Is Religion Good For Believers?

One could argue that religion is a negative force in our society, even that it’s bad for the world as a whole. In fact I have argued both of these things in the past, and I likely will again. Today however I want to address a different question, that question is this: Is religion good for believers?  I personally don’t think that it is and I will endeavour in this post to lay out why. Aside from questions of mental health, personal responsibility, and critical examination of the world around us let’s look at it from a point of view of doctrine.

Even if you can accept the idea that A) there is a god B) it is interested in us and C) it has sent us instructions on the right and wrong ways to live you’re still left with the difficulty of which religion preaches the true teachings and instructions of god. Just dealing with the Abrahamic faiths alone there are an insuperable amount of contradictions and differences both  between the three faiths and between the various interpretations inside each one. How is a person of faith to choose? The answer, more often than not, is that the faithful usually adopt whichever faith is most prevalent in their geographic, cultural and social area. If, however, there really is a god who has sent instructions to its people surely this method of choosing a faith is a little too risky.

The concept of religious exclusivism is a central doctrine of just about every religion and certainly it is central to the three abrahamic faiths. This doctrine states simply that each faith is itself the one true faith and that salvation is impossible outside of the church. For example, Joseph Ratzinger, the man known as Pope Benedict the 16th, has declared that the Roman Catholic Church is the only “true” church and that all other denominations are “defective”  The Catholic doctrine “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” or “Outside the Church there is no Salvation” says it quite plainly, and it’s not a unique position.

Religion has always been an exclusivist proposition, in ancient Greece only the gods of Olympus were legal to worship and those who didn’t practice the EleusinianMysteries were relegated to prison or death in this world and Hades or Tartarus in the next. In Islam the oft repeated phrase “There is only Allah, and Mohammed is His messenger.” implies that only the teachings of the Quran will guide the faithful to salvation. The same can be said for the various Christian denominations which declare so readily that “ Christ is the only path to salvation.” The Jewish faith, by comparison offers a more inclusive point of view,  it allows for all faiths that recognize the noahide laws, the seven laws given by god to Noah following the flood. Even so there is a measurable difference in their faith between a Jew and a “righteous gentile”.

What are the consequences of this Exclusivism? Well, if you accept that there is a god, and it has sent its message to the world then you have to accept that this doctrine of Exclusivism is god sent as well. In that case there is only one true faith and one true path to salvation. This means that right now, regardless of how you look at it, there are billions of people who are doomed to an afterlife of, if not fiery misery, at least separation from the promised paradise and glory of god.

There is another way, a way that is common to the three abrahamic faiths and which doesn’t require that a great majority of the world’s population be relegated to one version or another of hell. It is the principle of Inculpable Ignorance. This is yet another doctrine common to the three abrahamic faiths that teaches that those who are ignorant of the “word of god” through no fault of their own, those who have never heard the teachings of the Torah, the Bible or the Quaran, never been the subject of missionaries, are not doomed by this lack. The principle of Inculpable Ignorance says that these people will not be judged for their failure to choose the true church but will instead be judged by god on their own character and actions.

So wait, let’s really consider this. We, those of us who live in societies in which the various “truths” have been revealed are required by the simple fact of this revelation to not only choose one and devote ourselves to it utterly, but to choose the correct one or risk eternal damnation. At the same time a tribesman on an island so remote and primitive that it hasn’t yet received it’s contingent of  Christian/Jewish,/Muslim missionaries isn’t punished by god for this lack but is allowed to live in whichever way he chooses and is judged upon his death by his conduct and character.

If Exclusivism is truth sent by god, and Inculpable Ignorance is also truth sent by god that means that a huge amount of the people who populate hell at this very moment aren’t there for their actions or their ignorance but for their having made the wrong choice of belief. It also means that a majority of the people living on the planet right now are practicing a belief system that isn’t the correct one, and so are doomed to whichever version of hell is the correct one.

Given all of these facts, if one assumes that god is real, that it has given us the codes by which to live, and that the doctrines of one of the three major faiths are “Truth” then one has to come to the conclusion that religion is not good for us. Not only that it is bad for us but also that every missionary, priest, rabbi and imam who has ever brought the teachings of their religion to a populace has endangered their souls, and cut their likelihood of acceptance into paradise by at least two thirds.


Posted on September 30, 2012, in Editorial, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think that before we define whether or not exclusivism is bad for believers we would first have to define the value of the word itself in the eyes of the believer. I feel that many would not consider themselves exclusive because they believe that they are INCLUSIVE when appealing to non believers. Exclusivism may be bad for the whole and illogical, but if the believer thinks that they are being inclusively excluding (if that makes sense?) then I don’t think that your argument is strong. Are you talking about groups of believers or individual believers themselves? If a group of individuals believe that what they are doing is right as individuals but bad for the group who is losing?

    • Christian
      I think perhaps there’s a misunderstanding of my use of “exclusivism” inherent in your comment. What I was referring to was doctrinal exclusivism, the concept that each religion claims an “exclusive” monopoly on salvation. If one of these religions is correct that they have an exclusive path to god that means the others are wrong and their followers are damned. Inculpable Ignorance would protect everyone on earth from that danger if it weren’t for religions spreading their “truth” around. In this regard religion is arguably bad for believers because more of them get damned than would without religion.

      Thanks for the comment

      • Thank you for your response! I understood what you meant by exclusivism. My point is that since we don’t know what happens when we die and all believers believe that they are right how can we say that religion is bad for them? If they all believe in various systems of spiritual security how is religion bad for the individual? The collective may suffer, but “redemption” or “salvation” is typically extremely individualistic. The only way we could justify saying that it was bad was if we knew who was in fact going to heaven or the afterlife. What if we all knew for a face there was no afterlife? I feel like that could potentially be much more destructive. Thanks again for replying, I enjoyed your article!

  2. Christian
    Sorry for the delay in this response, your second comment slipped past me somehow. I suppose that if we assume one of the religions is correct then we can postulate that religion may not be harmful to some but on a whole it would have to be considered harmful to most. I am however interested in the assertion that the knowledge of a lack of an afterlife could be much more destructive. Could you elaborate?
    Once again thanks for the comment.

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