May 10, 2010

Religion: What's the Harm?

candles.jpgReligion provides emotional comfort, hope, and an important social network to countless people, so if they want to believe superstitious nonsense, what's the harm? Why can't we atheists simply leave them to their delusion and shut up about it?

How many times have you heard this or a similar plea? Sometimes it masquerades as a request for "tolerance" (even though there are many beliefs and behaviors of which no moral human should be tolerant), and other times it serves as an effort to silence criticism of beliefs that one holds dear. But criticism is sometimes vital. There are times when we must speak out, even if it means offending the religious.

In a post about the slaughter of African albinos due to superstitious beliefs, Tommy Holland wrote,
For those who would ask, "What's the harm?" in allowing people their religious nonsense, I suggest you pray to whatever God you worship that someone doesn't come to believe that your body parts have magical properties.
It is appalling to hear about what humans will do to other humans in the name of superstition.

Murdering people and removing various body parts because one thinks they have magic powers may seem overly primitive compared to the major religions, but I'd caution the religious against being too smug to acknowledge that such comparisons have merit. We do not have far to look to find examples of Christians denying life-saving medical care to their children, promoting teen pregnancy and the spread of HIV/AIDS, or bombing medical clinics - all due to superstition. Nor do we have far to look to find Muslims flying planes into buildings, strapping explosives to their chests, and killing their own children due to a warped sense of "honor" - all due to superstition.

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