“For Good People to Do Evil”

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
-Steven Weinberg, Freethought Today, April, 2000

Sometimes, people tell me that religion doesn’t cause people to do bad things, that x and y caused their awful actions instead. Sometimes, I think that’s true. In same cases, religion is just the convenient excuse used for doing what they wanted to do anyway. A lot of religions do a great job giving cover to bad acts. A lot of religions allow adherents to justify horrible behavior. But if religion wasn’t there, they’d find another excuse. All the atheist libertarians, MRAs, and other assorted dipshits are proof of that.

If we eliminated religion, right now, today, those dipshits would still be with us. Many of humanity’s problems would remain. We’re imperfect people. We created our religions, and they contain both the best and the worst of our natures.

But I don’t believe for a moment that the world wouldn’t be better if everyone woke up this morning and decided, “You know what, the atheists are right. There are no gods. Guess I’ll have to base my morals off of things like avoiding harm and getting consent. Huh.” Without religion, good people wouldn’t be told to do harmful things in the name of a god. Without religion, good people wouldn’t be pressured to do such horrific things.

Things like take a knife or a piece of glass, and cut up a little girl’s genitals.

All Malaysians however, do not support the practice. Syarifatul Adibah, who is the Senior Programme Officer at Sisters in Islam, a local women’s rights group, insists that female circumcision isn’t once mentioned in the Quran.

Instead she points to its popularity as a stemming from an increasingly conservative interpretation of Islam. “Previously it was a cultural practice but now because of Islamisation, people just relate everything to Islam. And when you link something to religion, people here follow it blindly, they don’t enquire,” she explained. [my emphasis]

This, folks, is how a few people’s asinine cultural practices end up being practiced by millions of people who otherwise would recoil in horror. It’s how this barbaric stuff ends up passed down through generations for thousands of years, and why people have a hard time even questioning whether it’s right or good. God wants it. It must be right. It must be good.

Without religion, good people would not feel forced to beat their children, believing it the only way to save their souls. I know of Christians who spank their children because the Bible tells them to, and won’t stop despite the evidence it’s harmful, because God said not to spoil the rod. People have beaten their children to death, assured by their holy book that their children would not die.

Do I believe that religion is the root of all evil? No. But I do believe it provides a lot of nourishment to those roots, and sprouts a few branches all its own.

Image is an engraving of Moses holding the Ten Commandments by Gustave Dore. Caption says, "Knowledge is evil. Faith is evidence. Fear is love."

(Yes, I know any ideology can make good people do bad things. But there’s nothing quite as efficient at it as religion saying that God has ordered you to commit x atrocity.)

“For Good People to Do Evil”
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6 thoughts on ““For Good People to Do Evil”

  1. 2

    But there’s nothing quite as efficient at it as religion saying that God has ordered you to commit x atrocity.

    And it’s a double-sided sword because religion allows people to justify the worst possible actions and it also enables them to skirt the usual guilt they would feel for going against their instinctive morals. For example: a man who is all about Family, and would do anything for his Family, but then will disown his gay child not because he has a problem with it, but because God has a problem with it. The ultimate problem with morality based on religion is that it always provides something greater than the interest group we would normally prioritize (family, humanity, animals, the environment.) It’s the easiest way to turn our backs on the morals we’ve developed without God.

  2. 3

    Another point about religion is that it lives beyond its founders better than other ideologies, because you can’t pin down the spiritual crap.

    Cults of personality are hard to keep up with real people. The larger-than-life heroes…aren’t larger than life. They die, they screw up, they’re human.

    God, on the other hand, carries over even if his prophets are revealed as shitty human beings who end up dying. The decentralized worship, focused on an imaginary being tied to your personal concept of goodness in the world, makes it easy to carry on bad thinking thousands of years down the line.

    God takes all the benefits, and socializes the blame for his religion’s worst ‘accomplishments’ to his followers. It’s another barrier to responsibility or evidence of incorrect beliefs, definitionally deflecting all blame to one human or another.

    Heck, it’s to the point that even the Bible, supposed word of God, is seen as imperfectly transmitting God’s words if the Christian doesn’t agree with it or doesn’t want to assign God blame for some horrible, plainly stated God-act in Scriptures.

    “Oh, it must be badly translated. Maybe God meant something else in Hebrew when he said to keep sex slaves from conquests.”

    ‘God is good’ is a definition that sticks in people’s minds, and allows it to fit everyone’s own relative moralities, and even if someone else’s version of God is horrifying to you in real-life practice, well, it’s not really YOUR God, who is actually good. It hides the moral relativism inherent to its success behind weasel words, so it can’t be pinned down and argued against on any ground.

    I mean, I know. I was a fundy literalist, and my view of God, when I attempted to hold God in one interpretation, everything eventually exploded, because I wouldn’t pretend the Bible didn’t contain horror stories with God as the monster, or that it had shitty morality in that interpretation compared to any near-modern sensibilities. I tried to explain them, but the grounds for evaluation were fixed.

    A strict, outside-my-own-rationalizations version of God was impossible to reconcile with reality, with evolution being obviously more true than creation, with civil rights and gay rights being more good than killing all gays and enslaving foreigners like the Bible commanded. I refused to let my subconscious speak for God or to otherwise fake God speaking to me. I was holding out for the “still, small whisper” that God was supposed to supply, and all I heard was silence. I held God to his promised visions, prophecies, signs, wonders, and guidance, yet nothing came.

    I still get crap for saying I was testing God, or demanding something unfairly of him, or just not listening hard enough to hear his answers. I just refused to make excuses for an “all-powerful” and “sovereign over reality” God, though, because that’s silly. That single pin to hold him in place, to hold him external to myself and without my rationalization defense or modifications to fit my changing values? Made it all pop like a bubble.

  3. rq

    I consider religion to be the big amplifier. As you say, people would be shits anyway, but religion lets them amplify their shittery to exorbitant levels, mostly because it effectively removes them as active participants, and instead makes them passive vessels of some supposedly higher (yet somehow more corrupt and devolved) power). And then they get to sign away the responsibility. Really, it’s an abdication of accountability – people don’t even take responsibility for their own actions, they pass them on to god, because – see – they’re not horrible people at all.
    The thing is, they are usually horrible people, and the thing that is keeping them from being less horrible is religion. If they were forced to face their own actions, and to realize that it is THEM and not GOD, then they might have a chance at being less shitty people (not everyone, of course, but I would say the vast majority). That degree of removal from the implications and consequences of one’s own words and actions – that’s what religion does.

  4. 6

    Gordon Dickson, in one of his Dorsai novels, explained it pretty neatly — I’m probably paraphrasing because it’s been a long time —

    The difference between a religious fanatic and a true believer is that the fanatic will justify anything in the name of his religion, but a true believer justifies everything in the name of his religion.

    Now that I read it again, out of context, it seems more cryptic than it did lo those many years ago.

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