Is religion harmful?

There’s an ongoing debate among the non-religious about whether to accommodate religion or to stand against it. For me the key question seems to be whether religion is is benign or harmful.

If it is benign, or even positive, despite being wrong then it can safely be accommodated. We shouldn’t really care if people are religious or if children are indoctrinated into religion. However if religion is actually harmful then we should rail against it and fight it at every turn. We should work to eradicate it from every area of public life and discourage its spread just as we would for other harmful beliefs.

But how do we tell? Is it even possible to tell? As a (now) outsider I have several issues with the role of religion in society. There are, I think, two essential problems.

The first is that bad data leads to bad decisions. Though it’s possible for good outcomes to occur from bad data they’re unlikely and on balance bad outcomes will be more common. Examples of this can be found all over. Christians and Scientologists eschewing medical assistance in favor of faith healing is just one but there are many. Anytime one takes unsubstantiated faith over proven evidence things are going to start going wrong.

The second is related to the first. Religions (with few exceptions) claim to be the source of absolute truth. Truth that is unchanging and good for all time. Unfortunately this truth bears a striking similarity to the morality and understanding of the time when the holy books were written. Slavery and misogyny are commonplace among the older religions and the fight to end slavery and for women’s suffrage required fighting against organized religion. Today in America we’re seeing the same thing being played out in the fight for gay rights and gay marriage. Ultimately religion will evolve. The religious will change their position on gay rights just as they have on slavery and women’s suffrage. But until then many will fight against those rights on the grounds that they go against God’s absolute truth.

On balance therefore my belief is that religion is actively harmful to society. I believe it retards our moral progress by elevating primitive and barbaric beliefs to that of absolute truth. This leads me to an anti-theist position. A position where I believe that the ultimate goal should be the sidelining, marginalization and ultimate eradication of religion.

p.s. I want to make clear that I’m not talking about the criminalization of religion. I think it’s good to keep government and religion separate. That means no support for but equally no discrimination against religion. Rather I’m arguing for the non-religious to stand up and speak out against religion. Highlight the flaws, the fallacies, the contradictions and the immorality of it. This will be sufficient, I believe, to ultimately eradicate it.

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