How Religion Hurts Humanity
Whether religion as a whole is more helpful or more harmful to humanity is, I think, an open question. There are too many variables. But I think the conservative branches of religion are definitely more harmful. I speak here to conservative Christians.
Tribalism – Your religion fosters a mindset that keeps people apart, rather than brings them together. You perceive your group as the in-group, and all others as out-groups who constitute a threat to you. You regard your group as the one most pleasing to God. Dt. 7:6 says, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.”
This mentality of being God’s favorites, whether it’s Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, or Muslim, can set the stage for violence. I am not saying religion per se causes wars; I’m saying that it lubricates the process, by demonizing the out-groups. When you regard people of a different religion as a threat, as a source of evil, it’s easier to kill them. Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg insightfully pointed out that good people do good things, bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things – that takes religion.
Exclusivist religions operate harmfully not only on a large scale, but also on a personal scale. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons who decide to leave their faith are commonly devasted, because their family and former friends now shun them, as though they have committed the worst of crimes. Conservative forms of Christianity cultivate this idea that giving up your faith is the worst thing you can do.
The Bible supports this condemnatory attitude toward apostates. In fact, Jesus said to brutally kill any family member or dear friend who decides to leave the faith (Dt.13:6-10). This is the lethal intolerance that Jesus accepted from the Old Testament God. His God. His values. Kill those who leave your religion. And yet you ask, apparently baffled, what is the harm in your religion?
Your religion serves only your group; it does not serve humanity as a whole.
Hell – I believe in ultimate justice, and in proportionate justice. But the Christian concept of Hell is an extremist position beyond all bounds of proportionality. To inflict severe pain on sentient beings, WITHOUT END, is NOT an expression of ultimate justice and love, but of infinite cruelty and hate.
The doctrine of Hell often damages people for their whole lives, their joy in life sabotaged by unwarranted fear and guilt. I’ve read testimony from scores of ex-Christians who have written about this effect.
Obedience over Reason – Your religion lays the groundwork for human oppression by presenting blind obedience as a prime virtue. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden for disobedience, not for any rational reason. They never even asked why the forbidden fruit was forbidden! The message from the human writers of Genesis is really – “Accept that WE are in charge and speak for God. Not you. Just obey what we tell you. And yes, Abraham, you should murder your beloved son, for no reason, other than to prove your loyalty and obedience. Don’t ask questions.”
“Obedience above all” is the calling card of the tyrant, whether human or theological.
Divine Authority Ascribed to Humans Autocratic religions invariably result in great harm to people. I think, because bad people gravitate towards such belief systems, in order to get into positions of power. I am not saying bad people predominate in authoritarian religions – there are many good, wonderful priests and pastors I have known – but the deferential milieu fostered enables bad people to infiltrate. Would the Catholic Church have countenanced child molestation all these years if priests were not regarded for so long as beyond reproach, as having some aura of divine sanction?
Belief over behavior – Your religion values right belief, over right behavior. John 3:18 – “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” That is a very clear teaching, that belief is the key. The thief on the cross goes to heaven, but the good atheist goes to hell. That’s not right and you know it.
In my opinion, if a real God exists, the ONLY proper way to worship God, is to behave well.
Condemnation of Homosexuality – Your religion makes LGBT people feel they are, at their core, profoundly immoral people. This terribly unfair, unkind, and untrue position leads them to commit suicide at a much higher rate than straight people. One study says 3 times more likely. Another, 5 times more likely. Wikipedia (“Suicide Among LGBT Youth”) says: “Researchers found that greater religious …engagement was tied to increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions for participants who identified as LGBQ.”
One very telling and concrete study cited by Wikipedia says: “The gradual manner in which same-sex marriage was established in the United States (expanding from 1 state in 2004 to all 50 states in 2015) allowed the researchers to compare the rate of attempted suicide among children in each state over the time period studied. Once same-sex marriage was established in a particular state, the reduction in the rate of attempted suicide among children in that state became permanent. No reduction in the rate of attempted suicide among children occurred in a particular state until that state recognized same-sex marriage.”
An Evangelical Christian might say, “We have a difference of opinion on a moral issue; that does not mean we cannot love them.” I understand that principle. For example, if a friend of yours is a thief, it IS a good idea to let him know you disapprove. However, being a thief is a clear immorality, whereas sexual orientation is not an immorality. It is a natural disposition that one is born with. Most gay people cannot choose to be heterosexual any more than you can choose to be gay.
You cannot hate the sin, but love the sinner, as you are fond of saying, when you are rejecting what the LGBT person honestly, and naturally, understands his or her core identity to be. You ARE in fact hating the sinner. Read some stories by gay people. Read what they themselves say.
Religiosity and Crime – In checking out the relationship between religiosity and crime, I found that it’s hard to come to a firm conclusion. Some studies show that religiosity correlates with less crime, others show the opposite. Myself, I am struck by the high murder rates of Bible Belt states, compared to the low rates of the less religious Northwest and Northeast. [Murder Rate by State 2021 (worldpopulationreview.com)]
A book by Phil Zuckerman (Society without God) says that Denmark and Sweden are, "probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world", and they enjoy "among the lowest violent crime rates in the world…” So, while it might seem logical that religion would enhance morality, there are lots of statistics that do not support that notion.
Male Chuvinism – 1 Cor 11:3 says, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man.” That is a clear statement of difference in authority and value. The male chauvinism practiced and sanctioned in the Bible has led to all kinds of harm to women, both emotional and physical.
Thousands of women were killed in Europe, based on the biblical concept that there are witches who are evil and need to be killed (Ex 22:18). The Inquisition was rooted in Christian beliefs. And yet you ask what is the harm in your religion, as though your religion is always an innocent bystander. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences.
Conclusion – Conservative Christianity works for some people, but only because they live in a bubble and dishonestly downplay the harm their religion causes.