Gary Fogg

Gary Fogg

If we are striving for higher moral and ethical behavior, we need to pay attention to the intellectual roots of violence. In matters of religion, the sacred texts and commentaries of many faiths around the world foster violence either directly or indirectly by their teachings.

But first we need to clarify the main source of the problem. Most definitions of religion include the belief in a supernatural power of some kind that rewards and punishes us according to its own desires. This aspect of religion is what I think we should investigate closely in order to discern the cause of violence.

I do not condemn the need for people to associate with others like themselves or to give meaning and purpose to life. However, belief in a supernatural power is unique to religion and the key distinction between religious faith and secular philosophy, morality and ethics.

The three main faults of religion can be summarized as follows:

One, the supernatural aspects of religious teaching are not based on facts or evidence. People who hold a belief system detached from reality are unable to identify problems accurately or to develop solutions that work in the real world. The only option is to stubbornly insist on a religiously inspired interpretation of events that is far from accurate or helpful. I would argue that good judgment based on knowledge, not fantasy, is a wiser and more compassionate approach to life.

Two, religious teaching is almost always based on narrow-minded views. Most religions arise among a particular group of people at a particular time and place in history. Therefore, sacred texts often reflect the ignorance and prejudices of the early founders. But in religion these views are not subject to criticism because they are supposed to be the absolute and final truth about everything. After all, don’t they come from an all-knowing supernatural power?

Three, the sacred texts of most religions view unbelievers, apostates and reformers as immoral persons who should be regarded with suspicion. These ideas are designed to protect the religion from criticism and change. Unfortunately, they also incite hatred and fear of other people among the religion’s followers and causes them to feel justified in using violence to protect their beliefs. Some people try to ignore these horrible texts or explain them away as if they mean something else, but others take them seriously and act accordingly.

Most people have no difficulty seeing faults like these in religions they do not believe in, but they do have difficulty seeing them in their own religion. From experience, we know that there are a few things that can be done to moderate religious convictions. These include pointing out how sacred myths are illogical, helping people recognize which of their own beliefs are harmful and comparing one’s religion to others. None of these efforts guarantee success in preventing violence, but at least they offer hope for progress.

Civilization can move beyond a belief in the supernatural and the harm it causes, but only when religion itself is exposed to the scrutiny it deserves.


Gary Fogg lives in Topsham.

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