November 24, 2006

Where Elton Went Wrong

According to Elton John, religion should be banned because of the harm it causes. I agree that religion is harmful, but Elton is wrong about banning it. I suspect that most of my atheist readers will agree with me on this, but I'd still like to explain my position.

Elton correctly points out that religion promotes hatred and intolerance. Faith is the enemy of science and those of us who want our leaders to make decisions based on sound reasoning are likely to oppose it. Of course, the list of religiously-motivated ills is long and has been addressed previously here and elsewhere, so I will not indulge in this tangent right now. Instead, I will limit myself to pointing out that Christianity is quick to condemn persons with non-Christian beliefs. Rather than simply acknowledging that there are persons with other beliefs, Christianity chooses to disparage them. So much for tolerance.

The issue is what to do about religion. Banning it is a ridiculous idea, and communist societies have aptly illustrated that attempts to abolish religion through state power will not succeed. Not only would what Elton is calling for never work, but it would turn us into precisely the sort of authoritarian bullies that make up the very Christian extremists we oppose. As much as I oppose religion, I have no desire to see it banned.

The alternative to banning religion is to gradually help people realize that it is an unnecessary and dangerous presence in their lives. Through science and reason, we must help people progress beyond their primitive religious dogmas. I don't blame Elton for being impatient with this process. I can relate to his desire to see this happen faster, but attempting draconian solutions would certainly backfire.

Elton says that religion does not work. I disagree. Religion works extremely well - just not at making people compassionate. He seems to think that this is the only goal for religion to serve, and he's wrong about this. Religion is extremely effective in brainwashing the masses so they will endure deplorable conditions. It is a highly effective means of social control. It interfaces well with patriotism, allowing corrupt governments to manipulate citizens. Psychologically, it provides comfort, appeases guilt, and offers a sense of community. In fact, we are still stuck with religion precisely because it works so well!

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