I encourage everyone to read Chris Hedges' article in Truthdig yesterday: No Act of Rebellion Is Wasted. Once again, he demonstrates that he has a fine mind and excellent moral character--for the most part. His observations in this particular article, about things he learned and observed during the fall of the Iron Curtain, can be applied to the struggle of reason against religion.
Needless to say, he doesn't realize this and doesn't support our struggle. The important point in his article for us is what it tells us about the way in which we carry out our struggle. A mistake those who oppose religion have made in the past is trying to force change. This is always a mistake because it results in a reaction that often makes the situation worse than it was before the attempt to force change.
Permanent change must always be based on sufficient popular support. Once one realizes the evil and entrenched nature of religion, one can easily be tempted to lose patience with it and its supporters--especially the supporters who engage in unethical, immoral and criminal acts in support of their religion. It is the actions of these very extremists, however, that instruct us. They do these things in confidence that they will get away with them because they know they have popular support. If by chance someone actually reports their actions to some governing authority, nothing will be done because either the necessary witnesses or members of that governing body will be sympathetic.
The reason for this popularity and the reason religion is so entrenched is that religion's first efforts always involve converting individuals and increasing the size of the flock. It is the popular support that must be changed before any real change in our society can take place. Fortunately the ideas of reason are so superior that this can be an easy task for us, if we simply remember to keep our efforts focused on it.
I think yesterday's article in Truthdig illustrates another point I have made before about Hedges himself and religion in general. When this article and many of his other writings, such as his wonderful book "American Fascists", are juxtaposed with his comments on atheism, it highlights the way in which his religious training twisted his thinking. He can clearly see evil in most cases even when clothed in religion, but not when it requires him to examine religion in general. See footnote 1.
He, like so many people, can only see evil when it is right in front of him, not in the abstract. Thanks to his education and travel as a reporter he has seen more of that evil in person than most and is motivated to write about it in order to tell us all what is happening.
Studies have shown that this is one of those common problems with humanity's natural moral instinct--its limited scope. If someone is dying right in front of us, we feel a personal responsibility to do something about it; if people are dying far away, we usually won't lift a finger or contribute a penny to save them. See footnote 2. Practically speaking we cannot, of course, treat the two situations as equivalent or else we would spend all our time trying to solve the world's problems because they are never ending. Could we not, however, find a happy medium between those two extremes and recognize some small responsibility for the world's problems?
One of the greatest problems with religion of course, is that it not only fails to address this failure of our moral instinct it actually exacerbates it. See my various posts under the numbered headings "Religion and Morality", especially this one, this one, and this one.
In addition, like so many of religion's apologists, Hedges cannot seem to weigh the little bit of good that religion does against the horrors it creates. World War II and the holocaust were caused entirely by religion. Without religion there would have been no group of people called Jews living amongst a larger group called Christians. Without this grouping, it is doubtful that the Nazis would have even existed, much less come to power.
The current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians would not exist without religion. Numerous DNA studies have shown that the two groups are very closely related genetically. Essentially the Palestinians are the descendants of some of the Jews who remained in the middle East during the Jewish diaspora and converted to the religions of the various conquering groups and then intermarried with them. Those who are Jews retained their identity through their religion, intermarried with other groups less often (and with different groups, depending on where they were). It was the act of conversion or non-conversion by their ancestors that separated these cousins who now want to exterminate each other.
"Does the fact that religion helps some people feel better about themselves or life or give a little more money to charity justify any of this? Does it justify the wanton murder of even a small fraction of the children who have been killed as a result?"
"Whatever good religion does is vastly outweighed by the evil it causes."
ftnt. 1: Here is a link interview with Hedges from three years ago about his book "American Fascists".
ftnt. 2: Here is a link to a documentary on this subject.