Religion As Corrosive

by Patrick Appel

A reader somewhat answers the last reader's point:

I think the unfortunate thing about the Dish's coverage on this issue is that you've failed to represent Dennett's (or other "grating" atheists') full arguments justifying their combative approach to religion. Personally, I'm a "grating" atheist because of two deep concerns about the influence of religion in general (i.e., religion as a concept). First, the vast majority of religious people inculcate (or to put it another way, brainwash) their intellectually defenseless children with their own beliefs, demanding that the little ones believe these often ridiculous things to be true with no logical or empirical evidence, which I am convinced undermines children's development of logic and critical thinking.

Secondly, and more concretely, religion is the most pernicious cudgel influencing policy.  Because religious beliefs (e.g., homosexuality is bad) are not held on account of logic or evidence (and perhaps also because of the way religion has influenced adherents' critical thinking skills), it is impossible for us to argue against them, yet their consequences affect us all.  Religion warps the policy sphere by determining how people vote and shaping the media dialogue, since a great number if not the majority of sincerely religious people seem openly unwilling to concede that their own supernatural beliefs should not be imposed upon the electorate in general.  The marriage equality debate is a perfect example of this, since all non-religious arguments (i.e., the ones not revolving around the word "sacred,") that I have heard against it are thoroughly specious.  We can also reference the nakedly religion-based support for the Bush administration displayed by huge numbers of the Republican base, and ongoing local school board revolutions intended to place ill-disguised creationist dogma into the public school science curriculum.  Meanwhile, pandering to the religious crowd in policy debate merely reinforces their own biases (and reasserts their entitlement to a national audience) and hence does not usually result in any constructive compromise.

Thus, it is not merely that we atheists disapprove of people being religious because we like to chide them for not yet discarding that "crutch"...  it's that we feel the violent political force of religion shaping our laws and leadership on a daily basis, while a new legion of young zealots is being indoctrinated with every generation.

This is an important point, but, in my opinion, whether religion is a net good or bad is much less obvious than this reader believes.