Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Crazy Things People Will Do For Their God

I've been reading posts on the Atheist Experience blog for the past couple of months now. There is one that Tracie (one of the hosts on the show) made a few weeks ago that I wanted to share and comment on.

Is Religion Beneficial to Society?

Tracie's post analyzes the thought process of religious believers who are willing to personal commit or condone atrocities such as genocide, murdering their own child, etc. if their god commands it. This is something that resonated strongly with me because, if you recall, my religious friend said she was perfectly willing to go into an elementary school and murder all the children there if her god commanded her to. It totally shocked me that she said this, and it still does. Below are some selected quotes from that post that I think are worth emphasizing, but really I recommend that you read the entire article.

And I would follow that section with all the letters we get from adherents telling us that their religion is good, who after a few exchanges say that mass genocide, mass infanticide, suicide-mass-murder, rape, slavery and child sacrifice are all morally acceptable if, and only if, a god tells you to do these things.
Religion can take a human being who is willing to condemn an action as immoral in a particular circumstance, and get them to say that same action is moral in that same circumstance, if a god says to do it.
Someone might want revenge on Hitler to the point of hoping for a merciless, vengeful eternity of torture. But an average child? Or even an average adult? It’s hard to believe anyone would say that any of our friends and neighbors should be deserving of torture for ten minutes, let alone eternity?
There is something unnerving about living in a society where the predominant religion is one that can make a standard, normal human assert that atrocities should never be committed—except when god says to commit them.

There are many interesting comments to this article as well. I made some comments of my own there and talked about my religious friend, her willingness to commit murder for her god, and her response to my question of how is she different than a jihadist. (Her answer was "they're not really talking to god"). Here are some good responses I got to that from other comment writers.

The sad thing is that Tyler's friend could easily have said, "If I heard the voice of God telling me to murder children, I'd assume that I was losing my mind" - but that wouldn't occur to most of them. It seems more reasonable to them to say, "Why, yes, I'd murder children."

Actually they do say things like “god would never say that.” But it's just too easy to point to all the times their god is described to have had people do these things in their own Bibles. Then you say, “You mean this god?”
I agree that it is unbelievable to see that they will say it outright--sometimes without a moment's hesitation. But god is always right—so killing children becomes right if god says to do it. That’s how "god" works in people's heads.
She’d "really" be killing for _god_, but they are killing because they’re deluded about what they think god is (i.e., their god isn't the "real" god). So, they’re not justified. It’s only justified if you do it for the "real" god. And since her religion is the "real" one and theirs is "false"—they’d be terrorists, and she’d be a martyr. Funny, though, how that works both ways, right?

I really, really wish I could ask my religious friend to read this post and all of the comments. If she ever agrees to talk to me about her faith again (although I doubt she will) this is going to be one of the first things I want her to read along with my earlier post about belief in hell.

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Anonymous Lil said...

I think, often, when someone is very entrenched with their believes, any form of rationalisation may easily be perceived as personal attack to them and the next thing you know, heckles are raised and escalation into an argument is not uncommon.

And it's not just about things people do for God. Even for believes that are non-God related, it could still get pretty ugly.

E.g. a friend of mine, who's normally very socialist minded, believing in human rights (she strongly supports Amnesty International) and an atheist (although her father is a non-practicing Jew).

Recently, with the case of Demjanjuk who was nearly deported to Germany by force despite being in ill health and aged (nearly 90), I commented in passing, what are the German and American authorities trying to achieve with this, when there are a lot more other important issues that need to be dealt at present?

Now, I'm not saying I'm terribly knowledgeable about all these and what's at stake. I just felt there's a pinch of silliness in all this, given the current climate of global issues. And it was just a casual comment on my part.

What surprised me was, she was all for his extradition and said he must be punished regardless of his age for what he did, as a Nazi guard. I countered that we don't know exactly what happened. Doesn't she always also questioned how can anyone ever be completely sure that someone is guilty with his/her crime to warrant death penalty? Moreover, he could well be following order at a difficult time that he did not have a choice to not carry out his duty. We simply don't know enough, and we know that over course of history there can be plenty of falsified documentations or faulty testimonials etc. We can't be 100% certain.

She got rather, errr, worked up with what I said. She claimed it was absolutely not true that the guards will be prosecuted if they don't carry out the orders they were given. Regardless of his age, he should be punished for the terrible thing he did in Nazi camps etc.

I was baffled. In the quest for justice (or at least that's how she felt) it just didn't occur to her that there may be other sides to the story. Because it is related to wrong-doings unto the Jews, then whoever involved is guilty in her eyes by default.

When I asked, if (a very big if) he is wrongly convicted and be sentenced to death, how is one wrong on top of another wrong make things right? It just doesn't. Not in my opinion anyway.

We didn't continue this conversation, as we both felt it would turn very ugly. I do not have the kind of "personal investment" the way she does, and just like two wrongs don't make one right, causing grieve in our friendship is not going to change this case that is beyond our influence.

I guess I'm digressing a lot. But you know, reading your posts make me think a lot. On things I don't usually put much consideration into. ;)

4:28 AM  

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