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The Dark Side of Religion PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Bart Farkas   

Without question most religions function within a framework that is fundamentally good, with much of the focus of teachings boiling down to being good to your fellow man (or woman) and being a decent person. But one has to be either naïve or in deep denial to think that there isn't a dark side to religions. Indeed, those jets flying into the twin towers had a religious component, and the Olympic bombing in Atlanta had a religious component, as did the tragedy in Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, scores of abortion clinic bombings and nearly all of the conflict in the Middle East. To be sure, I'm not blaming these actions exclusively on religion, because it's people that do these things, not the religion itself. That said, religion does play a role in these events and the problem occurs when people interpret religion in such a way that it denigrates a particular group of people or encourages violence.

I had a personal experience where I sent my children to a camp at a local church and asked the organizer before the camp if religion was going to be pushed heavily on the kids. They told me that it was just a fun camp with a small christian component, and very little religion. Sometime after the camp one of my kids told me that he was a bad person, a sinner in fact, because he had caused my wife to suffer when he was born, and that he caused the doctors to work hard and therefore him and his brother were sinners just for being born. I was shocked to hear this coming out of the mouth of a 6 year old, but when I asked him he told me he had been taught this doctrine, at length, at the very camp that had promised me they wouldn't be pushing religion. Now, the kids were at a church-sponsored camp and so I accept that there was a religious component, indeed I expected that, but I'm sorry folks, telling kids they are sinners for hurting their birth mothers isn't religion, that's child abuse. Telling a child that they are a sinner for being born because he hurt his mother is mental torture and those that engage in this behavior should be ashamed of themselves. In fact, if this behavior wasn't hiding behind the protective cover of religion it probably would be actionable by authorities.

So where does the dark side of religion come from? Where does it show up? In my opinion the dark side of religion rears its ugly head when extremes become the norm. Fundamentalist is a word that turns me off because it tends to mean extreme, fundamental, black and white thinking no matter which religion we're talking about. That kind of thinking can be dangerous and hurtful, which leads me to what prompted me to write this article in the first place. It was a piece I saw written by former President Jimmy Carter.

President Carter is a guy that I have a great deal of respect for because after his presidency he has worked tirelessly to make the world a better place and spends huge amounts of his time working with Habitat For Humanity, often working to build houses with his own hands. He founded the Carter Center which works around the world to help eradicate diseases like malaria, Guinea worm, and schistosomiasis (all nasty diseases). But he also worked hard to find peaceful solutions to major problems throughout the world, winning the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE in 2002.

President Carter is also a deeply religious man. In fact, he is a committed Baptist and was a prestigious member of the Southern Baptist Convention, an organization in existence since 1845 with a mandate to "...proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world." In 2000, however, President Carter severed his tied with the SBC because of the convention's view toward women, specifically the view of the SBC that women are subservient to men. Indeed, on July 12 of this year Carter came out with a press release statement that read "The words of god do not justify cruelty to women." His statement is part of his work with a group called The Elders, which is a collection of respected luminaries from around the world who are working to make the world a better place. The Elders include folks like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Kofi Annan and are an impressive group of former leaders and intellectuals who have spent their lives attempting to make the world a better place.

Carter's words, in my opinion, are poignant even though they are cutting, and they should make us all sit up and take notice of inflexible beliefs that can hurt other humans. To quote President Carter directly, he said:

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.

Wow, that's powerful stuff. And you know, it's in those extreme areas where I think religion falls off the rails of decency. Anytime that there is pious dishonesty (lying because you think it's better for god, such as those that were involved in the Dover Intelligent Design trial were accused of doing), violence in the name of a god or religion, or (as is most common) hatred and bigotry as the result of religion, I think that religion has gone too far. Women jailed for wearing pants, or beaten for sitting in the front seat of a taxi cab, or taking the blame for being raped; these are all common occurrences in our world. In the western world it often happens in different ways such as people being excluded or castigated based on their sexuality or a soldier's funeral being picketed by an extremist church because of the military's stance on homosexuality.

Anytime that someone else tells you how to think or treat someone else, it's worth giving it some real thought to see what the motivation is behind what's being said (and that includes what I'm saying here). Does religion keep women down? Absolutely it does, and you can sit back and think that it doesn't happen in Canada, but when you really look at some of the fundamentalist practitioners of all religions, it's clear that it happens everywhere whether it's a woman walking three steps behind her husband or a woman being denied the right to work, or a teenage girl having to marry a 55 year old man in a polygamous community.

 

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written by Otara, August 21, 2009
I wish it was as simple as 'lying'. The real problem is that some religions are based on moral codes from 1000 or more years ago, and things like how women were viewed then mean that the texts _will_ support things like men being lords over women.

The real problem is these texts being seen as a 'the last word' rather than writings that need to be read in relation to their historical context. As long as its claimed they're from divine inspiration rather than fallible humanity, its going to be a tough gig.

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written by Urmensch, August 21, 2009
Just being picky but isn't the pain women suffer in childbirth supposed to be due to a curse on Eve because she tempted Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?
What about this god character being such an asshole for putting the tree in the garden in the first place when he knew how it was all going to turn out?

Not that I am surprised at twisted Christian 'logic' to then put the guilt for the pain on the child being born.
Religion often seems to work by getting children when they're young and instilling a sense of guilt, culpability and wretchedness.
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written by GeekGoddess, August 22, 2009
I want my children to have a sense of guilt, but for valid reasons: lying, stealing, cheating at school, causing deliberate harm to people. Not having any sense of guilt about your negatve actions is the mark of a sociopath. I hope Bart contacted this camp about what they've done to his children.
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written by ZimZam, August 22, 2009
The first and foremost evil in religions is the idea that the members of a certain religious group are morally superior. All islamist fanatics despise christians and especially atheists because they are immoral in comparison to the laws of Islam. That is the moral justification for muslim terrorists to fly airplanes in to buildings. That is the moral justification for Christian fanatics to murder doctors working in abortion clinics. They honestly believe to be righteous.

Atheists are being accused of having no morality, giving Hitler and Stalin as the worst examples. The ironic thing is that there is no less crimes committed in Islamic countries or among Christians, if compared to crimes committed by atheists. Where are the high moral standards that atheists lack of? Even I as an atheist think that it is necessary to punish those who commit crimes. So what is the difference between me and a religious fanatic? I believe that morality is an issue to be solved between men, not between gods.
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written by bosshog, August 22, 2009
"Without question most religions function within a framework that is fundamentally good, with much of the focus of teachings boiling down to being good to your fellow man (or woman) and being a decent person."

Weren't we just recently scoffing at the idea that these wild-eyed religious nuts tend to be better educated than the norm?
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written by kenhamer, August 22, 2009
So where does the dark side of religion come from?

I sometimes wonder if that isn't putting the cart before the horse. It often seems to me that religion is used a post facto justification of previously existent ugly beliefs and behaviours.

(I.e. like the Louisiana leader of the "Christian Coalition" claiming on NPR last week that "Health care is a privilege, not a right.")
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written by Stuffed Penguin, August 22, 2009
So where does the dark side of religion come from?
The same place as where dark side of political ideology comes from. And the same place where the dark side of, say, animal rights activism comes from. Basically, the same place where the dark side of any ideology with moral connotations comes from.
Well, I can really only speculate on what it is. I'd hazard to guess it is actually something that is due to the innate human psychology/sociology, and something that can afflict anyone. (In the same way that the stanford prison experiment showed that ordinary decent people can be turned into sadistic bastards given the 'right' circumstances and opportunities.)
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written by Stuffed Penguin, August 22, 2009
So what is the difference between me and a religious fanatic? I believe that morality is an issue to be solved between men, not between gods.
The problem is that they also believe it's a matter to be settled between men; if only they left it to their gods to smite the infidels, they wouldn't be such trouble.
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written by CasaRojo, August 22, 2009
"Without question most religions function within a framework that is fundamentally good,"

With so much BS and the encouragement of magical thinking (not to mention the atrocities) I *have* to question whether religion operates within a framework of fundamental goodness. If something strives to keep you ignorant and basically seriously screws with your head, it's *not* "fundamentally" good in my book. I find that statement as I find most of the bible, ultimately a total contradiction. Sure, churches can do good and Charles Manson is probably not all bad but...

IMHO, Without question most religions function within a framework that is fundamentally confusing at best. Now, if you mean that many religious people are fundamentally good hearted, I may be able to accept that as misguided as they may be, generally speaking of course.
I don't mean to be arguing semantics. I seriously believe that religion, in general, is NOT operating from a framework of fundamental goodness and does NOT deserve the designation.
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@Stuffed Penguin
written by CasaRojo, August 22, 2009
"(In the same way that the stanford prison experiment showed that ordinary decent people can be turned into sadistic bastards given the 'right' circumstances and opportunities.) "

That study was seriously flawed. It was not scientific the way I understand it and was never peer reviewed. IOW I find the conclusions meaningless.
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written by Jo, August 22, 2009
In the same way that the stanford prison experiment showed that ordinary decent people can be turned into sadistic bastards given the 'right' circumstances and opportunities.


A little off topic, but I wouldn't be citing the Standford experiment as evidence of anything. The manner in which it was conducted was highly questionable and very, very unscientific. It succeeded in affirming the preexisting biases of Zimbardo, but it's pretty clear that some of the abusers in the experiment were simply playing the part that they thought was expected of them, and Zimbardo made no attempt to account for the kinder actions of some of the other guards.
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Come on and take a free ride, yeah, yeah, yeah!!
written by Zen66, August 22, 2009
People so want religion to "function within a framework that is fundamentally good". Even the good hearted Mr. Farkus. This is why the simple act of attaching 'god' to any act of man gives men permission to act inhumanly toward one another. Those who interpret the Word (of whichever god) are not following The Word. To be a fundamentalist is the only acceptable method of conducting one's self by the very word of god. The Ten Commandments are not for the wishy-washy, part time religious. If you ain't in the group it doesn't matter if you follow them or not. Jesus (Muhammad, et al) talks about foregoing all members of ones family and excepting him as your only family. If you aren't in his family you're either to be made a slave or killed. That is not fundamentally good.

What is fundamentally good then? People like Mr. Farkus, Pres. Carter, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Kofi Annan who DO interpret the word. Why they feel they need religion to do good works? I don't know, but I suspect they know people are not perfect and are trying to fill that gap because they too believe religion is fundamentally good. I also suspect they would do good works if they knew nothing of religion, an assumption I make by their willingness to interpret the Word and shun the fundamental aspect of it. (I only site men here as Mr. Farkus only sites men, curious given his final point - not damnation just a curious thing).

I do wish more people would see religion for what it is: not a good book telling us how to act good, but as an instruction manual on how to crush others. We know how to act good, we know what it takes to preserve society. Evolution may provide for outside forces to destroy a species but evolution does not allow for a species to self immolate. No god needed to make us aware of the necessity to be good to the group. Even before we could talk as a species we knew enough to be good to each other in order to survive. We knew to feed and protect one another long before religion came along. Killing members of the group not good, no commandments needed. Religion makes us fear the outsider, its an extension of group-think to the extreme. Extremes are dangerous.
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written by GeekGoddess, August 22, 2009
@ZimZam - there are very few atheists in prison. That tells me a lot.

@kenhamer - a 'right' is a freedom you have as a result of being a person and being alive - a right to speak freely, a right to worship a god or to worship nothing at all, a right to be protected from being forced to provide quarter for soliders, a right move freely within the country without showing papers, a right to your own personage. Those don't cause obligation by others, although they CAN be taken away. No one must be obliged to give you a newspaper to publish your thoughts, no one must pay for you to move from Baltimore to Los Angeles, or pay for your church building. I don't have a right to a car, but I have a right to spend my earnings on whatever I wish to, including a car.

When you declare as a 'right' something like health care, or a job or a house or a car, you are then obligating someone else to provide and pay for that thing. Rights are something you have (or should have) innately, for being alive. Other things, like but not limited to health care, (or a job, or homeownership, or a car) are not 'rights' but can still be a service that we want everyone to have. As citizens of a prosperous country, we should all be able to enjoy the privileges of living in that prosperity. But that doesn't mean that they are 'rights' in the correct meaning. You imply evil intent, but this is what is meant by these terms.

@Jo is correct about Zimbardo - he advertised for people to come serve as prison guards, which likely attracted people who wanted to BE prison guards. The study has been repeatedly debunked but lives on in the popular memory.

In general - I have read about half of the Bible (not straight through), and I have been slogging through the Koran and some works about the Koran. I'm an atheist. I don't believe in any basic premise of any religion. Most of these texts no NOT teach that their purpose is to "crush" others, and it's ignorant to say so. We don't need any revealed texts to tell us how to treat people well, and there is no sky daddy, but some of the vicious hatred I see coming from atheists is no better than what you see from the fundie wackos or the Koran.

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@GeekGoddess
written by CasaRojo, August 22, 2009
"Most of these texts no NOT teach that their purpose is to "crush" others"

Wherein lies my point as stated above. The bible is at best contradictory and confusing. That is, if you actually read it and I've found that most "believers" don't.

-- "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me." What are we supposed to do with everyone who doesn't believe in God? We are supposed to Kill them. Deuteronomy chapter 17 says that we are supposed to stone non-believers to death." http://whydoesgodhateamputees.com/video2.htm --

But love your neighbor.

It's time this mythology joins the rest of mythology.
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So where does the dark side of religion come from?
written by MDeaver, August 22, 2009
Seems to me there's another source for the dark side of religion: Power and control; using religious arguments and doctrine as an excuse to exert power over another individual, or to control another group. Mr. Farkus mentions several examples in his essay of men using religion to control women. There are many such examples, past and present.
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written by CasaRojo, August 22, 2009
"Seems to me there's another source for the dark side of religion: Power and control; using religious arguments and doctrine as an excuse to exert power over another individual, or to control another group."

That and just plain crazy. I think we have to keep in mind that to really understand what the texts are saying we have to know Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and probably Latin. Then we have to understand the definitions of the terminology used within the time frame of when it was written as meanings of words change and evolve over time. And we have to understand the social/political context. What texts were not selected for the canon and why.....

Personally, I've no need to delve that far into it as most certainly god has made sure that the translations are right on. All differently worded dozens of them. ;-)
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written by samwinx77, August 22, 2009
Ok I was never really fan of the nonsense the religion preaches, doesn't matter which religion it is, they all have one thing in common, they are the only religion that will make you go to heaven or have salvation. Nowadays there are 3 major reasons people fight, power, money, religion.

Californication Streaming
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written by Random, August 22, 2009
President Carter certainly did not "...[work] tirelessly to make the world a better place..." as he spread slanderous lies about Israel. Carter has done far more harm than good during and since his Presidency. Even if he opposed Christian extremists he has supported Hamas, who are now forcing religious extremism on Gaza.
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dark side
written by Diverted Chrome, August 22, 2009
It's the Dark Side of Jimmy Carter that makes me shake my head.
He wants to pick out verses from the bible that validate what he already believes and ignore the rest, but then gets angry when others do the same; particularly when they go mining the Judaic texts, which clearly support a different god and a different religion.

Grow up Jimmy. You're clinging to a darkness in which you have zero need whatsoever. You're complaining abut the very thing you're implicitly supporting. You're a better man than this.
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Walk in a believer's shoes when you read their books...
written by Zen66, August 22, 2009
written by GeekGoddess;

"Most of these texts (d)o NOT teach that their purpose is to "crush" others, and it's ignorant to say so. We don't need any revealed texts to tell us how to treat people well, and there is no sky daddy, but some of the vicious hatred I see coming from atheists is no better than what you see from the fundie wackos or the Koran."


Glad to see that you are trying to make it though the bible and Koran. Myself; I've read the old testament, new testament, the Koran, the Qqur'an (an Islamic army buddy's mother sent me a beautifully bound copy I still have), the Ramayana, Journey to the West, the sutras, most of Joseph Campbell's work, as many mythes and legends as I could (can, still going!) get my hands on. I love myth and what it says about our early development. Not bragging, I just want you to know where I'm coming from in terms of my 'ignorance'. I will tell you that you are wrong (understandably so). Most of these texts, the more hardcore religious ones especially, do in fact
instruct their followers to dehumanize others. Try reading the bible as a believer. Love thy neighbor means love your fellow believer, he is your neighbor because you are not supposed to live next to an other. You may treat others any way you please, until they convert due to your constant efforts to convert them. From the believers point of view the contradictions of any religious text make sense. What is good for the goose is NOT good for the gander because the gander is not part of your flock. The duality of these texts is meaningful, contradictions are part of the game.

As for "vicious hatred I see coming from atheists is no better than what you see from the fundie wackos or the Koran", I don't know which atheists you hang out with but if you can compare them to anything any fundamentalist has ever done, I say run away! I've read many comments by you and respect much of what you say. That, however, is a troubling comparison.


written by MDeaver, August 22, 2009

"Seems to me there's another source for the dark side of religion: Power and control; using religious arguments and doctrine as an excuse to exert power over another individual, or to control another group."

Good point but I think abuse of power and control came as a result of religion not the other way around. The first religions were female centric. Men recognized the opportunity for abuse.


written by Diverted Chrome, August 22, 2009

"It's the Dark Side of Jimmy Carter that makes me shake my head."

Your personal feelings toward Carter and lack of understanding of his purposes may have something to do with the head shaking. He doesn't support Hamas or Palestine, he supports the people living under these ideologies. They legally chose these leaders because they did not like/understand/believe in the alternatives. Carter believes that if we treat the people humanely, they will turn their backs on extremism. Right, wrong? Even an atheist can hope. And you don't have to like Carter to treat people better.
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There Is Something That I Do Not Understand
written by AICHinEdmonton, August 22, 2009
There is one thing that I find puzzling about religion. Whenever a prophet goes out into the wilderness, either literally or figuratively, to commune with God, I would expect that he/she would come back with a new piece to the religious puzzle. Over time, I would expect that all of these various puzzle pieces would start to form into a unified picture of what God expects of us. So that over time I would expect that all religions would be moving together towards one divine goal.

This does not seem to be the case. In fact, whenever a prophet returns from the “wilderness” he/she usually has a completely different version of what God expects of us when compared with that which God revealed to the previous prophets. So instead of religion gradually coming together, over time, towards a divine goal, religion becomes more and more fractionated over time.

I do not understand why this state of affairs does not appear to bother religious folks.
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duh!!!!
written by Zen66, August 22, 2009
Qur'an not Qqur'an ---- big fingers!
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written by Stuffed Penguin, August 22, 2009
@CasaRojo, Jo and GeekGoddess
Thank you for pointing out issues with Stanford prison experiment. I guess I should have read up on it a little more, rather than go with memory and rumour just because it fits my pet theory smilies/tongue.gif
I'll try to have a better evidence base to present if I ever bring the topic up in the future.


@Zen66
Evolution may provide for outside forces to destroy a species but evolution does not allow for a species to self immolate.
It does. But quite obviously there is selection pressure against species that self-destruct. Evolution doesn't look where it's going, so there's no reason why it wouldn't give a species short-term beneficial behaviour that ultimately leads to its extinction. (If you know the Prisoner's Dilemma, consider what would happen to a population of cooperators. Defectors would have short-term benefits, and thus take over the population, ultimately devastating fitness of the population as a whole.)

Here's an article from New Scientist on the subject: "Evolution myths: Evolution promotes the survival of species"

No god needed to make us aware of the necessity to be good to the group. Even before we could talk as a species we knew enough to be good to each other in order to survive.
It's not like you even need to be aware of the necessity, or know much at all, to be good to each other. Pro-social instincts can account for a lot. Plenty of animals show altruistic and cooperative behaviour to a certain extent.

Religion makes us fear the outsider
I don't think we needed religion for that. In general we simply fear what is different and unknown.
I would say religion has tended to make the groups bigger and (in that sense) more inclusive; which, admittedly, probably also means the conflicts have been greater. I also wouldn't discount its historic utility just because we have reached an age where we have (hopefully) outgrown it. At the very least, it seems to have given cultures of the past an evolutionary advantage great enough to drive non-religious cultures to extinction. That's just evolution at work on a cultural level (and not an endorsement).

@AICHinEdmonton
There is one thing that I find puzzling about religion. Whenever a prophet goes out into the wilderness, either literally or figuratively, to commune with God, I would expect that he/she would come back with a new piece to the religious puzzle. Over time, I would expect that all of these various puzzle pieces would start to form into a unified picture of what God expects of us. So that over time I would expect that all religions would be moving together towards one divine goal.

I think that's what basically the Bahá'í Faith believes.
Of course, for most religions it's very simple, from their perspective the other ones are just plain wrong. Their prophets were either misunderstood, or probably got their ideas from a devil, or from thin air. There isn't a reason to think the religions should be moving toward one divine goal unless you presuppose they're all divinely inspired.
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written by MandySmith24, August 22, 2009
The article seems to have been written under the assumption we're Canadian. WTF !!??
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written by garyg, August 22, 2009
Religion is useful if it keeps people from the temptation to do bad things.

Someone once defined conscience as "the feeling that someone might be watching".
If that's an invisible deity, all the better for society, all other things being equal, of course.
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I'm not sure I agree
written by Alencon, August 22, 2009
I'm not certain I can agree with the statement that "most religions function within a framework that is fundamentally good."

I might accept the idea that most religious people function within a framework that is fundamentally good, but they could do that equally as well without religion.

The problem is the definition of "good." To Christianity for example, anything that brings a "sinner" to Jesus is "good" and I'm not at all certain the means used matters. So, to Chrisitianity, what they did to your son was "good." I think it's safe to say there would be considerable disagreement about the definition of "good." I would also fiercely debate the idea that a 6 year old can be a "sinner."

I might also point out that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has a history of preying upon the young, the ignorant and the frightened.

So, based upon my very secular, more or less atheistic viwepoint, while most religious folks may be "good," I'm not sure about religion itself.
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So sad to see the JREF like this
written by stifenlaso, August 22, 2009
There was a time when I enjoyed the JREF page. I regularly (not to say "religiously", right?) visited it to read Randi's posts and rants, which are always brilliant, and to share his fight against irrationality and woo-woo.

Sadly, somewhere along the line the new JREF crowd became more interested in bashing "religion". Yes, "religion", as if there was such a thing! As if every "religion" were the same! As if we could simply define what "religion" is...

And now the same crowd that cheers Dawkins, Dennett and Pinker (whose great contributions to knowledge are only surpassed by their ability to regurgitate complex issues and give easy-to-quote simplistic answers to mass media) for being "bright", gathers round to feel good about themselves for not being "idiotic" and "irrational". Yes, it's so good to be "bright"! And it feels so right! Because it's self-righteous.

So sad...
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written by Santanaou812, August 22, 2009
It is a fact that religion in general has a sad history of preying upon the young, the ignorant and the frightened.Throught history, with few exception, religon, in one way or another, has ben responsable for more deaths than any other group/

This applies equally to all religious groups from Islam to Christianity and everything in between!



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Had to stop...
written by Michael K Gray, August 22, 2009
I stopped reading after the first sentence:
"Without question most religions function within a framework that is fundamentally good..."
I question that assertion.
The "without question" bit is total and completely bogus.
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Stuffed Penguin wrote:
written by Zen66, August 22, 2009
@Zen66

Evolution may provide for outside forces to destroy a species but
evolution does not allow for a species to self immolate.

It does. But quite obviously there is selection pressure against species that self-destruct. Evolution doesn't look where it's going, so there's no reason why it wouldn't give a species short-term beneficial behaviour that ultimately leads to its extinction. (If you know the Prisoner's Dilemma, consider what would happen to a population of cooperators. Defectors would have short-term benefits, and thus take over the population, ultimately devastating fitness of the population as a whole.)

True, but self immolation is different from the evolutionary process putting pressure on a species to become extinct. Also the Prisoners' Dilemma is a dilemma due to an outside force 'looking' to elicit one of a selected set of responses from its subjects. And its far to limited to apply to a species. A species of cooperators: ants? But I'm not an ant guy.

I completely agree with you about defectors having short term benefits. We have to agree on the difference between mental issues and actual defectors though. No slight meant here, its just that we have to distinguish between talking about King George's mental state in later life from King George's actions during the multiple wars throughout his reign. (not KG specifically, he is just an example of a defector from good due to his will AND his illness). Anyway, the bad have had influence on our history to be sure. But: 1) I think our brains helped us transcend evolution at some point, 2) learning from the bad has refined what we know of good as good can sometimes be subjective, and that can be argued to be an evolutionary process itself.

Religion makes us fear the outsider

I don't think we needed religion for that. In general we simply fear what is different and unknown. I would say religion has tended to make the groups bigger and (in that sense) more inclusive; which, admittedly, probably also means the conflicts have been greater. I also wouldn't discount its historic utility just because we have reached an age where we have (hopefully) outgrown it. At the very least, it seems to have given cultures of the past an evolutionary advantage great enough to drive non-religious cultures to extinction. That's just evolution at work on a cultural level (and not an endorsement).

True, religion is one factor that makes us fear the outsider. You are right except I have not yet come across a non-religious culture so I can't really comment there. If you know of one or two tell me. It would be fascinating to read about. I am also not convinced that religion has evolutionary ties, though I am willing to hear arguments for and against.

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written by stacyhead, August 22, 2009
Religion is poison. Wars erupt in the name of religion, innocent people are murdered, and religions prey on the weak for monetary gain. I'll give an example. When I met my daughters college roommate and her mother today, I found out they are missionaries in Europe. They start FCA groups on college campuses in Europe. They live a lavish lifestyle. When the mother gave me her business card, she said "we accept donations online to continue our ministry". I handed her card back and told her I was an atheist and I would not be sending money for her family to jaunt around Europe. Being a missionary in Europe is equivalant to being a missionary in West Palm Beach. They visit private and expensive colleges to start fca's. I did ask if her conscience bothered her and I somehow get the feeling she knew exactly what I meant. smilies/wink.gif
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written by Kuroyume, August 22, 2009
So, to Chrisitianity, what they did to your son was "good." I think it's safe to say there would be considerable disagreement about the definition of "good." I would also fiercely debate the idea that a 6 year old can be a "sinner."


I have always enjoyed the story that Constantine, even after his vision on the eve of battle which would guide him to victory over the evil Easter Roman Empire, never converted completely to Christianity - even after making it the official religion of Rome! He purportedly only converted on his death bed in order to save his soul. It was his mother's influence (and probably the growing number of Christians in the empire) that had the most effect.

Remember that Christianity was a vindicative bitch when it gained power and spent the next thousand years exacting its toll on anything else. Religious ideas aren't essentially bad, even if fantastical and misguided. It is the construct and institutionalization that gives unlimited power to humans this is the truly bad thing.
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jref and religion
written by StarTrekLivz, August 22, 2009
I have been reading, with considerable sympathy, the comments of some people on this site who are believers but are skeptics (including but not limited to disbelievers of psychics, ghost hunters, ufo's, clairvoyance, etc. et alii). They believe jref.org is betraying them by adopting an atheist position.

Members of jref.org are asserting that they do not hold atheist positions, although some members of jref are atheists.

And some members of jref insist that religion is just another form of woo-woo which has acquired an undeserved position of privilege and non-questioning.

My own disclaimer: I used to be an ardent believer: for 5 years I was a Benedictine monk, I still drive my mother to Temple (Reform Judaism) on Saturday mornings, and sing in an Episcopal Church choir on Sundays (I enjoy the music and my family is glad I attend with them). However, I no longer believe in god, my friends & family have noted that where most people say "god" I substitute "Thor" or "Odin" -- "thank Thor we didn't have a tornado; praise Odin we had a successful 2nd Quarter)

Religion has had a privileged placed in American life and politics: politicians are expected to express their adherence to a faith tradition even when they fail miserably, like Mark Sanford governor in South Carolina, who is still calling on voters to support him while Jesus heals him (this is a guy who when in Congress voted for the impeachment of Bill Clinton for the same thing he's been doing), donations to religions, even dubious ones like "Heaven's Gate," donations to Mormons which paid for anti-proposition 8 campaign activity, donations to the Roman Catholic church used to pay off settlements for pedophilia, etc.

My own take: good people will do good things, regardless of the faith tradition or denominational affiliation they profess. Bad people will do bad things, and use religion to support, justify, and validate their misbehavior. By automatically granting religion a tax deduction and a "free pass" or justification, we have done ourselves a disservice: we should grant tax deductions and benefits to those who care for the disadvantaged and promote justice, not to those who claim to speak for imaginary deities but hoard the funds for themselves and their issues.
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written by Alencon, August 22, 2009
@Zen66

I'd say that North Korea is a non-religious society and is arguable the most xenophobic society in history. Then again, some folks would argue that the North Korean leader cult is a form of religion albeit an unusual one.

@stifenlaso

We're just sort of going with the flow of the article and expressing related opinions. I don't think there is a general focus on or opposed to religion. It just happens to be the topic of this article.
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further on jref & religion
written by StarTrekLivz, August 22, 2009
the seats I purchase at the synagogue for my mother and me are tax deductible.

my contribution to the Episcopal church where I sing in the choir is tax deductible.

I am quite willing to question whether they should be: insofar as they support humanitarian purposes (the Episcopal parish runs a food pantry for the poor; the Reform Temple helps poor members with cash for food or housing, and gives a scholarship to impecunious members with high grade point averages for college or university study) I believe they should be tax exempt.

But I'm not convinced everything I donate should be tax deductible -- l have season tickets to Michigan Opera Theatre, and only a portion of what I donate is regarded as tax deductible. I buy tickets because I enjoy the performance, and it is important to me. Similarly, if the religious services & liturgies are important to me or a believer, we should be willing to contribute for them without expecting a tax exemption or deduction. I certainly do not expect the IRS to give me a tax exemption for attending the latest Harry Potter movie.

It is late, and my thoughts are rather confused -- and I've been speaking German all day so writing in English is not comfortable -- I hope this makes some kind of sense.
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written by Alencon, August 22, 2009
I think we should declare the NFL a religion. smilies/grin.gif

Then I could get a tax deduction on my Giants tickets and PSLs. Hell, I think there's more praying at any NFL game than in any church.
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@alencon
written by StarTrekLivz, August 22, 2009
LOL -- I remember the joke way back when I was in school -- "as long as there are algebra tests,there will be prayer in public schools." Not official and sanctioned, of course, but fervent.....
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written by ZimZam, August 22, 2009
@StarTrekLivz: "And some members of jref insist that religion is just another form of woo-woo which has acquired an undeserved position of privilege and non-questioning."

Any and all religions are woo-woo by definition: they are not based on knowledge, but on faith and fantasy. If you believe that religions are not woo-woo, please present your evidence. Otherwise your criticism is pointless. I applaud JREFs uncorrupted views, even if it will hurt someone's feelings.
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written by ZimZam, August 23, 2009
@StarTrekLivz: Oops, maybe I was a bit hasty. Apologies for not reading properly.
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Good Article - Bad Premise
written by JerryC, August 23, 2009
In pointing out how some religions at least reinforce bad behavior, Mr. Farkas has presented an accurate picture of the dark side of religion, but assumes that religion (in the form of worship of some Diety) is the cause instead of one symptom of the cause. That religion causes or reinforces bad beliefs that would otherwise not exist is a hypothesis that can be tested. One only has to look at a modern example of a society designed to suppress organized religions - the Soviet Union - to know this premise has been tested and disproved. The degree in which basic human rights as we define them was abused by individuals and the governing elite was as much as any society. The same holds true for China, still officially nonreligious although not as much as in the past.

The actual cause of human rights abuse is something much more basic, and that is instinctive tribal thinking. We are as a species social animals that are driven to form and identify as part of a group. Being more intelligent than apes simply means we have larger tribes and can have many overlapping subtribes that we feel kinship to and can resolve conflicts between loyalties. In the end, though, it is this tribal identity and loyalty that controls our emotions and behavior. Religion is just one tribe out of many in most people's lives.

We define ourselves on a social level by the differences between our tribe and the outsiders, but what those differences are can vary. Our appearance, language, religious beliefs, customs, and traditions are all important. Then the rules of our chosen tribe become our moral and ethical yardstick that we consider "normal" or good behavior and we judge the rest of the world by those.

Being instinctive, this operates on such a level that we don't even notice the patterns, in most cases. For instance, all individual rights are simply spelled out by the rules of the tribe. In one glaring example, people in America actually assume without argument that it's OK to imprison someone without trial and torture them simply because they are not citizens, official members of the tribe of USA. While the tribe may have treaties with other tribes and call those "universal human rights", in reality the tribal identity defines who is human and who is not. That is basic, instinctive, and unavoidable.

One problem is in conflicting loyalties to tribal identity. In exchange for adding to tribes resources, we expect support when needed. It makes no sense for any tribe to let their members starve or not have shelter or go without medical care or be abused by other members of the tribe, since those people are the tribe's resources and may be called upon in the future. Anyone who argues that it's not a right is simply saying "those people" are not part of my tribe and I have no responsibility to act even if they die of pheumonia from exposure and malnutrition. That doesn't mean I don't care, only that the needs of my own tribe come first.

Being instinctive doesn't mean unavoidable, only something we need to acknowledge. If someone cusses me out to my face my instinctive reaction is to slug him, but my thinking ability controls these impulses.



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written by Otara, August 23, 2009
Tribes doesnt explain within group issues as well though, eg womens roles within the tribe etc. To me part of what we see in morefundamentalist religion these days is simply a reaction to how quickly things have been changing socially in recent decades. The certainty of clear roles is appealing even when it actually limits ones choices overall and all that.

Getting too far into this just gets into sociology and the study of religion formation though.
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written by JerryC, August 23, 2009
I agree that when it comes to human behavior both inside and outside of a group, any theory fails that insists humanity must always have a logical and rational reason for how they act either individually or as a group. Broad patterns are probably the best that can ever be defined.

As a Buddhist, I see the problem not as a matter of people believing stupid things, but people having selfish desires and acting on those motivations. The self-rightious desire to justify our fears and anger means whether they use the Bible or Rush Limbaugh or internet posting boards, people will find some external voice to verify their selfish emotions. Validation can always be found. Being enlightened simply means knowing this illusion applies to all of us, myself included. When it comes to treatment of women in a society, rationality probably comes in a distant second behind the emotions involved.

But to we Buddhists, considering the situation doesn't mean there is no such thing as objective morality. We see the problem as people suffering, and that is universal across all societies. Anything that works to increase suffering in the world is to be avoided, and any actions to eliminate it are good. So to the extent religions work to cause or increase suffering they are working against our mission, and to the extent they attempt to address suffering, they are a force for good. I suppose a lot of late night debating can involve the question of, does religion cause more suffering than it eliminates.

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written by Alan3354, August 23, 2009
We can write a lot of words about it, and we can quote texts and each other, but in the end,

Religion = Superstition + $$$$$
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Termination of the JREF, Lowly rated comment [Show]
All you liars are FINISHED, Lowly rated comment [Show]
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written by DZiemke, August 23, 2009
I applaud the JREF's move to bring religion in to the realm of woo-woo and to hold it up to the same microscope we use to dissect Ghosts and Dowsing.

It's clear to me that religions were created by man back in a time when we had no other explanation for the world around us. Over time, and through the knowledge and courage of people to doubt and question what they were told, we have succeeded in discovering and learning. And religions continues to erode as a reasonable view of the world by educated people.

How Christians, for example, can claim the Bible is the Word of God yet selectively pick out those parts they agree with and ignore othes is beyond me. You cannot have it both ways.

It's time to remove the anchor of religion on our societies. The sooner we take the money and brain power that is spent on Religion and spend it on science, education, and critical thinking, the sooner we'll get to a place where we improve the lives of everyone.
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written by JerryC, August 23, 2009
@DZiemke, I'm interested in your statement of It's time to remove the anchor of religion on our societies. The sooner we take the money and brain power that is spent on Religion and spend it on science, education, and critical thinking, the sooner we'll get to a place where we improve the lives of everyone.


First, if my quote format didn't work right, I apologize. I'm still trying to figure out the formats of these boards.

First, do you have any idea how we can "remove the anchor of religion in our society?" I mean, it sounds great, but as I pointed out in a previous post, it's been tried and did not result in an enlightened society at all.

Second, don't you think it's a big assumption that the money put into religion will automatically go toward benefiting society through such things as education? Experience shows that not a penny more will go to such social programs. People don't make those sorts of altruistic decisions, usually. For instance, people who say we should stop spending on NASA because people are hungry in the world are making the faulty connection between spending on one or the other.

Just wondering what your thoughts would be on these two objections.

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written by LuigiNovi, August 23, 2009
Good article. Kudos to you and Mr. Carter, Bart. But what does Oklahoma City have to do with this? Wasn't McVeigh motivated by political sentiments rather than religious ones?
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@JerryC
written by CasaRojo, August 23, 2009
"First, do you have any idea how we can "remove the anchor of religion in our society?"

We're headed in that direction and I believe that education is key. To use your reasoning, myths eventually go where previous myths went.

"I mean, it sounds great, but as I pointed out in a previous post, it's been tried and did not result in an enlightened society at all."

I'm not up on USSR history. I do know that the US is a world away (both literally and figuratively obviously) in most every conceivable way. I'm confident the two cannot be compared. And it's a totally different time. The world is changing at an exponential pace. I'm hitting my mid 50s and the changes that I've witnessed are mind boggling. I now know how my grandfather felt I'm sure. I personally recall segregation in central Florida as late as the late 1970s. There was a bar that I did contract work for that had a black side and a white side, totally separate with a wall between. The black entrance was around the back. I wonder how many people, if asked 30 years ago if they thought we'd have a black president in 2009 would have said "YES!" ?

It will be a process but it just may be sooner than later.

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written by DZiemke, August 23, 2009
@JerryC

Regarding your first question...Yes, I fully agree that education and awareness is the key to "removing the anchor". I was never talking about forcefull suppression of religion or enacting laws to prevent religious expression. I fully support people's rights to belive what they want and express their views. But I believe through education, awareness, and supporting science literacy on just the basic principles, an enlightened society will self-form. I think we're seeing it more and more now.

Regarding the other point about money... it was more of a rhetorical expression than anything. Imagine what progress could be made if we could somehow take all the money spent on religious aspirations and put it towards legitimate scientific research and education. I think it could move us more quickly down the path of a progressive society.

Yes, it's a process. And we should all move it forward, little by little, where and when we can.
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The thing about religion is..
written by MJG, August 23, 2009
In every possible way it is a crippling force on humanity. There are good reasons for morality in the real world. THe supernatural is unnecessary. And the thing is, the physical universe is so awe inspiring, so incredible, so full of beauty and wonder. The religious point of view is just so cramped, so stilted. I call myself an atheist, and I am by any reasonable definition. But I do understand that there are weird, wild, incredible things in the universe that require one to twist ones brain into knots to comprehend. Physics is fascinating, evolution is fascinating. It's wonderful in the literal sense of the word: inspiring wonder.

But a book of bronze age myths is irrelevant. And any system of understanding the universe based on those flawed, bigoted, foolish, primitive, savage, vicious, misogynistic, homophobic books (whether its the Torah, the Koran, the Bible, the bhagava vita.. whatever) is only destined to hold us back as a species. We are so much better than that at this point, or we could be, at least.
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FFT: Noah-Egypt conflict
written by Kuroyume, August 23, 2009
This isn't directly on topic but shows one of the problems with religion and how they fudge the data to agree with their doctrines. I was just thinking about how long Noah supposedly lived (calculated to be like 950 y/o) and when the noadic flood supposedly occured with respect to the accepted YEC age of the Earth (6000 years). According to supposed calculations from the bible, he lived from 1056 AM to 2006 AM (or 2935 BCE to 1985 BCE give or take). Egyptian civilization coalesced about 3150 BCE. That would mean that it was destroyed sometime during its development (by the flood) and then restarted where it left off almost as if the flood had never happened (eh hem). This is incredible information considering that the Chinese were also well into starting their civilization by 3000 BCE.

"Answers in Genesis", a misnomer if there ever was one, tells us that, no, the bible agrees with them about the start of Egyptian civilization *after* the noadic flood, even its inhabitants being descendents of Noah. My oh my. They also specify very old data about the appearance of the first humans (as 100,000 years instead of the now more accepted 250,000-400,000 years) and their use of 'skills' at between 10,000 and 20,000 years (latest data on use of fire is 800,000 years in ancestral hominids and tools at over 72,000 years for humans but further back for ancestral homonids!). As usual, religious thought precludes accepting new information since the original information, no matter how speculative, incorrect, or corrected since, is already deemed as fraudulent.

Bronze age myths make for very poor historical records...
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It's all in the mind
written by mandela10, August 23, 2009
There is indeed a bad side to religion or any doctrine that has the power to convince people morally. With that being said I don't think there was any religious explanation to what they have taught your children at that summer camp, the statement of an innocent child sinning at birth is just outrageous and it is not supported by the Bible.

Electric Bicycle, Wedding Speech, Soccer Tricks, Scooter Electric
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Here's another example...
written by Griz, August 25, 2009
...of folks making assumptions about religion based on their limited knowledge. You send your kid to a religious camp without knowing what they teach and how, and then you're upset with them because they did what they do? It didn't occur to you that the cultural gap between you and the religious people might not lead to differences in perception of what would constitute "pushing" religion? Nearly all versions of mainstream christianity accept the concept of original sin as axiomatic, they wouldn't even think of that as pushing religion. Did you ask them if they taught your kid that he was a sinner because he hurt mommy coming out? You just took a six year old's word for it? I'd bet dollars to donuts they said no such thing. Unless this is some weird cult, there's no sect in christianity that believes anything like that.

As to Carter's break with the southern baptists, that's just one more example of people picking and choosing. If you claim to believe the bible (and baptists are literalist fundies in that regard) it says quite clearly that women are not to be clergy and they are subservient to men. The entire bible was written against the cultural backdrop of a strictly patriarchical society. Since organized religion is really a control mechanism designed to concentrate power in a small ruling class, there should be no surprises there. In fundieland, the literalist view of the bible is the best possible tool to keep white men in charge of everything. Resistance to the idea that the cultural mandates concerning sex, marriage, and gender in the bible are outdated by 2000 years and obsolete is the manifestation of the fear of the ruling class of losing their control. That's the basis of the current gay marriage and abortion battles.
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Kuroyome
written by Griz, August 25, 2009
"That would mean that it was destroyed sometime during its development (by the flood) and then restarted where it left off almost as if the flood had never happened (eh hem). This is incredible information considering that the Chinese were also well into starting their civilization by 3000 BCE."

Jericho has been continuously inhabited for 10,000 years and shows no evidence of any sort of flook destruction, but that is of no consequence to bible literalists. If scientific evidence disagrees with their scripture then science must simply be wrong. There's no point in arguing evidence against their mythology because it is not considered rationally when it contradicts the belief system.
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Type
written by Griz, August 25, 2009
Flook = flood in previous post. In the keyboard of my mind apparently D and K are adjacent.
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@Griz
written by pxatkins, August 25, 2009
Don't worry ... just a fluke typo smilies/wink.gif
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@pxatkins
written by CasaRojo, August 25, 2009
Shouldn't that be 'flook'? smilies/grin.gif
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written by JerryC, August 25, 2009
@DZiemke

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I think our big difference is your optimism that education has the power to eliminate religious beliefs. Religion isn't about logic, it's about emotional needs. Some people cling to their beliefs in spite of any debunking or logical reasoning, and some people are natural skeptics who see this blind belief as a disease that infects the ignorant. Most people in the world, educated or not, probably will never feel the motivation to examine their religious beliefs because it's not that important to their lives.



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I disagree, JerryC
written by Kuroyume, August 27, 2009
Religion is about indoctrination. Education is a good remedy for indoctrination. Although I agree that religion isn't about logic, it is the process that instills this illogical thinking that must be stopped. And education based upon fact, reality, science, and logic can indeed help.
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