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.
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?