I’ve been toying around an idea in my head for a few days or weeks now and I want to flesh it out here, so bear with me.
The New Atheism is generally focused on the idea that religion is the root of all evil or religion poisons everything. It’s defined by it’s take-no-prisoners approach to religion as one of the largest sources of pain, suffering, and intellectual stagnation of the human species.
It occurs to me though that this approach may be wrong.
Not wrong in the religion is actually a good thing kind of way, but wrong in the these statements are vacuous kind of way. Let me explain.
Religion is a really poorly defined concept. It has an academic definition from sociologist Durkheim: “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred thing” and a colloquial definition “belief in, or the worship of, a god or gods.” The New Atheism is squarely aimed at the latter definition, but it’s very disingenuous to argue that it is the only or even the correct definition.
One only needs to consider Buddhism and the rational religions of the 18th century to question the idea that religion requires a belief in the supernatural.
Declaring religion is the root of all evil makes as much sense as saying politics is the root of all evil. It doesn’t actually make any sense. There are good politics and toxic politics.
What I would argue is that we need to focus our debate not on religion, but on irrational dogma and authoritarian ideologies.
The problem with religion is that far too many of them promote dangerous beliefs. The beliefs are the issue, religion is merely one conduit for these ideas.
Expanding our criticism lets us tackle issues like Communism, Fascism, Apartheid, and Libertarianism. Each comes with unquestionable core beliefs, and each can be responsible for great suffering.