Religion, a force for good?

by Dean Fox 21 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Dean Fox
    Dean Fox

    Is religion a force for good?

    The knee jerk reaction from most people who hold to a religious belief is "yes, of course it is." Then when you point out that religion is used to motivate people to commit suicide bombings they will likely concede that this isn't always the case.

    In one instance though someone said religion is always a force for good because the intentions are always good, even those of a suicide bomber. My reply was that "the path to hell is paved with good intentions".

    However the question got me thinking, is religion actually a force for anything?

    There are many definitions for religion around, one is:

    "A collection of practices, based on beliefs and teachings that are highly valued or sacred"

    My own take is that religion is the beliefs and teachings that are highly valued or sacred. The practices are seperate.

    There are many religions and many churches.

    I believe that while humans always have free will that it is the church and the way they encourage members to act that determines whether or not the church becomes a force for good or bad and this is regardless of the intentions of the church leaders of the individuals within the church.

    Take Islam. The teachings of Islam include concepts of peace, love and many other upstanding moral values and yet certain extremist sects, churches if you will, manage to use it to "radicalise" people and turn them in to suicide bombers. Islam as a religion is neither a force for good nor evil rather it is how the church teaches it that determines the acts of the attendees.


  • Chalam

    Hi Dean and welcome aboard!

    My own take is that religion is the beliefs and teachings that are highly valued or sacred . The practices are seperate.

    For my mind, I believe the theory should line up with the practice. If a religion teaches "peace and love" I should see it in practice in those that follow the teaching. If not, the teaching is flawed.

    All the best,


  • Dean Fox
    Dean Fox

    Thank you for your response Stephen.

    Since the teaching is the responsibility of the leaders of the church then that statement would seem to be in agreement. I certainly agree that if a religion teaches peace and love one should see it in practice in those that follow the teaching. As stated this is not always the case. IMHO I believe that regardless of the religion it can be used as a means to motivate good or bad by the leaders of a given church. Also that the acts of a church can be good or bad regardless of intent.

    The idea of intent is an interesting one. I was somewhat taken aback by the idea that because the intentions were good that religion was a force for good. Way too many jumps in the logical flow for my liking.

    Anyhow, if I intend to do good and my religion intends good but the results of my actions are bad am is it still a force for good?

    Obviously there is a whole side argument in the subjective nature of good and bad, I could create a grey area example but let's create an obvious example.

    I am a Christian who having spent months studying the bible on my own has come to believe that the people of New York are evil and responsible for the woes of the world. It is Sodom and Gomorrah and so destined for destruction unless someone acts. Then God tells me he has a mission for me to warn the people of New York by blowing up the Empire States building. I am excited that God has spoken to me and tell all I can, being an extrovert and charismatic person I find this quite easy, no doubt why God has chosen me as his messenger.

    Although most people tell me I am a nut case there are those who realise the truth of what I am saying. Together we believe the destruction of the Empire States building will be a sign that will usher in a new beginning of enlightenment and peace. I am spured on by the idolation of my followers. Ultimately my followers attempt to blow up the Empire States beliving they are saving humanity and people die.

    Clearly I am deluded, I may or may not be considered evil or capable to stand trial and my followers may be judged equally cupable or more so because they actually did the deed without much input from me. Either way the result of our actions were bad even though we all genuinely believed we were doing the right thing. Ergo good intentions do not automatically mean someone or something is a force for good.

    I also posit that the religion itself, in this case Christianity, was not a force for evil. I was the force for evil. It was my delusional interpretation coupled with a charismatic charm that worked on some people to make them followers that resulted in the evil act. I could have just as easily interpreted the same from the works of Nostrodamus, the Koran or any other text or I could even have made up my own divinely imparted scriptures.

    This may sound ridiculously extreme but consider the acts perpetrated by suicide bombers, believing they are going to heaven and 72 virgins or the branch Davidians who wanted only to be slaves to David Koresh or those who drank the cool aid and forced others to do the same believing they would rather die than give up their life in Jonestown.

    Ergo religion is not in as of itself a force for anything since it clearly has no consistent effect. Religion is a catalyst for many different effects; although the teachings can be the same the results are down to interpretation.

    This is understandible since human free will not only allows one to choose a path of righteousness but also to decide what righteousness is and how to pursues it; it also allows you to disagree on these matters too but the existance of disagreement is proof of the free choice one has in such matters. (The law is a different matter, you can disagree with the law but typically you loose.)

    How religion is effected is down to how it is taught and how those teachings are percieved. All of which is down to the leaders and individual members of the church. Churches being defined in this instance as organisations built around a religion. I posit that it is churches that are forces. They can be forces for good or evil regardless of intent or the teachings upon which they are based.

    This also explains how splinter groups come to exist, when one church's interpretation of the scriptures differs significantly from the others teaching the same scriptures they end up seperating from the original and in some cases end up spawning their own group of churches.

    I believe a person must be judged by the results of their actions on Earth, not their beliefs and the same is true of churches or any organisation for that matter. I leave the determination of who is right or wrong with respect to intepretations, scruptures etc to the Divine.

  • Heaven

    Welcome, Dean Fox. My take on this is that religion is not a force for good. I see no good in using the Bible or God for an organization's gain which includes killing, subjugating, and controlling people. There is nothing principled in any of this.

    Religion is a man-made invention, it is flawed, and what I've seen with any sort of man-made organization is the following... when a change of management occurs, you're not guaranteed that the good that was once in place will continue. As well, the principles of those involved with the organization also dictate how the overall group functions and this can change when the management changes. Caveat Emptor.

    In order to live a principled life, religion is not a requirement... my experience has proven it to be a deterrent.

  • behemot

    suggested reading:

    somewhat one-sided, but worth reading ...


  • LouBelle

    hmmm so much bad has been committed in the name of religion / god, but it's not necessarily the beliefs/doctrine that makes them do it (though with witch burnings....) - it's the people practising said religion/doctrine. People are the ones that distort most of those religions/beliefs/god to suit their own needs.

  • behemot

    I don't really understand the beliefs/people antinomy, as if beliefs are somehow good in themselves and it's only people's twisting and misinterpreting (as opposed to an ideal correct interpretation) them that leads to trouble.

    Religion is a cultural system and as such beliefs are man-made cultural products, so that there are no doctrines somewhere out there detached from people, there is no belief without believers.

    Beliefs, ritual acts, moral codes, and a social group that feels bound together by all the above make, all together, religion.

  • Black Sheep
    Black Sheep

    I take you have heard of the 'wolf in sheep's clothing. Religionists use it to describe religions other than their own, but it usually describes them as well.

    It is just a cloak to justify bad behaviour.

    Look at the Jehovah character in the Bible for example. The Bible has him killing more people than anyone else. Your kid doesn't behave himself? Stone him. Jehovah says it's OK.

    Vandalism? Who was it vandalised the fig tree for no intelligent reason ? If he was my son he would have been in for a boot in the arse, but not him. He wears a cloak of religious respectability so it is OK.

    Wouldn't it be better to invent a God that didn't throw his toys out of his cot every time he didn't get his way?

    Maybe we would be better off studying the Aborigine's Dreamtime rather than Middle Eastern killer gods.

    What makes Bible God or Allah more real than the Rainbow Snake? The culture you are born into? Threats from your family? Mind control?



  • acolytes

    If people had faith they wouldnt need a religon.

    Religons are made up of people having to conform to a groups thinking.

    I think it is important to fill the mind with positivity and optimistim. Life doesnt need to be perfect to be wonderful.People can inspire one other (for example)through how they cope with adversity- This is the spiritual instinct that can in my mind be a force for for good. Of course many do this without a spiritual instinct.


  • behemot

    That (some) religious people do perform good deeds is an undeniable fact, but so it is with regard to non-religious people who act likewise.

    I'm inclined to think that religious people who do good would act similarly even without their religion ... but the reverse is not necessarily true. As Steven Weinberg once said:

    With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. (quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999)

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