Religion: More Bad Than Good?

It happens frequently that I hear this argument: that religion should be abandoned because it does more harm than good. Whatever "evidence" one might point to in making this argument, it has a fatal flaw that, astonishingly, tends to go unnoticed.

I'm not talking about the gross generalisation about "religion." It hardly needs to be pointed out that religion is not a monolithic entity, and cannot be meaningfully discussed as such. People are not "religious in general." They are religious in specific, particular ways, and no one sees their own particular way of being religious as harmful -- which, if nothing else, means that this argument has a very limited target audience.

The bigger problem, as I see it, is the suggestion that the "harm" and the "good" caused by religion can be both measured and compared.

That many harmful acts are motivated by religious convictions is not in dispute. From large-scale terrorist attacks, to the subtle psychological abuse of children, there is no denying that much harm is committed for religious reasons. The good that is caused by religion is less visible, and a naive person might conclude from this that it simply isn't there to be seen. But there are countless religious people who quietly go about doing good, without calling attention to the fact they they are doing so, and without advertising the fact that it is their faith that moved them to do it. Even if you could quantify the harmful acts carried out as a result of religion, the same cannot be done for the good that people do, so there is no basis for comparison.

A further problem is the fact that harmful acts can be carried out on a much larger scale. One simply cannot do good to the same magnitude that one can do evil. There is no good that one can do that is even close to the same magnitude as, say, a genocide, or a terrorist attack, or even a single murder. This is true whether the behaviour is motivated by religion or not.

In conclusion, I feel like I should mention that some of the greatest crimes of the last century were motivated by explicitly anti-religious ideologies. The combined deaths that resulted from Soviet and Chinese communism is, at a conservative estimate, over 60 million, and probably much higher. But I don't feel like getting into that right now.


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