Sunday, September 13, 2009

When relgion functions for evil in society - part one

My father used to say that it was not cars that killed people but the nuts behind the wheel. The same can be said for religion. Religion can be used for good or bad purposes by the nuts who proclaim to be doing things in their name.

Charles Kimball has written an interesting book entitled "When Religion Becomes Evil". He says there are five warning signs the first of which is the belief that one's religion claims to teach the absolute truth. Along with absolute truth claims comes the further ideas that a certain religion knows what God wants, religious texts can be appropriated to condone or condemn certain behaviors, and that religious zeal can be used to proselytise and persecute people who don't share a particular religious views.

I was at the New York State Fair on Tuesday, September 1, 2009 and as I walked through a crowded pavillion looking at the various vendors and demonstrations I walked by a born again Christian booth and a woman in her 50s asked me pointed if I was "born again". I said, "Yes, I am but I don't believe all this stuff."

She said, "If you don't accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you will go to hell."

I said, "Really, what about all the Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus in the world?"

"They won't be saved," she assured me.

I said, "What kind of God is this that you believe in that would condemn people to an eternal fiery pit for not believing in him? This god seems pretty small minded to me?"

I saw panic in her eyes and she said, "You have to believe in the bible."

I said, "You're kidding right? When's the last time we stoned adulterers?"

The crowd was pushing me from behind and this was the last word and I felt bad for giving her a hard time. I didn't intend to mock this woman's beliefs, but her stupidity is insulting and that fact that she is prostyletising trying to convert others to her judgmental and potentially destructive beliefs is not healthy for our society and future.

The beliefs in exclusivity, absolute truth, and missionary duty are a recipe for evil religion which is dangerous to society. These components can be put on a continuum of mild, moderate, and severe. At a mild level, these components are probably not that harmful other than to cause conflicts at family gatherings, but at a severe level, these components justify murder as occured with Dr. Tillman, and at Tenesee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in July, 2008.

Citizens need to become more religiously literate so that they can spot the dysfunctional aspects of religious beliefs and they can be detoxified before they do harm.

Unitarian Universalists believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and reject exlusivity in favor of inclusivity. UUs believe in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning and reject the idea of absolute religious truth especially based on any so called "sacred" or "revealed" texts that are proposed to be the "word of god".

Unitarian Universalists believe in democratic processes and the acceptance of one another in our spiritual congregations regardless of their particular religious beliefs. Therefore, UUs attempt to grow through attraction rather than by prostylization and missionary activity.

As I and others attempt to create a UU religious community in Brockport, NY we reach out to others in love and respect welcoming like minded others into relationship. We have no absolute truths to demand complance with, no missionary zeal which leads us to perceive our fellows as saved and unsaved, worthy and unworthy, and no sacred texts which we use to justify oppressive and subjugating activities.

Beware of people claiming to represent religions which are exclusive, privy to absolute truth, and with a missionary zeal to convert people who many choose to think and live differently from them. At the extreme such people are dangerous and need to be carefully managed in a democratic society.

This is part one in a series on Charles Kimball's book, "When Religion Becomes Evil".

This post is #2 in a series on religion in society.

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