Religion the root of all immoral behavior? If not...

As I read through atheist blogs, forums, and websites, there is abundant content about "all the atrocities committed on humanity in the name of religion". This includes everything from genocides, slavery, abuse of women/children/disadvantaged groups and minorities. Along with this there seem to be more than a few anti-theist zealots who call for "deprogramming" theists so that theists will stop their delusional thinking habits and all the consequent destruction they are wreaking on humanity and the environment.

If religion is the root of humanity's immoral behavior, then can I conclude that all humans are naturally born morally sound (and atheist) but then corrupted by religion? Is religion really that powerful? If religion is not the root of immorality (and I do not believe it is), should we be taking a broader view of the moral behavior of humans, enlightened by evolution science, and have a proposal on how to foster more moral individuals and societies?

Tags: immorality, morals, religion, society

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Very interesting, very scholarly, very informative...thank you, Jacq...where did you get all of this information? Reminds me of what I'm reading right now, Howard Bloom's "The Lucifer Principle".
Thanks for the comments.

I can see a common thread in Dentroman's - "humans like to band together into groups, shunning those with differences" - and Jacqueline's comments - "competition between family units and resulted in inherited inequalities of wealth. This increased the dichotomy between the "haves" and have-nots."" Historical evidence strongly supports the facts that humans have a clumping/tribal instinct.

The issue of what role religion plays in this is apparently debatable: is religion the primary drive for the clumping or is religion used to justify and sustain the self-selecting clumping that is already taken place? For example, some serious clumping starts among pre-teens in middle school. I think one would be hard-pressed to show that this tendency is driven by some religious preference or belief system. And what drives the cat-fights among celebrities? Religion?

I suspect, but do not know, that if you took enough polls of people in various individual church congregations, you would find a pretty strong correlation between socio-political views and association with a particular local religious congregation. (This would be conditional on there being more than two congregations in the local community.)

So, my "thought experiment" is:

If you were to manage to discredit and deprogram religion in the society to the point where you are a truly secular and non-theistic society, would you as a consequence have eliminated the "haves-and-have-nots" and other human grouping tendencies?

As evidence, can you not find even within Atheist Nexus libertarian, capitalist, conservative, progressive, hedonist, stoic, and socialist groupings?
I stumbled across an blog entry over at The No God Blog at american atheists dot org. The post has the title of "Religion Causes Immorality". I had trouble viewing the video but reading the comments to the post really has me wondering: Is this science or is this dogma? Some of the comments make the assumption that religious people rationalize unethical behavior because of a belief in forgiveness from their god? The reasoning seems to be that religion gives people a license to commit crime (whereas obviously non-theists naturally shun criminal activity)? Is this a mis-use of Reason?

"The remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." - Mark Twain
To suggest that inequality is the root of all immorality may be a bit limiting. Take a group, give them all the same things, them let them go, you'll still wind up with conflict over something...people want different things, to different degrees...some have not much want in them....

Also consider that what is moral is different. Read about the Amazonian Yanomamo.

I am almost tempted to say that it merely is a byproduct of us being human, of human nature. To decide that something is moral or immoral is to make a determination, a judgment, in a world that, were all humans to die, would continue on as it is, with animals and plants vying for survival and resources. Certainly animals can be cruel, but they've no notion that they should refrain from such things because they [i.e. "such things"] are somehow more noble or more beneficial to life in general, or cohesiveness and peace.

But surely taking up an idea and grasping it tightly can be considered a motivator for what we generally consider to be evil acts. It's when you decide that you cause is so correct, and so important, that you begin to commit acts which would otherwise require justification.

Also, some people never come into contact with religion per se; or they may not have a religion, period. So, if we are to say that religion is at the root of the problem, how, then, to explain the immoralities of such people sans religion??
I think the trouble with religion is that it provides justification for immoral behavior and attempts to define good and evil in stark, absolute terms.

When an irrational mind turns to religion, it may discover that some of its irrational thoughts are favorable in the eyes of some divine being. The KKK used the Bible to justify its actions and also to promote its beliefs. What's more, people want to feel loved. Some people will do anything if they think it makes them part of a community and no one wants to contradict their community's beliefs because it makes them feel uncomfortable and singled out.

The other problem with religion is that it doesn't change (or at least doesn't change easily). The Bible is promoting a view of morality that is ancient, dusty, and invalid. If we put women to death for losing their virginity before marriage today we'd lose half the country.

So you have a community driven justification for irrational thoughts combined with outdated ideas of morality. Very bad mojo. Now all the theists I've known have been very rational, well adjusted people. I don't see religion as the root of all evil, though it is one of the biggest factors in perpetuating evil. I believe human evil comes from hate and a lack of empathy.
On August 23, 2009, our local atheist group hosted a presentation by one of our members. He is a Holocaust survivor now about 80 yrs old. He presented his personal and family stories of the Lodz Ghetto, Birkenau-Auschwitz, and Dachau. A sobering story.

He mentioned several times the attitude of the Europeans towards the Jews as dictated by the propaganda and threats of the Nazi regime. Athough our presenter is of Jewish descent but an avowed atheist since Dachau, he did not mention religion as being a factor behind the genocidal practices of the Nazi regime. He showed some pre-War propaganda showing that ethnic racism was the main driver. (I am sure that many anti-theists will point to the religious backing and beliefs of the Nazi leadership, etc.)

In addition to the sociopathic behavior of the Germans, our presenter mentioned repeated instances of prisoner-on-prisoner cruelty such as the Kapos. Such roles existed in the ghettos also. Self-preservation and in some cases, revenge, appear to be the motives. Delusional thinking about god seems to have little to do with this.

Looking elsewhere in the world, how many conflicts are based more on blood feuds than religion? As mentioned by others, religion may be used to prop up and justify ongoing conflicts and brutality, but is religion really the root of it all? Some may claim that it is the root in Northern Ireland, Iraq, the Basque region, Sudan, Nigeria, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Georgia, Chechnya, (Mississippi?) etc. I propose that, as seen elsewhere in the animal kingdom, kinship battles are more likely the root. Does religion drive battles among apes or lions?
I think that it would be more correct to say that religion is only one of the many roots of immoral behaviour. It does drive certain people to do crazy, crazy things, but so do an awful lot of other things.
I have read some from Alan Taylor's book "American Colonies" (Penguin Group, 2001). I was interested in the chapters about the Spanish and French colonial history in the Americas.

Taylor's account builds the picture of the European struggle to catch up to the prosperity of the Ottoman and other Islamic empires in the 15th century. In this context, the explorers and conquistadors
were primarily driven by economics and greed. Yes, the monarchy were catholic zealots but based on the behavior of the Spanish, they really weren't interested in converting heathens. Taylor credits the priests with calling attention to the cruelty of the conquistadors as these latter were killing and brutalizing so many natives that there was no one left to convert. A religious delusion does not appear to have been anything but a nominal motivation for the likes of H. Cortes, F. Pizzaro, de Soto, or Coronado.

If there is an example of an "acceptable" way to engage with an isolated culture, it seems to me that the French and Dutch were the models. It was interesting to read how the trade with the French (and later, the Dutch) gave the native peoples new tools for annihilating their own native rivals. So much for the "noble savage"....
The real problem is that human beings are, by nature: 1.) petty, 2.) greedy, and 3.) self-delusional. As for myself, I've pretty much got the pettiness and greed parts licked, all I have left to do is a little work on the self-delusion!!!
No one thinks that all 'immoral' behavior is caused by religion. No one sane anyway. It simply perpetuates a huge chunk of it by justifying it.
It would be beyond stupid to say all immoral behavior in the world is the result of religion. Have some immoral actions been the result of religion? Sure. But there are many more important factors than adhering a supernatural belief system that cause people to act the way they do.
Doing more research on the European colonization of American continent, I was exploring the role religion played. I found reference to an event know as the Valladolid debate. This was a debate between Catholic intellectuals about the acceptable treatment of native Americans by the conquering Spanish colonists. Some of the background on what led to this debate was that the Spanish court had petitioned the Pope for an edict granting Spain claim to new lands discovered after Columbus' initial voyage. Wikipedia claims that Pope Alexander VI asked that the natives of the new lands be christianized in exchange for his granting the lands to Spain. From this, I have to wonder if Spain originally had any intent of proselytizing as part of their conquest and exploitation. Within the context of this discussion topic, something else was motivating the Spanish in their conquistas; it was not primarily religion.

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