The Primary Producer of Ignorance, Bigotry, and Man-Made Calamity

November 10, 2011

Political Theory


Historically speaking, religious disagreements have accounted for more deaths than any other type of conflict. The continuing holy wars over the legitimacy of the state of Israel, the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the London Metro, the reason a man is walking into a cafe full of innocent civilians somewhere in Gaza with a bomb strapped to his chest–the reason for all of these calamities boils down directly to religion. In this post, I will analyze the ways in which using Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social contract theory to eliminate religion can cause limitless benefits to society, and will also bring to attention an alarming statement made recently in a GOP debate.

This was produced as a comic, but nevertheless sends a very strong message.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau supports the “alienation” of a man’s personal philosophies and beliefs in order to achieve a greater social harmony and collectivist attitude. Were the United States to renounce religion, which accounts for a great deal of personal philosophy, I believe the two most immediate effects would provide astounding advancement for mankind. Firstly, people’s first source for confirmation on whether an action is morally sound or will provide a good outcome will become either the use of reason and logic, or the use of scientific evidence. Instead of trusting the authority of an ancient book with more than 60 authors that has well over 75 English translations in current use, we could adopt these strategies and find a greater degree of understanding based on actual observable evidence. The other immediate effect would be the disappearance of a major justification for bigotry, specifically against homosexuals. Just thinking about the rights of gay people being respected strikes me with a sense of awe. The problem with religion is that it encourages ignorance–devout subjects spurn persuasive scientific evidence because it so effectively undermines the content of the Bible.

Another major problem with religion is that it encourages division among different sects. Within Christianity alone exist myriad variations: Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Mormon, and non-denominational, to name just a few. All of these religions profess that their individual take on things is the one true religion, and that belief in this religion will be the only thing sufficient for access to the eternal kingdom of Heaven. So how do members of one sect treat members of a different sect? Do Catholic look upon Lutherans with scorn for daring to deny the eternal truths to which Catholics are privy? Do Mormons look upon Baptists with pity, knowing that Baptists are doomed to an eternity in Hell lest they convert to Mormonism? Regardless of the form which it takes, there is a great deal of division caused by religion. This division is something that Rousseau’s social contract would fix: by eliminating this source of conflict and enmity, the country (hell, even the whole world. I dream big.) could be united in a way which has never been seen before.

There is one group of untrustworthy scumbags that receives more scorn, distrust, hate, and vilification than all the rest: atheists. In Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration, he condemns them (us) for their (our) inability to keep promises and their lack of a higher power to which they answer. Former Secretary of State (but eternal source of scornful humor) Newt Gingrich recently expressed his disdain for atheists in a GOP debate. And now, a video for your enjoyment:

Let’s consider the implications of Mr. Gingrich’s statements. He openly suggests that a group of people are unfit to assume the role of President because of inherently personal beliefs. I recall reading somewhere that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof…” Now, If Mr. Gingrich were to examine this statement, he would find that it is one of the fundamental tenets of the country that he wishes to someday lead. However, he seems to reject this idea on a basic level by suggesting that an atheist cannot be President.

What is it about this country that makes Gingrich feel like he is accurate in saying these things? Do other people really take the Locke-ian view of things, that atheists cannot be trusted to keep promises? And, if people were to renounce their personal religious beliefs (say, for the sake of this argument, that this would entail agnosticism), do you agree that there would be immediate sweeping change for the better as I have suggested? Or does religious belief provide moral codes that simply cannot be replaced?

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One Comment on “The Primary Producer of Ignorance, Bigotry, and Man-Made Calamity”

  1. Matthew Vlasic Says:

    You make a good point. Why are some people so against atheism? Does it really affect them that much if they do not profess atheism themselves? In my opinion, Gingrich is wrong in generalizing and saying that atheists are not right to run the country. To some extent, he is inferring that religion may have some influence in the principles of the President or the President’s decision-making, which may or may not be true. Religion is a great way for one to find and discover his or her own self and to connect with an outer community, but when running a country it may not be the best idea to let religious influences get in the way so I don’t see why it would be that big of a deal for an atheist to have power within our government. I think some people do assume this Lockeian mindset because they are close-minded and not embracing of change or a unique perspective on something so traditional as religion. Then again, I don’t think that Gingrich’s views reflect the majority of Americans by any means. There is really no definite way to prove it, but many people seem indifferent to atheists generally, but at the time would most likely not want one of them running our nation because to them it may seem radical in some sense not to believe in a God or not to be religious.

    It is hard to know what could possibly happen if peoples’ religious responsibilities dissolved and if religious beliefs took a backseat in peoples’ lives. I feel like religion can be a divisive force because it generates separated communities of people who stick together in cohesive, but singular groups astray from others. Then again, religion is one if the most unifying forces on this planet. I’m not a very religious person, but I do believe that religion brings people together who would not unite if it weren’t for their common religious beliefs.

    If people renounced their religious beliefs any number of things could happen. The world could spiral into an extreme state of chaos or people could unite under the common umbrella of pure humanity. I think that both of these cases are a little bit extreme and that something in the middle of these two scenarios would happen. I feel like people would still find it hard to relate and connect with others without a common belief such as religion and that they would remain divided to some extent. It is not that religion brings us irreplaceable moral codes, but religion does bring people an unparalleled sense of faithfulness. We can derive morals from our parents and other places, but some might find it hard to be faithful without the presence of religion. All in all, it would be nearly impossible at this point to get humans to reevaluate the importance of religious affiliations in their lives because religion is such powerful force in this world and so many humans find themselves feeling secure and safe while belonging to a certain religion or having a certain set of beliefs and morals.

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