This is Malala Yousefzai, she is a fifteen year old girl from Pakistan who has earned great fame for advocating the education of girls in her country in spite of a Taliban ban against educating females. On October 9th of this year she was the victim of an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman, she was shot twice, once in the head and once in the neck, luckily she was not immediately killed and is being treated in England. However the Taliban has vowed to kill her should she survive her wounds. The extremist Muslim group has issued a statement defending the attempted killing on religious grounds, saying anyone who “campaigns against Islam and Sharia (Muslim law) is ordered to be killed by Sharia.”
Malala is, sadly, one example of a much larger problem within not only Islamic circles but in theistic circles as a whole. It’s just one more example of the crimes and injustices that can be justified by placing your faith in a system which is based primarily on an ancient document riddled with long out-dated strictures, biases and prejudices. Islam and Sharia are no different from Christianity in this respect. Neither of these systems has ever been about promoting equality between men and women, in spite of what modern apologists would have us believe. The bible is riddled with instances where women are judged to be inferior to men, in many cases property of men, unclean, mentally deficient, morally unwholesome, and generally untrustworthy ( Genesis 3:16 Leviticus 27: 3-7, Deuteronomy 5:21 Deuteronomy 22:23-24 Ephesians 5:22-23 are just a few examples) The quran is no better for this in spite of all the talk about the strictures placed on muslim women being a sign of respect for them, and a desire to keep them pure. The text itself says quite plainly that while a muslim woman has similar rights to a man the man is a step above the woman (2:228) It also says quite plainly that a woman is worth one half of a man (2:282) and that men are in charge of women because allah made men superior to women (4:34)
This is not, as some would have us believe, “misinterpreting the text” or being too literal in our interpretations. This is simply reading the text. There are literally billions of people around the world that hold to faiths that contain these statements. Is it any surprise that the plight of women around the world for centuries has been, and in some places remains to this day, atrocious? These two books have influenced law and culture around the globe for centuries. Thirteen centuries after the supposed life of Christ Thomas Aquinas wrote the following:
“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.”
Aquinas’ various writings on the nature of women have been used by the Catholic church to defend their misogynistic position against female clergy and to justify the male dominance of women for centuries.
This is just another example of the negative legacy of religion. Would there have been universal equality for women if christianity and islam had never existed? No, I am not naïve enough to believe that. The subjugation of women is a common theme in most ancient cultures throughout the world, regardless of belief system. My particular opinion is that without the influence of these systems of belief however the ancient strictures and biases against the opposite sex would not have survived as long as they have, and the journey toward equality would not have been as painful and halting as it has been, and remains to be to this very day.
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.
One of the arguments that an atheist, agnostic, or other non-theist involved in theological debate will hear often is the concept that religion is the fount of human morality, that without the steadying and moderating influence of god humankind has no incentive to act morally. While each religion does have a very specific and binding morality I would argue that none of them are really the moralities that modern humans should aspire to. This concept that religion is necessary for moral behaviour would seem to stem from an ignorance of what these holy books actually have to say about human conduct. Let’s take a look at some of the moral teachings of the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quran.
Slavery is Ok
“When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.Exodus 21:20-21
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)
“The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 )
* These are only some of the verses in the bible that deal with slavery, some verses even lay out the proper pricing of Jewish and non – Jewish slaves.
“Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty.” Quran 33:50
“Blessed are the believers…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them…)…” Quran 23:1
Neither the Bible or the Quran has any proscription against slavery. I would say that most people would agree that slavery is a moral abomination that should be stamped out wherever it is found and yet the Abrahamic religions not only have nothing bad to say about it but actually embrace it.
Intolerance is OK
“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me..” Luke 19:27
“He that is not with me is against me.” Matthew 12: 30
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16
In the above examples Jesus makes it very clear that there is no room for tolerance of other beliefs. There is only his way, his interpretation. Anyone who isn’t prepared to accept Jesus as lord and master is worthy of death and damnation.
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 10: 5-6
“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Matthew 15: 22-28
These two examples show a blatant isolationism and racism on the part of Jesus. He says straight out that he is only interested in the welfare of Jewish people.
“But they who disbelieve, and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein“ Quran 2:39.
“Believe ye in part of the Scripture and disbelieve ye in part thereof ? And what is the reward of those who do so save ignominy in the life of the world, and on the Day of Resurrection they will be consigned to the most grievous doom.” Quran 2:85
Again, no other belief or point of view is to be entertained or permitted. Not only do you have to believe what they believe, you have to believe all of what they believe or not only die but burn eternally.
Neither the Bible or the Quran set any store in tolerance as a moral value. As a matter of fact both of them state plainly that tolerance of other views is not an acceptable value of the “faithful”
Murder and Genocide are Ok.
“Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9)
“The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” Psalms 58:10)
“Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.” (Deuteronomy 12:2-3)
“Slay them wherever ye find them…Such is the reward of disbelievers.” Quran 2:191
“Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” Quran 2: 193
“If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant.” Quran 4:91
Both texts clearly say that it is more than ok to murder, maim and kill for God. Not only is it ok, as a matter of fact, it is demanded by God.
Without even going into the atrocious treatment of women by both faiths and both “holy” books I think we’ve seen that religious morality is at best dubious and more often than not atrocious. As for the argument that without religion we’d have no morality I’d say that our morality has long since surpassed the example of both these books. Most of us, religious or not, would say emphatically that slavery is wrong, cultural and racial tolerance is important and that murder, genocide and torture are negative things. Do we really need mythology and superstitious beliefs in celestial overseers to tell us that it’s wrong to hurt people, kill people, enslave people?