"Holy" books generally include gods sanctioning murder and genocide. If you believe those gods are real, immortal, omnipotent, and omniscient, and that you know what they want humans to do, you are then capable of committing any action, whether for good or evil. "Holy" books are sometimes explicit, but often vague. The Old Testament tells the Hebrews to kill men who engage in homosexual activities. (The Koran says they should be forgiven if they mend their ways.) Pretty explicit. The OT also sanctions genocide against specific groups of idolaters. Yet there is not a word in the Bible about abortion, which is probably the number one issue for modern evangelicals. So their top issue comes not from the word of God, but from an interpretation of a few vague allusions.
I was reading a book called The End of Christianity the other night. One of the essayists put forward an argument that I found utterly compelling. If we read "holy" books as human artifacts embodying tribal cultural values from thousands of years ago, we see immediately that those values reflect complete and utter ignorance of the sciences. "Sacred" texts are the codification of the prejudices, superstitions, and fears of primitive peoples. The problem arises when people accept these values as eternal because they come from the mind of a supreme being, a mind mere humans cannot begin to understand. But the essayist points out that God in the Old Testament is every bit as primitive and ignorant as His followers ancient and modern. God believes, in Genesis, that He created the universe in six days, and that the sky is a solid dome separating an ocean in space from earthly oceans. Just about everything God says that is testable has been disproved by science. If humans of 3,000 or so years ago wrote the Bible, it's clearly fallible. If God wrote it, then God is a raving lunatic.
I need to read that book. Along these lines, Dawkins' reason for not debating William Craig is that he would not share a stage with someone who says harmful things like this:
Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God's grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven's incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives." link
Craigart14, good points. You, and others on this site, might enjoy an excellent book by a former catholic priest - Jack Miles. In 'God, a biography,' he traces 'god' via the direct sayings and actions he 'says' he did, and includes others mentioned in other text within the bible.
The results are compelling and interesting. As you note, god is either responsible for everything or does not exist. God seems to have done many things without realizing the consequences. As god vanishes from the text, he becomes less and less vivid and relevant. Jack then provides some commentary about the text and how it reflects, as you note, the unknowing, the foolishness, the tribalism of the ancient world...and nothing more.
I've read a translation of the koran (it is said that the true koran cannot be translated, an interesting limitation muslims place upon their god) and found it just as awful as the other ancient texts. Why is it that god and god's emissaries only appear to illiterate goat herders and others who don't know anything? And why couldn't god present useful info such as a universal declaration of human rights and responsibilities, basic public health rules, some biology and insights about bacteria and viruses, a bit of chemistry and physics (let's skip shell and even quantum descriptions...give us the right answer!), the scientific method and null hypotheses, the process of innovation, shared risk (one of the greatest inventions of all time, without which much progress would not have been affordable), and more.
Sorry for getting off track. The translation has the same idiocy, violence and hatred, and tribalism found in other texts even if expressed in different words via other examples. You will find no enlightenment, no knowledge, nothing useful in the modern world that we couldn't have without the overlay of a man-made religion. It is a useful read (if you can wade through it) if only to understand the mindset of people who have been immersed since birth in those ideas. You'll realize how incompatible are our world view and theirs, and the size and cost of the 'bridge' needed to bring them to the 19th century, let alone the 21st century.
I wouldn't look at it in terms of the belief (or lack thereof) doing harm. People do harm. What religion does is condition its people to almost blindly accept marching orders to carry out reprehensible deeds. Religion is a conduit through which people can be manipulated to do irrational things.
Lack of religion (athiesm) is not the same as religion in the same manner as not having a car is the not just a different model of vehicle.
I don't recall much about high school history classes, but I'm pretty sure that Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. did not rise to power just so they could tell everyone to quit believing in God. Their rise to power was fueled by greed, ambition, and massive egotism, and abolishing religion was simply another way of gaining control over the masses. Churches are a socializing network, a place where like-minded people meet--and if those people are against you, they could start plotting your overthrow. If you have taken over a country, it just makes good sense to abolish the religion that gives your conquered subjects a sense of unity and replace it with something more to your liking.
This has been going on for thousands of years all over the world, and not just by godless heathen unbelievers. Atheists are fairly new to the scene, at least in terms of being a large enough group to have a voice and make their opinions known. For the most part, the world's cultures have been ruled by the religious, because religion in the past was not regarded as a separate thing that you did only on Sundays, but as an integral part of daily life. It was a given that the powerful king who had just invaded your land, ravaged your cities, and taken over your tribe, was going to force you to convert all your temples to the worship of his own gods.
By comparison, there have been only a very few regimes that can be said to have been led by atheist leaders. On balance, it is easy to see that religious regimes have done far more harm over the course of human history, simply because there have been--and continue to be--far more of them. Religion will always be one of the main driving forces behind the human tendency to destroy and conquer each other. It is hard for people to get behind the notion of killing their neighbors just to get more land, but if you throw God into the mix, then people will rally behind you without hesitation. After all, people are stupid, gullible, and easily impressed by anyone who throws the word "God" around.
Well said. Rulers proclaimed themselves gods but bad stuff (droughts, starvation, earthquakes, war, etc.) kept happening and when they were powerless to predict or prevent them, the people were convinced the leaders weren't gods. So the leaders said they were heavenly beings, not gods but god-like. Bad stuff kept happening and the universe proved the leaders wrong once again. So they said that they were royals...blue bloods...different and superior. Same bad stuff, same result. With the enlightenment, we started throwing off the shackles of lies and falsehoods (dogma, religion, sacred rites of any sort) and finally started standing up as free men (and now, thankfully, free women even if they were not fully free at first). More bad stuff happened, with religion unable to say anything intelligent about it - no predictions, no prevention, no recovery. Science and honest inquiry, supported by laws which balance however imperfectly the rights and responsibilities of people and groups, are the only thing we have between knowing and having nothing. Bad stuff will continue to happen and over time, as has been beautifully stated, religion and dogma will be so clearly wrong and foolish and stupid that we will (without the aid of any false god) stand up, see each other compassionately and honestly, with all of our strengths and flaws, and realize that the civilization each of us helps create is the only reality we have. Religious people will resort to the usual violence and hatred, dividing us against ourselves, in a last gasp to retain power even while being irrelevant.
over time, as has been beautifully stated, religion and dogma will be so clearly wrong and foolish and stupid that we will (without the aid of any false god) stand up, see each other compassionately and honestly, with all of our strengths and flaws, and realize that the civilization each of us helps create is the only reality we have.
You sound like a Transhuman.