Ask An Atheist: Better Without Religion?

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By Jim Downard

Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

Religions can inspire philanthropy and great art, or heretic hunting and ignorance. The religion need not be true to do these things, only sufficiently inspirational to generate outcomes, beneficial or dire. Bach was deeply religious; Brahms wasn’t. Torquemada was likely no more or less a believer than St. Francis. And Martin Luther reformed his church and also recommended killing Jews. Islam can promote great art and science, or lop people’s heads off for not wearing certain clothing or having a banned sexual orientation.  Buddhists can be tolerant and inspiring, or oppress minority faiths within their political domain.

What prompts the good stuff but discourages the downsides of religions or ideology? Fortunately we have enough history to give us the answer: the world would be better off if no religion, or ideology, can enforce its orthodoxy via the instrumentalities of the state. Political institutions must be secular, leaving the individual to their own conscience, but not granting any the power to compel others to whatever beliefs they hold so dear.

Human beings have religions and ideologies, and will do so regardless of policies. But what people wish to believe as individuals must stop at other people’s heads. We don’t have to guess at the effects of this. Times of persecution and violence tend to correlate with cultures that try to punish people for what some deem as incorrect belief.

Most people on earth live in places were they are under threat for mere difference of belief, as I laid out in a 2014 article. Only secular protections can prevent such things, and that should be a universal and global goal.

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