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.


10 thoughts on “Complicity Through Silence

  1. The point you’re missing Jim is that much of Judeo/Christian/Islam (the form of religion most people, pro and con, identify with when thinking of religion) is based on special cases, not general truths, so that beliefs need not be logical nor provable. Arguing logic with a religionist is pointless. The fallacy is that they have a logical basis for their special case arguments because we live in a post-Cartesian society and we structure all argument in a sort of amateurish scientific/logical format.

      1. Not sure what that means, but I confess I’m less than impressed by someone who can’t even spell his own online moniker correctly.

      2. LOL – im sorry – how do I fix ? not sure how to take that – i hope your statement is meant to be fun!
        my statement was in fun. I was musing over Ron’s critique and how it can be used to label all such arguments on all sides.

  2. Hi Jim

    I agree 100% that respect for another’s beliefs is and should be earned ( especially in religion and especially in today’s culture). However, worrying about what someone else thinks about your beliefs shouldn’t be foremost. Being true to yourself and your own beliefs should be. Im suddenly reminded of Polonius : ) Demanding respect is losing proposition anyway. Tolerance of other’s beliefs may be a different conversation. I would like to draw a distinction, but thats not my main point.

    My point : I would add that a philosophy or belief system defined solely on one’s interpretation of logic should be held to the same standards as you point out. Religion as a relative to cultural representation suggests If “evil” exists within religious contexts, “evil” certainly exists outside of religious contexts as well. Non believers should have to prove that their belief system is “ clean “ also. After all, logic in an of itself can be rather cold and harsh (one may even say,” contemptible” if comparing logical outcomes.)

    I believe it fair that no particular belief system should be presumed “non contemptible.” belief systems are not stagnant and do not exist in a vacuum of thought. People grow as do their beliefs.

    Funny that most cited for the decline in organized religion attendance in America is the observation that so-called “religious people” just act like everyone else. Most observers see no difference between “religious” people and those that have no affiliation with “religious” groups. You may probably want to say that its the religious people that are the baseline for the mundane. Religious people should be held to a higher standard and should absolutely follow their beliefs to the best of their ability. They are the one claiming a path to salvation right? In other countries at the moment there is a explosion of converts to Christianity ( Middle East and Africa, even in China). People are being persecuted as Christian believers in these other countries from political and religious opposition yet America is seen as weak in religious belief. So I say keep calling them out Jim! Challenge them to prove themselves as the chosen few!

    Your thesis echos aforementioned stat to a degree. Troubling me though is that you seem to hold disdain for people who vary from your particular points of view and assign a negative religious attribute as proof. Further you seem to assign more harsh adjectives to believers ( Catholics) in certain groups than others based on your beliefs. All this leads to some questions i have to help me understand your position and outlook as an atheist and socialist. Do you hold deeper seated disdain for catholics than other christian organizations?

    If I may ask, Do you have a certain model for your beliefs? or do you just create your system based on your experiences and understanding ? you’ve mentioned logic quite a bit… so im just guessing really. I hope you dont mind me asking. Is logic indeed the basis for your beliefs?

    I know you “sometimes “ point to the negative aspects of religion as i do also.
    Looking at some of the recent reports of atrocities committed by islamic groups on women and children, i would like to know thoughts on what should be done to help alleviate suffering and deaths that occur from religious/political intolerance?

    1. The more dogmatic the religion, the more offended I am by it. Catholicism, Bible-thumping Evangelical Protestantism, Mormonism, and certain branches of Judaism and Islam are baffling to me, and offensive. I find the neo-Pagan movement a lot less offensive, in spite of its New Age silliness, because they admit they’re making it up as they go along. It’s all based on personal experience, not dogma.

      Most of the time, I have no religious beliefs. In certain moods, I’m happy to play around with pantheistic Buddhist ideas, such as the notion that if the idea of “God” makes any sense, everything in the universe IS “God,” because it would be absurd and impossible for God to create anything that wasn’t God. But that’s just a parlor trick, it’s not serious theology.

      Logic is an interesting subject. I could speculate that it’s absurd to think that the universe is constrained to obey the laws of logic, because logic was invented by the Greeks in about 500 BCE, so it’s just another human dogma. Nevertheless, logic is one of the most powerful tools we have for understanding the universe. It has proven its value over the centuries. So if there are “edge cases” where logic fails, logic dictates that those edge cases must be demonstrated to have a logical basis. (Insert groaning noises here.)

      1. That sounds logical … i can understand and respect that. : ) A lot of younger atheists i speak with insist that they only live according to the same strict rules of logic or scientific methodology used to argue their positions. Im always amazed by that possibility. They always seem so angry. So its nice to freely discuss personal belief systems ( whether those beliefs include God or not ) with someone who doesn’t feel threatened by disclosing the origins that guide them. Usually i sense more rebellion than enlightenment possibly from being emotionally hurt or socially rejected ( they stop wanting to learn and indeed declare victory rejecting a path to further understanding .) a bit disturbing to me. Again i appreciate wisdom that comes reconciling one’s beliefs with the rest of the known world. We live in”interesting times” as the old chinese proverb suggests. Most of us want the same stuff and Im happy to reason a bit with you.

  3. I apologize Jim – i dont want to be seen as attacking or a constantly negative. Please disregard the questions and the last 3 paragraphs. As interesting as i believe your answers to be relevant to the discussion, you dont have the time to answer a guest’s petty questions in all seriousness. I should infer all i need to from your entries. Life is short enough right? I really enjoy your articles and I should really just be encouraging with my comments instead of digging for more insight. I sense from your first response that Ive become some sort of adversarial pain in the neck as i invoked a negative reaction. So i will keep it light. thank you for response.

    1. I’m happy to have comments. I was just making an offhand comment about your first comment because it came out of nowhere and didn’t make any sense to me. Obviously you _are_ thinking about stuff, so I hope you’ll forgive my being rude.

      1. thanks for clarifying, i just dont want you think i was trying to attack or corner you ( i understand why you would think that). more than not I try to find the parts of life we can all relate to … the humor of examining ourselves, etc.. music and architecture are my professions anyway so maybe I should stick to those subjects. : )

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