Seems like a reasonable topic to discuss, given that this is a discussion on Atheist nexus.

Most cultures are infused with religious belief. Religion is a repository of cultural values, influences (even drives) politics, and gives individuals justification for their beliefs.

In my personal experience, I was taught in church, that there were distinct races, and that it was God's plan to keep those races separate. Segregation was God's command. I was also taught that God loves all children regardless of color. One couple was literally banned from the church due to their inter-racial relationship. In such a climate, freethought was a route to a more humanistic approach to life. I realize that my history is past history, and probably most churches today are fully inclusive - but since Im not a churchgoer, maybe that is wishful thinking.

There are claims that Churches promoted abolition of slavery, but it appears that there were freethinkers at the forefront, while the churches used the bible to justify the practice. Similarly for civil rights, freethinking has been seen at the forefront, and churches on both sides.

I'm wondering what insights you can share, when considering many factors. Is religion mostly harmful, or mostly beneficial, or a wash, when it comes to equality? I think that most atheists (at least humanists) would be supportive of equality, but I have no evidence for that - what do you think? Do other religions (not christian) have a different take on equality?

Tags: racism, religion

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I'm guessing this is wishful thinking, but then I steer as clear of churches as I can. You would know better than I, but I find it hard to believe that rednecks have changed all that much.

Religion could not be more useless when it comes to equality, or more harmful. But one must inquire into specifics. When it comes to inequality inscribed in religion, Hinduism is probably the worst, with its caste system that institutes metaphysical racism. The Abrahamic religions, all infected with slavery, imperialism, and exclusivism, are hardly conducive to equality. The record of Christianity with respect to racism, anti-Semitism, colonialism, and mass murder is especially atrocious. However, with liberalization and selective interpretation and much intellectual dishonesty, they can certainly be retooled to promote egalitarianism, as with liberation theology. However, here it is really the status of populations concerned--i.e. with a history of being oppressed--that promotes the impulse to equality: progressive Jews, blacks, Latin American peasants, etc. We don't hear much about Buddhism, so it tends to get a pass. Yet Buddhists in Japan supported Japanese nationalism, racism, militarism, and fascism.

In short, there is nothing in religion whatever that is conducive to equality, without some advocacy group selectively hitting on some aspect of that religion that will serve such a purpose.

As for atheism and equality, the record is not unequivocal. Historically, freethought was associated with liberation--up to the end of the 18th century, with the struggle against feudalism, and from the 19th century, with social reform and revolution. However, there are exceptions. Nietzsche's atheism was specifically directed against social equality. The same with Ayn Rand in the 20th century. The atheist movement of recent decades is riddled with selfish pigs sans social consciousness called libertarians, usually devotees of Ayn Rand. The percentage of such miscreants is hard to determine; I have encountered more than I care to remember. There were at times streaks of anti-Semitism surfacing among atheist organizations, but that is a thing of the past.

NOTE: I am treating atheism, freethought, humanism, rationalism, etc., as synonyms, but they all have their own peculiar historical trajectories.
Ralph, much of what you say here resonates with me as well. It sounds like your conclusion is that religion may predispose to inequality, but lack of religion does not fully immunize against it. I hadn't thought about Hinduism, which I thought was fairly benign (not being exposed a lot to it), but your comment about the caste system changed my mind.

I don't think that Buddists supporting Japanese aggression is necessarily the same same as Buddhism supporting it. Also, was it buddhist or shinto that was more influential?

I always try to pull in Aztec or native American religions. Supposedly, the Aztec priests had a thing about waging war on non-Aztec communities and bringing back prisoners to sacrifice and barbecue. But was this ethnic, cultural or religious? Either way, not exactly a modern concept of individual rights.

I was going to wonder if Islam was an exception, given the spread of Islam to Indonesia, central Asia, Africa, Turkey, Persia, India, and part of Europe - seems sort of pan-ethnic and multiracial. Then remembered that some of the slave trade out of Africa was Arabic and Islam supported. So probably not. Also, as you comment, christianity is a major source for racism, and is also spread to most continents and many cultures.

Your comments about atheism/freethought/humanism are kind of like mine about race/ethnicity/culture - I know that they are not the same, but I don't have a better way to express myself.

Thanks for your insights. I hope that you continue to comment generously and share your thoughts.

Daniel
Thanks for the explicit acknowledgement that the libertarian ideology (non-theist religion) has hijacked atheism as part of its package. It hit me between the eyes early in my association with atheist social groups.

Rand's values of social selfishness are the antithesis of my humanist values. Worse, they support the stereotypical beliefs about atheists held by the average Fundie, namely, that atheists have "rejected" god so that they can live a morally disreputable life.

The mistake I made in my early days of "coming out" where that all atheists had got to this intellectual position by thinking their way out of whatever religious system they had been trapped within. The real bottom line is that atheism is a "non-belief" engaged in for a variety of reasons, not all of which are socially positive.
No atheist tyrant (the usual suspects) has ever promoted hedonism, which was, in the contexts in which they operated, inimical to social control. So whatever connection there is between some atheists and hedonism--if there is one--doesn't tell us much, though delineating what is meant by hedonism might tell us more. In any case, reactionary atheists have never to my knowledge been exponents of hedonism per se. I think immediately of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. Other ideologies are necessary to justify their positions. Actually, the reason that ideology is an indispensable concept is that, in the modern world, there is a differentiation of social functions and knowledge claims that religion is not the sole filter through which politics, economics, and culture comes to us. Preoccupation with religion alone as the source of all problems is so 18th century; to think this way now is just childish.

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