Thursday, February 5, 2015

Religion ≠ Evil

As a practicing Mormon, I disagree with atheists about many things. Shocking, I know. I don't agree with many of their arguments and they always return the favor. On most things we usually just agree to disagree. But there's one argument atheists make over and over which drives me up the wall. Both amateurs and experts in the atheist camp use it frequently and I think it is incredibly illogical.
Their argument, to put it in the words of Christopher Hitchens, is that "religion poisons everything." In the words of H. L. Mencken, another renowned atheist, "religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind."And let's not forget Friedrich Nietzsche, who caricatured Christianity as "the sacrifice of freedom, pride, spiritual self-confidence" existing only as a catalyst for "subjugation and self-derision [and] self-mutilation."3
If this was just the opinion of a few novice atheists (you know, the kind who spend their lonely nights trolling the internet with their unsolicited opinions) then we could accept arguments like these as the ramblings of the uninitiated. But this is the clarion call of the world's most vocal atheists! Speaking for us religious people, I have a response. In the words of Twisted Sister, "We're not gonna take it, no we ain't gonna take it." Now, let's get one thing straight. Has religion caused a lot of evil in the world? Yes. Violent crusades, suicide bombings, and oppressive inquisitions all testify to that. But these examples do not represent religion in its entirety. Religion has done just as much good in the world, if not more, as it has evil. Religion has been one of the greatest sources of freedom, charitable service, and education in the world. Here are just three people whose examples serve to dismantle this atheist argument. These three people (a baptist, a Catholic, and a Muslim, respectively), prove there is beauty, freedom and goodness in religion. 

1.  Dr. Martin Luther King jr.

So often people forget that America's greatest civil rights advocate was a preacher. Dr. Martin Luther King jr followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather when he became a baptist minister. King was both a deeply religious and a very well-educated man. He earned his doctorate by the age of 25 and took the lead of the now-famous Montgomery bus boycott, rising to become the figurehead of the civil rights movement. Relying on the example of Mahatma Gandhi (another religious figure worth mentioning), King led a nonviolent protest movement that culminated in the end of a long night of oppression and bigotry. His "I Have a Dream" speech continues to echo through time as a call for fairness and justice for all. In his last speech, Dr. King had this to say on religion's role in the struggle for freedom: "Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones... Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, 'When God speaks who can but prophesy?' " Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, but he left a legacy of faith that will not soon be forgotten.4 5

2. Mother Teresa

No one defies the atheist argument better than Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Heeding what she believed to be a call from God, Mother Teresa dedicated herself to aiding the poor. She founded the Missionaries of Charity and provided care for countless lepers, orphans, and other afflicted individuals. When the Pope gave her his own private limousine, she raffled it off to raise money for a leper colony. Speaking of the movement which she began, Mother Teresa said "We are misunderstood, we are misrepresented, we are misreported. We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious, we are religious, we are religious." Mother Teresa was made a Catholic saint in 2003 and remains a shining example of charity in action. 7

3. Malala Yousafzai

Belonging to a faith often characterized as extreme and chauvinistic, Malala Yousafzai is the world's most poignant voice for women's rights today. Growing up in Pakistan, Malala was raised to believe in a woman's equal right to education. At a young age she began blogging for the BBC, speaking out against the tyranny of the Taliban. Because of her activism, Malala was eventually found and shot by a Taliban member. She survived the incident and became more vocal than ever in advocating education for all. When she was 17 years old, Malala became the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.Her acceptance speech began with the words "Bismillah hir rahman ir rahim. In the name of God, the most merciful, the most beneficent."While many would use radical Islam as damning evidence against religion, Malala uses her faith to combat her radical enemies. To the Taliban she says “Do you not know that Mohammad, peace be upon him, the prophet of mercy, he says, do not harm yourself or others[?]  And do you not know that the very first word of the Holy Quran is the word [Iqra], which means read?” 10 Malala continues her work today through the Malala fund, which works to give a voice to voiceless women around the world.

These three individuals demonstrate beyond a doubt that while religion may not be inherently good, it is far from being inherently evil. Every day, religious people continue to be examples of morality and loving kindness in every corner of the globe. Countless acts of service and charity are performed in the name of God. Religion has also been a force for freedom and peace worldwide. In fact, 78.3% of all Nobel peace prize winners have been Christian, not to mention the numerous Jewish and Muslim laureates.11 Not only that, but according to a recent study, “The presence of religious freedom in a country mathematically correlates with the presence of other fundamental, responsible freedoms (including civil and political liberty, press freedom, and economic freedom) and with the longevity of democracy… Moreover, religious freedom is associated with higher overall human development, as measured by the human development index.”12 With all these facts in mind, the "religion as poison" theory doesn't look so good.  The free world stands on the shoulders of many venerable religious leaders, including the Quorum of the Twelve, who recently called for the protection of religious freedom in a world growing hostile toward faith.

Religion is not twisted or evil. It is sometimes used that way by twisted and evil people, but religion has also been the cause behind innumerable acts of charity. It has been the foundation on which humanity has built some of its finest work. The greatest teachings ever given to man on earth have come from religious people, chief among these the commandment to love God with all thine heart and love thy neighbor as thyself. To all who claim that religion is evil, I say please look at the facts. Humanity has been richly blessed by the gift of religious faith.

1. Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007.

2. Haught, James A. 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996.

3.Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Marion Faber. "The Religious Mood." In Beyond Good and Evil Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

4. "Martin Luther King Jr: Civil Rights Activist, Minister." Accessed February 6, 2015.

5. "The Bus Boycott Sparks a Movement." The King Center. Accessed February 6, 2015.

6. Devananda, Angela. Daily Prayers with Mother Theresa. London: Fount, 1987. 81.

7. "Blessed Mother Teresa | Biography - Roman Catholic Nun." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed February 6, 2015.

8. "Malala Yousafzai: Women's Rights Activist, Children's Activist." Accessed February 6, 2015.

9. Yousafzai, Malala. "Nobel Lecture." Accessed February 6, 2015.

10. See Nobel Lecture.

11. Shalev, Baruch Aba. 100 Years of Nobel Prizes. Los Angeles, CA: Americas Group, 2002.

12. Grim, Brian J. "Religious Freedom: Good For What Ails Us?" The Review of Faith & International Affairs: 3-7.

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