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Don't Blame God

In his book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens takes up the old banner against belief in God. To summarize the argument, if we look at history, we see that those who believe in God have contributed to the violence, ignorance and evils of the world. Since this is the case, the belief in God is counterproductive to human development, thus we should eliminate religion and/or its influence from society. This is the position also taken by Sam Harris in his attacks on religions in general and Christianity in particular. This is an old position, but one that is periodically resurrected as debate arises over the role that religious belief plays in the public square.
 

One obvious problem with this anti-religious position is that it blurs the line between belief in God and human action; more exactly, that `believing’ in God automatically means `doing’ evil. There are two errors with this view. The first is that the belief in God is intrinsically harmful to the human psyche. The second is that human actions solely and automatically arise once we have come to hold an idea as true.

In reference to the first error: Much can be written on this, but for now, one can easily point to how individuals who have believed in God have positively contributed to the areas of personal morality, the political and legal system, the rise of human rights, education, philosophy, science, and the arts. I do not state this to imply that non-believers cannot be moral or contribute to the common good of society, but merely to show that believing in God does not in itself lead to doing evil, but that for many, the belief has led them to personal transformation, and moved them to pursue the good. Like all human enterprises, religious systems have both a light and a dark side to them. Belief in God has often inspired an individual to lay his life down for justice, feed the poor, heal the sick, write poetry, sing, dance, prevent wars and save trees. Even if these attempts to do the good were done imperfectly (like most of our actions), those imperfections do not detract from the social efficacy of their beliefs in action. Religious belief systems have provided individuals with the strength to move onward in difficult times, solace and hope when things go wrong, and the moral wisdom of loving one’s neighbor even when one really wants to shoot him in the head.

In reference to the second error: To believe in something does not necessarily lead to one living what one believes. Even religions tell us that there is often a conflict, or disconnect, between what we know is the right thing to do, and doing what is right. The religious principle of `Loving your neighbor as oneself’ is in itself a good thing. However, no matter how much I may believe it to be so, or even think that it is a rational moral practice to exercise, my intellectual acceptance of it or wish to practice it is not a guarantee that I will not do violence toward those who annoy me. Similarly, just because people may fail to practice what they may sincerely believe, does not imply that what they believe is wrong. Failure `to do’ does not mean that the `belief in’ the principle is wrong. Just because a Christian may take up arms against another, that does not mean that the command to love your enemy is not worthy of holding. Such occasions serve more to illustrate that human beings often fail in doing the good.

Along these lines, even if a religious principle be used as a tool against another person, does not imply that the principle itself is wrong. It merely means that human beings have the ability to take something that is good and corrupt it for their own purpose. Thus, belief in God may itself not be wrong, even though an individual or community uses it for their own morally questionable benefit. Let us note that modern science itself is not evil, but people have used scientific knowledge to create and efficiently employ weapons, attack the moral belief of others, generate human life in the lab to experiment (do research), and manipulate the human psyche.

So, in response to Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Harris, the belief in God does not cause war, hunger, environmental degradation or violence. It is what we do with the belief that determines whether we do the good or evil. We could even argue that genuine belief in God may serve as an occasion for us to pause and reflect whether the actions we are to undertake properly follow the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, body and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves.”

It is the human heart, the ego-centered belief that we are masters of the universe, along with the arrogance of thinking that we can control our lives only if we had enough knowledge and power that lies at the core of the social evils we often experience. Though we use belief systems to justify what we do, the reality is we do not need religion, science or any belief system to do what we desire. Often we use beliefs such as `The Invisible Hand’ of the market, Manifest Destiny, patriotic idealism, and the idea that `might makes right’ to justify poverty, confiscation of land, war, the exclusion of other from the public square, and the imposition of our view on life on others. But the bottom line is, it is we who act, not our beliefs or the belief-systems in which they are housed.

Evil arises when we attempt to become the center, the definers and the masters of the Cosmos. At least all religious systems are wise enough to tell us that what defiles the beauty of creation, our relationship with others, and our very being, is that which arises from ourselves, from our hearts (Gospel of Mark 7:15). It is when we attempt to define ourselves as gods (Genesis 3:5) that we become most vulnerable to doing evil.

Children often blame others for the bad consequences arising from actions that they themselves have committed. It is time that we grow up and stop blaming God for the social evils that we bring into the world.
 

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Comments

  • tom 5 years ago

    the error in your first error: you point to only the good actions of the religious while leaving out the bad ones that could have only been done BECAUSE of their religion...

    please point out an atheist who detonated a pair of c4 suspenders in a crowded venue, or ran planes into buildings because of faith....

    the error of your second error: for some reason you fail to see that the religious are basically told their entire life that their "higher power" trumps any laws that we may have. and we see that in every abortion clinic bombing or doctor killing....

    i know, i know "thats not what we teach"...

    then how come there are no abortion clinic bombers or doctor killers that arent faith based?

  • JOET 5 years ago

    This author is a joke.How can he say belief in god doesnt cause evil to be done,only to scroll down the page to read the list of virtues carried out because of a belief in god.You cant say evil isnt attributable to god only to turn around and praise gods goodness.But contradictions are nothing new to religious apologists,nor is the notion that we are sickly evil beings only two steps away from committing evil;knowing only through the grace of god can we carry out a moral action.Make no mistake,the very belief of a trancendent supervisor is what corrupts so much of man.good people do good things;bad people do bad things;however for a good person to do a bad things,that takes god.Religion(and the very BELIEF in god), is one if not the greatest failings of mankind.

  • Ramon: LA Catholic Examiner 5 years ago

    JoeT thank for your comment. I do not believe that I was contradicting myself in my position. I presume that your comment is related to my third paragraph where I list individuals or organizations that do the good, even if they are religious. My point in listing them is to demonstrate that merely believing in God does not lead to doing evil. In this paragraph I was addressing the error, “that the belief in God is intrinsically harmful to the human psyche”- that somehow to believe in God leads to doing evil. What I listed were individuals or groups who do the good while also believing in God. If belief in God necessarily leads to doing evil, as anti-religious people tend to claim, then we would never be able to find an individual or group who does good and who is religious. Since there are such individuals and groups, the implication that believing in God necessarily leads to doing evil is an improper one. As I wrote, “believing in God does not in itself lead to doing evil.”

  • Ramon: LA Catholic Examiner 5 years ago

    Tom, in reference to your first point, please see my response to JoeT. Also, please note that I implied that religious individuals do commit evil, “Like all human enterprises, religious systems have both a light and a dark side to them.” I did not see a need to specify.
    I do not understand your statement, “please point out an atheist who detonated a pair of c4 suspenders in a crowded venue, or ran planes into buildings because of faith....”, since an atheist would not have a “faith” to move her to act or not to act. I do not believe that merely because a person is an atheist, that they will do evil just as I don’t believe that if a person believes there is a God, they will be a saint. As I wrote, “I do not state this to imply that non-believers cannot be moral or contribute to the common good of society”. From this perspective, I do not see the benefit of pointing out atheists who have done evil.

  • Ramon: LA Catholic Examiner 5 years ago

    3. Regarding abortion, since the issue is a moral one, atheists have also taken action against abortion. Such objections should never be violent or unjust. Many credible religious leaders have consistently spoke and written out against such actions, and have clearly stated that to use God as a justification for evil is an abuse of faith.
    You have attempted to link the abortion questions with the problems that arise from what philosophers refer to as “The Divine Command Theory”. I may have to address this in a future posting.
    On a side note, since historically there have always been more believers than atheists, statistically speaking, chances are immoral acts will more often be done by a believer than a non-believer.

  • tom 5 years ago

    " Regarding abortion, since the issue is a moral one, atheists have also taken action against abortion."

    feel free to point them out.....

    "Such objections should never be violent or unjust."

    and yet...they are...by the faith driven...

    little boys shouldnt be molested by priests either.. yet, they are...

    Many credible religious leaders have consistently spoke and written out against such actions, and have clearly stated that to use God as a justification for evil is an abuse of faith.

    its not abuse of faith...its USE of faith...

  • tom 5 years ago

    "You have attempted to link the abortion questions with the problems that arise from what philosophers refer to as “The Divine Command Theory”. I may have to address this in a future posting."

    please....address it right her....

    "On a side note, since historically there have always been more believers than atheists, statistically speaking, chances are immoral acts will more often be done by a believer than a non-believer."

    there are more atheists than blacks...if your above statement were true we would expect to see a similar percentage in prisons...atheists make up less than 1 percent of the prison population...

    since there is a higher amount of believers, we must conclude, statistically speaking, that the majority of abortions are done by the religious, the religious have the most divorces, and commit the most murders....isnt that right?

  • Ramon: LA Catholic Examiner 5 years ago

    thanks Tom

    On can an atheirst be pro-life? Doing quick search see article (newsweek.com/id/171240) It makes an intersting read. Though it states that most atheist tend to be social liberals, it (using Hitchens) show that one can be pro-life and an atheist. Also check out godlessprolifer.org

    Briefly, Divine Command Theory's Problem "Is x good because God commands it, or does God comand it because x is good?" First presented by Plato.

    Regarding the math: Please note I said historically. And yes most abortions and murders are done by people who believe (this is consitent with my statement). I believe that I'm consitent with my view that there is a difference between believing in the existence of God and having our actions immediatly following the belief. As Aristotle would argue; to know what is morally right does not imply doing what is morally right.

  • Ramon: LA Catholic Examiner 5 years ago

    thanks Tom

    On can an atheirst be pro-life? Doing quick search see article (newsweek.com/id/171240) It makes an intersting read. Though it states that most atheist tend to be social liberals, it (using Hitchens) show that one can be pro-life and an atheist. Also check out godlessprolifer.org

    Briefly, Divine Command Theory's Problem "Is x good because God commands it, or does God comand it because x is good?" First presented by Plato.

    Regarding the math: Please note I said historically. And yes most abortions and murders are done by people who believe (this is consitent with my statement). I believe that I'm consitent with my view that there is a difference between believing in the existence of God and having our actions immediatly following the belief. As Aristotle would argue; to know what is morally right does not imply doing what is morally right.

  • tom 5 years ago

    oh im sorry, i guess i should have known by now that i need to pin you down to a specific solar system...otherwise you take the entire universe to generalize an answer....

    point out any violence by an atheist directed towards an abortion clinic or abortion doctor...

    one incidence will do....

  • Mary Kennan 5 years ago

    Thought provoking piece. I'm tired of generalizations that would only equate morals with religion, or evil with atheism. One can be atheist and pro-life, or Christian and commit evil acts. The commenters here seem to be perpetuating the kind of argument that you are warning against.

  • Ramon: LA Catholic Examiner 5 years ago

    Tom your request for me to show an atheist who has bombed an abortion clinic is curious. I presume that you are linking it to my statement,"atheists have also taken action against abortion" in one of my comments,and have interpreted this to mean that I implied that atheist have bombed abortion clinics. If so, this was not what I intended to convey. To speak out against abortions or to support pro-life issues is more in line with what I intended. For an example see the online conversation on the atheist site rationalresponders.com/forum/sapient/atheist_vs_theist/7618. Here we see individuals taking pro-life positions, and attempting to convince others of their view. They are taking action, actions similar to those of most Catholics who are also pro-life. If you, or another individual is concerned with supporting pro-life,(or peace, non-violence) it would be more productive to and respectful to work toward that goal than attack each other on their belief in, or lack of belief in God

  • Ramon: LA Catholic Examiner 5 years ago

    Mary you are correct. I'm not interested in making villains out of atheist or saints out of believers. An epistemological ascent to a belief, does not necessrily lead us to do the good.

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