There’s a quote credited to physicist Steven Weinberg that I’ve seen from time to time with occasional variations (apparently Weinberg himself said it differently at different times): “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” I think about this kind of thing sometimes in light of all the violence and human rights offenses being perpetrated by religious groups. How many groups are there in the Middle East that want to set up the perfect Islamic state, but can’t seem to agree with other Muslim organizations with the same stated goal? I think religion is definitely a factor, but I think it’s often religion combined with desperation, a belief that things are already so bad that killing a bunch of people in the name of what you consider progress is, in the grand scheme of things, not such a big deal. It’s also mostly religion that encourages ignorance and hive-mind mentality that leads to such behavior. Not all religions are like that. Perhaps most aren’t at their heart, as many at least claim to teach that you should believe in whatever god because it’s what’s most likely, not because you’re being coerced to do so. Over the years, however, plenty of people have managed to manipulate religion to their own ends, claiming that what they want is also what God wants, even if it goes against the conscience that God supposedly gave us. This is a significant reason why separation of church and state is a good thing, because when a government claims to have supernatural support, it can be harder to object to their doings. Not that secular nations don’t commit a lot of atrocities in the name of their people as well, but I think it’s at least a step toward making sure no one group has too much power.
Speaking of Islam in particular, it often seems like the worst Islamophobes are people who are just as fanatically devoted to violent, bigoted interpretations of their own religions. I guess it’s okay to kill people and treat women and gays as second-class citizens in the name of God as long as He’s called Jesus rather than Allah. That said, I’ve known atheists to point out that, at least in the modern day, more violence is carried out in the name of Islam than in that of other religions. Islam was founded by a guy who was trying to conquer land, which puts a bit of a damper on the idea that it’s a religion of peace.
Then again, there are parts of the Bible that seem to be encouraging genocide and bigotry, so we really can’t blame ISIS on Muhammad any more than we can the Crusades on Jesus.
While I’m sure most of us just roll our eyes and think “no duh” when we hear the umpteenth person talk about how most Muslims are not violent, there often seem to be plenty of people who still need to learn that. Another argument I come across occasionally is how the moderates don’t speak out against the extremists, but I think we’re hearing more and more about the ones who do, and you have to keep in mind that it kind of goes against the self-preservation instinct to criticize radical Islam in a country ruled by people who practice it. For my part, I’m somewhat bothered by the idea that the word “Islam” actually means “submission,” which I just find to be a scary concept. People used to submitting to a religious authority might well be inclined to do the same with civil authorities. Whenever someone of any religion says that we shouldn’t question what God says, I wonder how they can be so sure God actually said it, and why even if we are we should obey someone in all things just because they’re more powerful than we are. Most religions seem to have contradictory elements, so why not pay more attention to the ones that seem less harmful? Sure, maybe you’ll be rewarded in Heaven if you blow up a building full of people, but I suspect that most of us wouldn’t think it feels right. And while I’m sure some people sincerely believe that women were created to serve men and a man having sex with another man is like slapping Jesus in the face, is treating them poorly because of that really in line with the Golden Rule? One thing that’s really bugged me recently is when bigots are referred to as “people of faith.” Sure, religion can be used to support prejudice, but prejudice in and of itself is not a faith. Even if God genuinely does hate birth control, why does that automatically mean YOU have to? Also, why do so many religions oppose the same groups? Haven’t religious leaders throughout history picked on women and homosexuals enough?