Friday, August 31, 2007

The abuse inherent in religion

I have recently listened to a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedges entitled “Is God Great?”

In previous debates that I have listened to, one of the main areas of contention has been the origins of morality. Whilst the atheistic side of the argument is based on the premise that human morality is innate in us (and there are many arguments for this), the religious side holds that human morality is solely the product of divine instruction and religious doctrine. In short they claim that whatever good deed a person does, he or she cannot ultimately take the credit for it, for without the word of God we would all of us behave like moral idiots from dawn until dusk.

The Hedges/Hitchens debate spent a little time discussing the other side of the equation, when Hitchens highlighted some of the many abhorrent practices and deeds produced by adherence to religious dogma; practices and deeds concerning the treatment and subjugation of women. Hedges responded by claiming that Hitchens point of view presupposed that should religion be abolished these practices would disappear with it. He argued instead that these problems are not the result of religion but the product of humanity’s innate capacity to be evil.

These two arguments, for me at least, highlight a very worrying aspect to religion, and those of a religious bent, that has been at the back of my mind for some time.

Consider a child that is never given any encouragement by its parents, a child that never receives any praise for a good deed, accomplishment or scholastic achievement; a child that is actively discouraged with the notion that anything of worth about them is to be credited to somebody else. Consider further that the same child is constantly berated and chastised for even the most puny transgression, and who is told that they are essentially worthless and can never amount to, or aspire to be, anything more than the naughty little wretch that they are. That child, in all likelihood, would grow up to be deeply self conscious, insecure, probably a bed-wetter, and would be sociopathic (maybe even psychopathic) to the extent that they would find it very difficult (perhaps impossible) to conduct themselves in any meaningful way in the world at large.

It occurs to me that the above two arguments can be seen as an analogue, albeit an imperfect one, to this hypothetical child’s upbringing. The church would have us believe that everything good that we do is only accomplished because of divine intervention, and that anything bad that we do is innate within us. I would posit that it is, therefore, no surprise that the people who take this stuff literally, sometimes act in the way that they do. When you think about it, they are actually doing quite well considering what they have to put up with.

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