I don’t think it can be denied that religion provides much good to the individual. Those who suffer from addictions, the effects of abuse and loss of loved ones are strengthened and comforted by the religions of the world.
Many are comforted by the knowledge that there is more to life than what we see. That helps them deal with the daily trails and tribulations that can all too often discourage us.
I don’t dispute that.
Religions also provide a framework of community that helps people come together to help each other. One need only look to your local churches to find food banks, clothing drives and other altruistic community activities that benefit your less fortunate neighbors.
This also is hard to ignore or speak ill of.
However, when multiplied by millions or billions of people, certain tenants of religion which are built into the doctrine can become toxic.
In the late 80s computer technology in the investment industry had given some brokers an edge over their competition. Complicated algorithms would determine the best time to buy and sell stocks. However, as more and more firms got the software the computer systems began to synchronize and it eventually led to wild fluctuations in the market bringing on an automated sell off and the crash of October 19, 1987. See this article for more…
It wasn’t the only reason for the crash and it’s an imperfect analogy, but I think it illustrates my point that small advantages for a few can add up to large problems for many.
It’s the same with religion. When multiplied by millions you inevitably get conflict between religions and even sub-cults of various religions because of the very nature of elements within the doctrine. These elements are inherent in any successful religion.
Here are what I think are the top 5 elements of dogmatic religion that, when multiplied, have created conflict in the world. I don’t think I need to provide examples of the kinds of conflicts these elements have created. We are sadly all too familiar with them.
1. The “one true” religion. – This assertion is necessary for religion in order for it to create a cohesive community. Believers must believe that they have found the best possible faith among the many that exist in order for them to commit completely to it. However, when expanded to the world at large it also tends to pit the religion against all others.
2. Spreading the “word” – What at first seems harmless enough, sharing your good fortune with other individuals and family members, turns ugly when it become transformed onto the world stage. This exhortation to spread the word becomes a drive to proselytize, sometimes aggressively, and when two such religions meet we get the kind of conflict that Islam and Christianity have had since the beginning.
Again, each religion NEEDS to be the ONLY one. That directive is at the core of each of the philosophies and therefore conflict is inevitable on the large scale. Although an individual Muslim and an individual Christian could live harmoniously side by side, Islam and Christianity cannot. (In another forum someone wrote recently, “Those of us in the CHRISTIAN world…”. Need I say more?)
3. “Be fruitful and multiply” – It makes sense for religion to have rules against contraception. In order for a religion to be successful it must have members! Any religion which wants to survive and dominate needs to have within its God-given code a provision that ensures that its adherents have lots of children. That seems obvious and basic. However, with the world dangerously close to self destruction from overpopulation I don’t think I need to elaborate more about how this has become a very bad thing.
4. The vagueness of scripture – Scripture can be interpreted in many different ways. That can be good for the individual. We can each find what we need to find in the dogma. It can speak to us in different, very personal ways. However when multiplied, conflicts over interpretation leads to fracturing of religions and sectarian violence; fighting WITHIN the religion.
Very often you will have two factions who profess to be following the same religious teaching of peace, viciously murdering each other because of differences of opinion about how that peace is to be achieved.
5. Prophecy – The prophetic nature of some religious texts is said to prove that these texts are inspired by a God who is foretelling the future. There are many problems with this notion that I won’t go into here, but prophecy certainly can give confidence and comfort to the individual believer who likes to think that God has a plan for us and that everything will work out in the end. Unfortunately prophecies can become self fulfilling.
If an entire society believes something will happen, the collective mind will do things to ensure that it will happen. If billions of people believe the end of the world is nigh, is it hard to imagine that they will collectively do things and make decisions which will help to bring about that destruction?
Are prophecies indeed the foretelling of the future, or are they warnings about a dim future that we might avoid if we did not think these dire events inevitable?
Can you think of any other examples?