Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Don't Think So, Your Holiness

I came across this cartoon the other day while looking for something else,  and although it was created in response to remarks the Pope made in 2010,  it highlights an ongoing source of frustration to atheists,  both timid and bold.

Bearing in mind that ninth commandment from the Biblical old testament,  I am sure Pope Benedict was absolutely truthful when he declared that "atheism has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history.  As this cartoon illustrates,  if it had not been for atheism, there would have been no crusades, no Inquisition,  no 9/11,  no.....


That was religion.

When a person's innate morality is displaced by a belief system that bypasses what is real and present in favor of an imagined, supernatural afterlife,  what will happen?  I think s/he becomes unmoored from the empathy and humanity that is inborn in all of us.  I think shifting the moral focus away from the physical reality of human lives to an immaterial other world of souls and heaven and hell permits human beings to carry out acts of the most horrific violent immorality in this world.  Moreover,  I agree with Sam Harris (The End of Faith) that taking the doctrinal requirements of some religions to their logical conclusion, one might say that religion does not so much merely permit immoral behavior but inevitably requires it.

For most of history, the catalyst for that psychological displacement of normal, healthy, human morality has been religion.  I am not pulling this assertion out of thin air.  Even the most sanitized world histories will confirm that religious belief has been the motivating factor behind all of the horrors depicted in the cartoon above, and countless others.  Above all,  it has been human behavior at its most extreme, but it was (and remains to this day) religion which has been the most effective catalyst for this behavior.

Yet,  it is the godless - the people who refuse to allow either their humanity or the innate morality that stems from being fully human to be corrupted by brutal, misanthropic, irrational religious belief - who are accused by religious believers of lacking a "moral compass".  The sheer arrogance of religionists is sometimes flabbergasting.  It is this widely held and totally false belief - crystalized in the Pope's vicious slander in September of 2010 -  which allows theists to lie to themselves about the starring role of faith and god-belief in history's most horrible genocides, persecutions and oppressions.

Neither theists nor atheists are inherently moral or immoral.  As human beings, I think we all have the innate capacity and drive toward what we regard as "moral" behavior.  We have evolved*  this way,  for sound evolutionary reasons.  No gods are necessary for moral human behavior,  but god-belief can - and often does - subvert it.  

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”             Steven Weinberg

*If you have ten minutes, enjoy Christopher Hitchens speaking on the moral necessity for atheism. Classic.


  1. As a preface, I would consider myself religious, despite having a single church I group my beliefs under. It's sort of a slurry of agnosticism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism that I find I most believe in.

    Past that, I cannot help but feel that Christianity alone is not your enemy. It is entirely true that horrible things have been done under the guise of Christianity; crusades, persecutions, the like; but said Christians were far from good Christians. Quite honestly, I feel that if everyone were to act like Jesus (or Muhammad, or pretty much any other prophet) there'd be world peace. One would probably need to translate some of the morals to a more secular, modern mindset (e.g., religious toleration, a more liberal view on sex), but in general they dictate how to simply be a good person.

    This has gone on for too long, so I guess my actual point is that extremists are really your issue. Religion tends to be based upon strong morals; people simply misuse them. It's fine if you completely disagree with me, but I just felt the need to drop in my opinion. Toodle-oo!

  2. Hi Anonymous! You've given me ideas for several more posts. Thank you for your comment!