In “The Death of Conscience (Part One),” (Free Inquiry, April/May 2008 –not available online) Shadia B. Drury makes it clear that not all religion is bad. She recognizes the religious backdrop to the successful efforts to repeal slavery, to promote civil rights and to create the Red Cross. “As these examples show, religion cannot simply be dismissed as pure evil or the ally of all the evils in the world. Life is not that simple.”
Where is it, then, that religion goes bad? “The human inability to accept a flawed and imperfect world and the longing for a world of perfection and Justice (either here on Earth or in the beyond) are at the heart of the problem.” She argues that it is the dream of “escaping” to some perfect world that invites religious madness. And she doesn’t mince her words on this: “Religiously inspired crime is unsurpassed in malignity and moral blindness.”
I disagree with Drury when she attributes all the worst human rights abuses to religion. It is my belief that wickedness comes in many flavors. Many horrid acts are clearly based on religion. Others, however, are based upon a pretend religiousness and some of them are not based upon any form of religion at all. To me, religion is one way (among many) that people can be inspired to do good things and one way (among many) that people can be inspired to do bad things.
Even though I disagree with Drury on the above point, she does present some interesting reasons for how and why things go wrong when they go very wrong in the name of religion. I think that she is right about these factors where great evils are, indeed, perpetrated in the name of religion:
Religion is akin to a mind altering or hallucinogenic drug-in small doses it may be harmless (or even beneficial) but in large doses lethal. There are several reasons for this. First, the otherworldly sensibility that religion makes it seem as if death, suffering and construction in this world are of no consequence. This is particularly true of Islam and Christianity. Second, the belief in the gratuitous wickedness of humanity makes it seem as if no amount of horror inflicted on human beings is undeserved. This is particular true of Christianity. Third, and most significantly, religion (and lethal doses) undermines the rational faculty and it leads, for all practical purposes, to the death of conscience. Ghastly deeds can then be carried out in good conscience. In the absence of any pangs of conscience, wickedness reaches new heights.
[Emphasis added to the above quote.]
Note: in this same issue of Free Inquiry (April/May 2008), articles by entomologist E.O. Wilson (“Denial and Its Risks”) and Preacher P. Andrew Sandlin (“Global Ecology and Godly Stewardship”) are evidence that Believers and non-Believers can collaborate on accomplish important tasks (preserving biodiversity), albeit with distinct motivations.