”
All the moral evils of the world are not a religion/belief system problem, they are a sin problem; and it is God’s Church which He gave us that helps us recognize sin and root it out from our lives. God gave us “religion”. It’s how we bind ourselves to Him and it’s the means by which we express our bond to our Creator. We don’t need to do away with religion in order to be happy; quite the contrary. What we need to do is our level best to root out sin from our societies. Without a belief system/religion in place to say what is “good” or “evil”, we have no other logical choice but to accommodate every act as nothing more or less than “neutral”.