«

»

Mar 05

Part 2 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency on the Planet?

David Langness

David Langness

Atheists Say Religion Causes Ignorance and Hatred

A whole host of atheist philosophers, thinkers and commentators have written influential books and essays during the past few decades, each one saying that religion has become a force for hatred, violence and evil in the world.

Writers like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have all published popular atheist manifestoes.  Most of their books, as in this quote from Harris’ The End of Faith, contain some variation on the idea of religion as “merely an accident of history,” where “it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your prayers, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.”

In fact, Harris and others consistently equate religion with madness, and call for a rational, God-less view of reality based only on the higher aspects of human nature.  Harris claims that:

The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil’s masterpiece.

anti-war-protest-reagan-report

It might surprise you to know that in many ways – but not all – the Baha’i teachings actually agree with significant parts of this analysis.  Of course, unlike the atheist philosophers, Baha’is do believe in God.  However, Abdu’l-Baha urged us to completely do away with any religion that leads humanity to disunity, hatred and warfare:

…the divine teachings are intended to create a bond of unity in the human world and establish the foundations of love and fellowship among mankind. Divine religion is not a cause for discord and disagreement. If religion becomes the source of antagonism and strife, the absence of religion is to be preferred. Religion is meant to be the quickening life of the body politic; if it be the cause of death to humanity, its nonexistence would be a blessing and benefit to man. — Foundations of World Unity, p. 22.

Baha’u’llah actually proclaimed the Baha’i teachings because of the deep, disastrous decline of religion; because the teachings of the former Faiths had become corrupted; because ignorance, hatred and greed flourished in the name of religion around the world.  

The Baha’i teachings call for a new, revitalized faith in God; for a realization of the mystical reality underlying all things; for a re-dedication to the eternal spiritual virtues of reason, honesty and love.  The Baha’i vision of humanity’s future enshrines the concept of human illumination through a positive, beneficial belief that God has not left us without guidance:

After every night there is a morn. In the supreme wisdom of God it is decreed that when the gross darkness of religious hatred and hostility, the obscurity of religious ignorance, superstition and blind imitations cover the world, the Sun of Truth shall arise and the spirit of reality become manifest and reflected in human hearts…. Erelong the darkness will pass away entirely, and the regions of the East will become completely illumined; enmity, hatred, ignorance and bigotry will no longer remain; the satanic powers which destroy human equality and religious unity will be dethroned, and the nations will dwell in peace and harmony under the overspreading banner of the oneness of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 440-441.

In many ways the new atheists make the same point Baha’u’llah made in the 19th Century, and Abdu’l-Baha made a century ago—that the outworn dogmas and antiquated rituals of old, divisive, sectarian belief systems have all become a collective affliction for humanity rather than a remedy:

Religion must be the cause of affection. It must be a joy-bringer. If it become the cause of difference, it were better to banish it. Should it become the source of hatred, or warfare, it were better that it should not exist. If a remedy produce added illness, it were far better to discard the remedy. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 82.

purple_flower

Without a doubt, the new atheist writers and philosophers have discovered this self-evident truth of the modern age, by realizing that humanity needs to discard its outmoded beliefs and find a new way toward its destiny.  But that partial truth focuses only on the darkness of winter, and misses the light of the coming springtime.  That partial truth fails to see the big picture, to apprehend the entire scope of the cycle of human history we now live in and grapple with.  Most importantly, that partial truth leaves out the advent of Baha’u’llah, the bringer of a new Faith for humanity.

Next:  When Religion Itself Becomes Evil


Share
PDF Converter    Send article as PDF   

About the author

David Langness

David Langness writes and edits for BahaiTeachings.org and is a journalist and literary critic for Paste Magazine. He and his wife Teresa live in the Sierra foothills in Northern California.

6 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. Stephen Kent Gray

    David, you ignore all other new religious movements to say the Bahai Faith is the only springtime that New Atheists ignore rather than just one of them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_new_religious_movements

    You also ignore the springtime of secular alternatives to religion as well.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_secularist_organizations

    Some people do list Humanism and Ethical Culture as religions though.

    As listed on Skeptics Annotated, religion contains good stuff, but a lot of bad stuff as well. Things like religious laws and other stuff unrelated to the good stuff are still to be found though.

  2. Stephen Kent Gray

    David, here are some nice quotes that reveal the problems originate in scripture.
    http://considerhumanism.org/quotes.php

    Also, again a note on the tunnel vision of Bahai Faith being the renewal of religion as opposed to a renewal of religion.

    Atheists do tend to focus on criticizing Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam and universalizing it to all religion.

    ALL NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS EXIST because of the deep, disastrous decline of religion; because the teachings of the former Faiths had become corrupted; because ignorance, hatred and greed flourished in the name of religion around the world. Wikipedia list all the ones from 1700-present.

    The NRM teachings call for a new, revitalized faith in God; for a realization of the mystical reality underlying all things; for a re-dedication to the eternal spiritual virtues of reason, honesty and love. The NRM vision of humanity’s future enshrines the concept of human illumination through a positive, beneficial belief that God has not left us without guidance.

    All the above characteristic are universal to NRMs and not unique to the Bahai Faith. You could replace references with say Scientokogy, Raëlism, Eckanakar, Druidism, Wicca, Tenrikyo, Seicho No Ie, Sekai Kyusei Kyo, Cao Dai, Cheondogyo, Unitairan Univeralism, Universal Life Church, etc and still have a factual post.

    1. Tom Martin

      Mormons do not see Mormonism as a religion separate from Christianity. They teach their church is Christian, part of Christianity, and their church is the restoration of the first century Church of Christ.
      The Unitarian Universalist Association no longer teaches faith in God. It lets members choose whether or not believe in God. So some still believe in God, some are agnostic, some are even atheist.

    2. John McLaughlin

      SKG, would you please try to remain on topic. If you read the blog carefully you will see the topic of this contribution is whether or not “religion causes ignorance and hatred” and focuses on the Baha’i perspective. Why don’t you address the topic directly? I don’t think that it’s meant to act as a Rorschach ink blot by which all sorts of tangential ideas are stimulated and minutely explored. SKG, I have never seen you write a word of agreement with the perspective of the Baha’i contributors to this blog site, only argument. Are these contributors always wrong? Perhaps you should write a blog which expresses your own beliefs on the subject of the relationship between science and religion, rather than so often just cavilling?

    3. John McLaughlin

      Further to my previous comment, your “note on the tunnel vision of Bahai [sic] Faith being the renewal of religion as opposed to a renewal of religion”; once again, this blog is expressing a Baha’i perspective, not cataloging every new religious movement of the past 200 years. Is it “tunnel vision” to remain on topic? Certainly Baha’is recognize the existence and relative merits of new religious movements, but see them as responses to the spiritual hunger of humanity and assess their worth according to the standard expressed by `Abdu’l-Baha (cited above), that they “create a bond of unity in the human world and establish the foundations of love and fellowship among mankind.” Now, back to David Langness’s blog…

  3. David Langness

    Hi, Stephen,

    Thanks for your note. Actually, even though some books (and a few websites) mistakenly list the Baha’i Faith as an NRM; those listings aren’t accurate. By definition, NRMs typically have relatively small numbers (<1 million adherents); are geographically limited; have cultural and/or peripheral ties to previous religions; and do not demonstrate a pattern of widespread global growth over time. By contrast, the Baha'i Faith, according to third-party observers and census numbers, currently has between 5-8 million adherents; is now the second most-widespread Faith (after Christianity) in the world (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica and several other authoritative sources); is a separate, independent world religion not tied to any other faith group (as recognized by the United Nations and the majority of the world's national governments); and, according to global growth statistics compiled by the IRD, "The Baha'i Faith is the only religion to have grown faster in every United Nations region over the past 100 years than the general population; Baha’i was thus the fastest-growing religion between 1910 and 2010, growing at least twice as fast as the population of almost every UN region." [The World's Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography, p. 59.] Baha'is come from every geographic region of the world, every former faith, every ethnicity, tribal and racial group, every economic class and every nation on earth. Only the world's major Faiths fit that description, and no NRM does.

    So hopefully you can see the difference here between the NRMs you (and Wikipedia) cite and the global scope, size, impact and significance of the Baha'i Faith. This isn't what you would call "tunnel vision" — it's just factual.

    Also, this series of essays, just so you know, was originally written for BahaiTeachings.org; the website devoted to exploring and explaining the Baha'i Faith to seekers. These essays weren't intended to be encyclopedic or comprehensive surveys of all new Faiths since 1700 — that would be far beyond my scope of expertise or available time — but instead were intended to present a brief Baha'i response to Dr. Charles Kimball's recent book When Religion Becomes Evil. If you read them with that overview in mind, and also familiarize yourself with Dr. Kimball's important research on fanaticism and fundamentalism, perhaps the series of essays will make more sense to you.

    Thanks again,

    David Langness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>