I am torn: there are two articles, pro and con, regarding religion in recent issues of the Times and I approve of neither.
I want to agree with Shin Chul-ho and his article, “Delusions about religion” but I don’t like the way he picks and chooses his representatives for religion. He describes a few hypocrites who practice Christianity, but every group has good and bad examples. There being around two billion Christians, one is likely to find many with unpopular or disturbing views. I do agree with his main, and final point:
I do not think that moral behavior came from religion. Long before any types of religion, morality existed. This is the product that was made over an infinite amount of time. People cultivated morality as they came to realize the principle of reciprocity benefits them.
People are born with the ability to act morally and capable of acting toward the world full of love and peace.
…but I don’t agree with his build up to that point.
I need to be careful. Judging from his name, I feel that the man is Korean and possibly English is his second language. And yet, it is not his language -his article displays far better grammar than most of my posts here – but his weak arguments, that bother me. I could probably give him a pass, based on my assumptions about his primary language but that seems as unfair and racist as if I judged him harshly for hypothetical language errors. Whatever the case, I may use his essay at some future time to show how weak arguments, even well-written, weaken the central point of those arguments.
I presume Bradley McDonald is a native speaker and again find no grammar errors in a quick study.* Indeed, a large part of his argument seems based on semantics (Questions about religion):
Also in the third paragraph, the author calls himself a “nonbeliever.” This must mean that he regards nothing as believable. As for his question about whether there’s any universality in religion, the open-minded reader will look that up for himself or herself and find that there most certainly is (but if there wasn’t it wouldn’t matter).
He or she will also find there’s a very broad spectrum of beliefs and stances in atheism and agnosticism. As for his question “Were any wars waged for the extension of atheism,” I’d like to inform him that Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro were all atheists. The death toll of religious fanaticism doesn’t come close.
“Nonbeliever” is a common term for non-religious and McDonald’s attempt to win debaters points by extending and distorting it’s meaning is disappointing.
I am more upset by his bait-and-switch with the “Were any wars waged for the extension of atheism” question. People, religious or not, have started wars for variety of reasons. Looking at Hitler, it is possible that he was an atheist, but clear that he used Christian and religious claims to support his war. “We’re atheists: let’s kill the Jews and gays” doesn’t have the same clarity of purpose as starting the same phrase with “We’re Christians…” Hitler may have been an atheist, but he drove German citizens to war using Christian beliefs.
To look at a counter example, and I am afraid I am leaving the articles behind as this is ground they did not cover, consider slavery in the US. Christians were divided on the subject and used religious rationales for both sides. One group that was outspokenly pro-slavery, were a group of Baptists. They split their church over the issue, specifically on the issue of slavery, with the Southern Baptists of the time being pro-slavery for religious reasons. The American Baptists, to their credit, were equally opposed to slavery, again for religious reasons. These were clergymen, expected to be knowledgable about their religion, making these claims.
I bring this up to counter McDonald’s argument that atheists like Stalin fought wars for specifically religious reasons. I don’t believe that is true. They were merely non-religious people who started wars. Wikipedia has a post about religious wars, which are defined as ” A religious war is a war caused by, or justified by, religious differences”. The Second World War, for reasons I have described above, might fit that criteria; I am not sure that McDonald’s other villains started wars that do.
* This is remarkable in itself as the Times, and the Herald – see the previous post- are known for poor editing.