Some religious people like to perpetuate the myth that religion is needed for morality. Does this claim have merit?
Let's take a look at some of the things religion has either directly or indirectly been responsible for over the course of civilization.
In no particular order:
1) Blasphemy Laws: A uniquely religious idea that seeks to stifle free speech, dissent and free thought. Countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have blasphemy laws and in some countries it carries the death penalty. The UN was even considering a worldwide blasphemy law, which would have effectively destroyed free speech around the world.
2) Apostasy: Apostasy literally means 'the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief'. If you renounce your faith or change religions in some countries, you can be killed. How moral!
3) Holy Wars: Wars litter human history and a great many of them were either directly or indirectly motivated by religion. The Crusades are one main example, although there are many more.
4) Silly Hats: The idea that a silly hat makes you an expert on morality or what God wants.
5) Hell or Eternal Torment: Not only would a God that tortures people eternally be immoral, but the very concept of eternal torment without relief is a nasty, vile, immoral one. Not only that, but this concept has been used for hundreds of years to frighten and mentally torture people into believing religious claims.
6) Genocide of Native Americans: Religious boarding schools were used to Christianize Natives. Children were subjected to cultural genocide and in some cases rape, torture, beatings and maltreatment. If religion is the source of all morality, they really dropped the ball on this one.
7) Holocaust: While some people try to paint Hitler as an atheist (he wasn't) religion played a central role in the holocaust. Whether Hitler was a true believer or not, the Catholic Church made it easy to convince Christian Europe that Jews were evil and guilty of deicide. Even after Nazi Germany was defeated, the Catholic Church helped smuggle Nazi war criminals out of Germany. Maybe the 'holy spirit' took a snooze?
8) Jihad: Many Muslim scholars will argue that Jihad means struggling spiritually within one's self. However, there is no denying that some Muslims take it to mean killing in the name of God.
9) Oppression of Women: Religion has played an integral role in oppressing women. It has been primarily responsible for patriarchy and has led to women struggling to regain their human rights. In the Middle East, religion is used to justify the abhorrent treatment of women. In the States, religion is used as justification to try and pass laws restricting women, and in Israel, Ultra Orthodox Judaism has also had its share of oppressive policies towards women.
10) September 11: As Sam Harris said in The End of Faith - “The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not "cowards," as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.”
11) Attacks on Science: Religions constantly attack science and retard progress. For example, religious organizations have opposed stem cell research, and continually tried to insert creationism into the science classroom, even though it clearly isn't scientific in nature. The Pope even told Stephen Hawking to 'not study the beginning of the universe because it was the work of God.'
12) Human Sacrifice: Ancient religions, such as the Aztec religion, practiced human sacrifice to appease God. In Christianity, we see a bit of this with Jesus Christ, who is basically a human sacrifice. God supposedly needed a blood sacrifice in order to forgive everyone else for their sins.
14) LGBTQ: There is no question that religion plays (and played) a central role in oppressing LGBTQ communities around the world. In North America, the LGBTQ community is fighting an ongoing battle for equal rights. Around the world, religions continue to stifle, beat, torture, kill and oppress homosexuals, based on the words found in their ancient literature.
15) Spread of AIDS: The Catholic Church has been instrumental in spreading the AIDS virus, especially in third world countries. Their irrational stance on contraception use has led to thousands (if not millions) of preventable deaths.
16) Pedophilia Scandal: For an institution that claims moral authority, the Catholic Church has certainly had its fair share of scandals. However, the worst one recently has been the pedophilia scandal. Not only did priests molest children, but the Vatican covered it up and moved pedophile priests around so they could prey on new victims.
17) Undeserving Poor: It's true that religious institutions and people were instrumental in helping the poor before governments stepped in with social programs. At one time, there weren't any trained social workers. However, there were strings attached. If you were deemed 'undeserving' then you weren't given assistance. One of the things you needed to be in order to be deemed deserving was to attend church often and be God fearing. Thankfully, scientific philanthropy came along and put a stop to such nonsense.
18) Witch Burning: For centuries, Christians burned witches. Even today, superstition has led to modern day witch burnings. During the Inquisition, the church was probably responsible for 'burning tens of thousands of people'. I guess the Holy Spirit was on another paid holiday during that time.
19) Massive Hypocrisy: Jesus supposedly said in Matthew, 'Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven', however, that hasn't stopped religious institutions or people from becoming grossly rich. Mega-churches and televangelists come to mind immediately. As does the Catholic Church, which is worth billions of dollars. How many people could 8 billion dollars feed, clothe or house?
20) Theocracy: Forcing your religion on an entire populace is never a good idea. Iran is a good example of what happens when religion holds sway over the populace and government. As Ruth Hurmence Green once said, 'There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the Dark Ages.'
22) Suicide Bombers: When you believe that you're going to attain heavenly bliss after you die in the service of God, almost anything can be justified, including suicide bombing. If you doubt that God plays a role in suicide bombing, have a listen to interviews by failed, confessed suicide bombers and judge for yourself.
CNN's Anna Coren sits down with a bomber whose plot was foiled by police.
23) The Cutting of Genitalia: The mutilation of genitalia is carried out around the world. Female genital mutilation is heinous and a violation of human rights. It's true that this practice predates the Islamic faith. However, it is now justified using religion. Male circumcision is also religiously justified in many cases.
24) Caste System: The Hindu Caste system has been accused of promoting discrimination, and from barring 'the power of free thought and action of an individual'. The UN has said that the caste system is guilty of human rights abuses. I certainly wouldn't want to live under a caste system...would you?
25) Slavery and Racism: Religion has failed in the slavery and racism department. In fact, the Bible outlines how best to treat a slave, instead of saying it's wrong to own another person. The Catholic Church has issued bulls authorizing slavery. However, the Catholic Church isn't alone in promoting racism and slavery. Mormons also have a history of racism, and Judaism and Islam have also had a history of slavery. I guess God never told them that owning people was immoral.
I'm not sure about you, but it seems to me that religion sometimes distorts morality. You could argue that bad things happen without religion, and you'd be right, but it certainly happens with religion too. The idea that religion is needed for morality is ridiculous.
But if the first 25 of this list wasn't enough for you, stay tuned for part two.