Does religion do more harm than good?

This is the title of a recent article by Gwynne Dyer in The Japan Times Online. It is the type of article that totally depresses me. Now I know statistics can be used to prove almost anything, but it is compelling stuff. Ms. Dyer is discussing a study that linked high rates of belief in God or religion with high rates of crime and other morally deprived actions specifically in the US. As a big fan of God (despite my struggles) and a big fan of my country (despite it’s many issues) I hate for statements like this to be made. What’s more I’d hate to think that I in some way was a contributor to the moral depravity of this God fearing country. Must be that guilt kicking in again. 😉 How can I reconcile this?


6 thoughts on “Does religion do more harm than good?

  1. Ken says:

    I think it is fair to say that from the perspective of “the enlightenment,” religion is largely seen as causing more harm than good.

    To the extent that the enlightenment shapes our consciousness today, we do see religious people as dangerous. I know many well-educated people who avoid religious people, who think that religious people are defective mentally and morally and who have contempt for religion.

    Do you know anyone who feels that way?

    I think it is hard for a religious person to embrace the philosophies of the enlightenment and not feel a certain self-contempt. The famous work of theology by Freidrick Schliermacher that gave birth to liberal theology was titled, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. It was an attempt, by a philosopher who embraced the enlightenment, to restate theology in way that allowed a moral and intelligent person by enlightenment standards to also be religious. For two hundred years theologians have labored to find a way of salvaging religion in the wake of the enlightenment. They have sought what you seek, a way to “reconcile.” Has it been found? So far there is no consensus.

  2. Ken says:

    Oops. Mispelled the name: Friedrich Schleiermacher.

  3. Benedict says:

    Schliermacher was, of course, pretty much responding to the arguments made by Ludwig Fuerbach and D. Strauss. It’s been said, with some justification, that Schliermacher’s book was kind of the call for liberal Christianity, at least in a form that liberal Christians today might recognize.

    More to the point, to some degree I think that blaming “religion” for harm and violence in the world is true as far as it goes, but it’s also a bit of a straw man. I think that a more pernicious problem is the same problem that’s always been there: Absolutist ideology, no matter where it shows up. This isn’t even fundamentalism. Absolutist ideologies suffer no rivals, and furthermore when such an ideology gains control or power, that’s when the harm and violence becomes, well, “absolutely” manifest. The adoption of an absolute scientism, for example, has historically led to violent wars and genocide; capitalism and communism, same thing.

    If that makes any sense. It’s late here on the East coast.

  4. Gregory Paul says:

    My J Relig & Soc paper discussed here did not address why highly religious nations cannot enjoy the higher levels of societal health found in all secularized prosperous democracies, this article does.

    Why the Gods Are Not Winning co-author Phil Zuckerman Edge 2007

  5. Dana says:

    Without more information than what is in the article, it is difficult to say. Correlations do not prove causation. Their are numerous studies out which indicate a strong relationship between religion and an overall sense of well-being and better physical health.

    And Benedict, I’m not so sure that religion is even the problem there. I think the problem is people who cannot get a long and they reach for their religion to justify what they are doing. In the Muslim world in particular, many of these same conflicts were going on before Mohammed.

  6. Jodi says:

    Greg – here’s the link again. For some reason I couldn’t access yours – so if anyone want to read it…

    In business it’s always a good sign when your competitors write about how bad you are – if you weren’t making them nervous they wouldn’t need to say anything. If we apply that to religion, I would have to say the Gods are winning in that respect…no one can stop talking about them!

    Thanks for all the great comments.

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