Sometimes I make statements critical of religion. Not infrequently, someone (usually it’s someone who apparently espouses a religious faith) responds by pointing out the good things that religion brings into the world.
It would be silly to deny that religious people sometimes do good things. Quite often, the good things are suggested by their pastors, or by their peers within the congregation. The question that has to be asked is, does that fact let religion off the hook? Should we respect religion as an institution because it sometimes leads people to undertake good and praiseworthy actions?
The default presumption — and this may be especially true in the United States, because it was founded by people who firmly believed in tolerance toward all religions — is that religion is entitled to respect. Today I’m going to suggest that the default presumption has it exactly backward. By default, religion is entitled to contempt.
If you feel that all religions, or some religion in particular, should be respected, the burden is on you to demonstrate why. Of course, this will require that you engage in a strict logical analysis of the real world, something that people of faith are generally either ill-equipped or afraid to do. But the fact that you’re ill-equipped to enter the fray doesn’t absolve you of responsibility. If you’re going to defend religion, you’re going to have to articulate your position in a logical manner. If you fail to do so, you really have no basis for complaint when people are contemptuous of your religion.
I’m not going to help you, either. I assert that religion is contemptible. If you’re convinced I’m wrong, prove it.
It’s quite clear that some religions actively promote hatred, cruelty, and vicious oppression. The Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to birth control and active (though tacit) support of pedophiles, the Mormons’ opposition to equal rights for gay, lesbian, and transgendered people, the Evangelicals’ unceasing attempts to undermine reproductive rights, the subjugation of women by orthodox Judaism and Islam — a long list would be easy to put together.
These activities may be less energetic or less effective today than in former centuries, but that’s only because of an effective, enlightened, secular opposition! Left to their own devices, most religions would surely revert before very long to rigid social control, outright bigotry, and blind support for injustice.
Some religions are, of course, more enamored of or sunk in evil than others. The reason religion as a whole deserves our contempt is precisely this: The nice, kind, good religions give a free pass to their wicked brethren. With a wink and a nod, they charitably overlook the nasty stuff — because, hey, aren’t all religions entitled to tolerance and respect?
If you feel your religion is good, you have to earn my respect. The way you earn it is by cleansing religion — the institution as a whole — of evil. If you give evil a free pass by remaining silent about its institutional origins and institutional support, then your religion is as despicable as all the others.
I happen to have a lot of respect for the social opinions of the Unitarian Universalists, so this morning I had a look at their website. I was searching for an indication, however tenuous, that they condemned the actions of the Catholics and the Mormons. I couldn’t find one.
I downloaded a long Unitarian Universalist PDF detailing actions for social justice that the UU organization has taken over the years. I searched this document for the word “Catholic.” What I found was revealing, and underscores my point: All of the references to the Catholic Church were positive! Again and again, the Unitarians cited good stands that were taken, or good statements that were made, by the Catholic hierarchy. Yet at no point in this document (I searched it for “birth control” as well) did the Unitarians acknowledge that they are in direct opposition to the vicious oppression that is actively promoted by the Catholic Church.
If you read only this document, you’ll come away with the bizarre idea that the Unitarians and the Catholics are brothers, arms linked in solidarity as they promote social justice.
This is why religion is contemptible. The Unitarians, who are basically good people, cannot bring themselves to criticize the Catholic Church. By their silence, they make themselves complicit in the evils perpetrated by the Catholic Church. And they leave sensible people unable to respect their gutless religion.