TCS Daily


A Question of Religion

By Lee Harris - January 22, 2008 12:00 AM

Some years ago I was asked a question that has haunted me. It came during a telephone conversation I had with a young man whose Internet book club has selected one of my books to read. The young man wanted to find out more about me, and he began asking what I thought about various subjects. Finally, hesitantly, he said, "Would you mind if I asked you a very personal question?" How personal, I wondered briefly, but gave my consent anyway. His question was, "Are you for or against religion?"

I have lost a clear recollection of my reply, but I recall being shocked at the radical and remorseless either/or with which I had been confronted: Either a person is for religion, or a person is against it.

Suppose I had answered by saying that I was for religion. Would this imply that I approved and admired the blood-thirsty rites involved in the worship of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochti? On the other hand, what if I had said that I was against religion. Would I thereby commit myself to condemning the ethical teachings expressed by the prophets of ancient Israel, with their stern injunction to protect the weak and defend the downtrodden? To me it was obvious that certain religions have been ghastly, like those religions that required the sacrifice of young children, while it was equally obvious that other religions have lifted human beings out of the squalor and brutality of mere animal existence.

Take the case of those fundamentalist Protestants in the small French village of Le Chambon who, at great risk to their own lives, opened their hearts and homes to French Jews who were being hunted down by the Nazis—an astonishing story movingly told by Philip P. Hallie in his book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. The villagers' Huguenot religion gave them the strength of will to resist the temptation to do nothing when doing nothing would have been far easier and far less dangerous to their own survival. It made them perform heroic actions and yet it also made them see these actions as their simple duty. They saved Jews, as they put it, because "it was the right thing to do."

In reflecting on the miracle of La Chambon, it would be possible to argue that a village of highly ethical atheists might have acted in the same way the Huguenots did. Certainly they would have recognized that saving the Jews was the right thing to do; but the intellectual apprehension that we have an ethical duty to risk our own lives for the sake of others is not always accompanied by the visceral courage required to take this risk. There must have been millions of decent Frenchmen who were horrified that the Nazis were rounding up Jews, and thousands who would have been willing to offer them sanctuary if the risk of getting caught had not been so great and so terrible. In the abstract, these other Frenchmen shared the same ethics as the villagers of La Chambon, but their ethical principles could not convince them to endanger themselves and their own families. In the face of despotism, mere decency is not enough. There must also be courage.

A person does not have to share the Huguenot religion in order to admire the courage of the villagers of La Chambon. Indeed, a person can find that religion absurd. But is it possible to be against a religion that can produce a whole community of men and women who are willing to stake their own lives in order to offer help to people of a different faith?

It is easy to make the case against religion by pointing to the multitude of examples where religion has brutalized men, and by carefully avoiding any mention of those instances where religion has given men the courage to struggle against despotism. "How Religion Poisons Everything" is the subtitle of Christopher Hitchens' recent book God Is Not Good. But did the Huguenot religion poison the village of La Chambon or ennoble it?

The villagers of La Chambon were Christian fundamentalists: to them there was no higher authority than the Bible. Today their attitude to the Bible is treated with scorn by those who identify themselves with the modern scientific spirit. But this was not the attitude taken by the great nineteenth century English scientist and thinker, Thomas Huxley.

Today Huxley is remembered for two things. He coined the word "agnostic" and he devoted his enormous intellectual energy to the defense of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Huxley himself did not believe in God, nor did he believe that the Bible was literally true. Yet if someone had asked Huxley whether he was for or against religion, he would have responded that he was emphatically for those religions that had created communities made up of men and women like the villagers of La Chambon. In fact, this is almost exactly what he wrote in 1892, at the end of the Prologue to his book, Science and the Christian Tradition.

"So far as...equality, liberty, and fraternity are included under the democratic principles which assume the same names, the Bible is the most democratic book in the world. As such it began, through the heretical sects, to undermine the clerico-political despotism of the middle ages....; Pope and King had as much as they could do to put down the Albigenses and the Waldenses in the twelfth and thirteen centuries; the Lollards and the Hussites gave them still more trouble in the fourteenth and fifteenth; from the sixteen century onward, the Protestant sects have favored political freedom in proportion to the degree in which they have refused to acknowledge any ultimate authority save that of the Bible....I do not say that even the highest Biblical ideal is exclusive of others and needs no supplement. But I do believe that the human race is not yet, possibly may never be, in a position to dispense with it."

The villagers of La Chambon were collectively committed to carrying out the highest Biblical ideal, even if it meant their personal extinction. They were prepared to defy a despotism far more hideous than that of the European middle ages. They remind us that the simplistic "for or against" approach to religion inevitably obscures the startling differences between the various religions of mankind, between those religions that demand human sacrifice to appease a blood-thirsty god, and those that have inspired self-sacrifice in the name of a better world.


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138 Comments

Scientific support for religion
In science, only one failure of a theory is required to reject the theory.

A theory that all religion is bad must be rejected when even one instance of good is the direct result of a religion.

One can then arugue the merits of relgions to discover why some are good and others are bad, but the fundamental question has been answered.

Controlling the herd
Religions do not exist outside the minds and hearts of the individual. A stupid person will have a stupid religion, while a well thought out person will have a well considered religion-- even though both may nominally belong to the same sect.

Historically, religions have been used by the bright few as a means for controlling the dim many. The most accurate simile is the shepherd guiding his flock. And aspiring shepherds are not hesitant about playing the fear card-- warming their flocks of the torments of the afterlife.

Also popular is the guilt card. Take some common human characteristic, like the sexual impulse. Make it filthy and evil. State that God doesn't like you when you do this, or even think about it. This kind of conditioning is guaranteed to produce a state of anxiety, which only the application of the Holy Teachings can alleviate.

And make sure they take a strong dose of it early. As the Jesuits said, give us a child for seven years and it will be ours for life.

When I was a kid I knew some Catholic kids, who told me "You're lucky. You can be anything you want. Us, we have to either be Catholic or anti-Catholic."

scientific support
So what is this scientific support for anything religious at all. What about 'the rapture'? What about the 72 cherry girls we get in heaven?

my church preference
When people ask me what my church preference is I tell them natural granite, in Gothic style with those flying buttresses like the euro-cathedrals.

Harris Believe Courage is a Theological Virtue?
Mr. Harris seems to believe that courage is only possible under the influence of religion. Do we have to remind him that courage is one of the four primary virtues of the philosophers? Has he read Plato, Aristotle and Cicero? Thanks to theologians like Aquinas these virtues are enshrined in the Catholic catechism and supplemented by the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Cicero’s De Officiis was the standard treatise on ethics in the liberal arts curriculum until the 19th century. Ambrose and Augustine were influenced by it as was Aquinas. This was the standard ethical text down to the college education of our founders. Religion is merely folk philosophy that in the West has absorbed the philosophy of the great Greek and Roman thinkers. Philosophy leads; religion follows.

Details are subject to debate
Whether religion in general is good or bad has been decided.

Atheists won't recognize the positive effects religion has in millions of people's lives.

If even ONE good thing can be attributed to religion, one cannot make the statement that religion is bad, as the scientific philosophy suggests.

Conversely
to use your logic, if even one bad thing can be attributed to religion then one cannot make the statement that religion is good.

Sexual impulses
Is sex with anyone ok?

Your neighbor's wife, his daughter, your daughter, ANY woman, ANY man.....?

Any sex with anyone has NO consequences?

Recently, evidence suggest syphilis was brought to Europe from America.

HIV is sexually transmitted. Herpes is sexually transmitted.

Inbreeding can result in unhealthy offspring.

If man can't control himself, how is he any differnct than animals?

religions
Before one can condemn religion for the evil that men do in it's name, it would be necessary to demonstrate that men without religion do no evil. Or at least do evil to a lesser extent. This is a test that can't be met.

Have wars been fought in the name of religion? Of course.

Would those wars have not been fought if there had never been religion? Much harder to say. People have a built in bias to support those who are like them, and oppose those who are different. Tribalism if you like.

Religious tribalism is just another form. Most of those wars would have been fought anyway, the leaders would have just found a different excuse to inflame the masses.

Indeed, most wars that were "fought" in the name of religion were, if you examine the actual history, fought for many reasons. Religion just being the most prominent justification given by the propagandists of the day.

the question asked
marjon did not say anything about scientific support for religion itself.

absolutist arguments are rarely any good
was about to say never, but I realized just in time such a declaration would itself be absolutist in nature.

If you want to debate as to whether relgion has been on the whole, beneficial or detrimental, that is an argument that is worth having.

A very complicated argument, but one worth having.

you can't find any support for such a claim in the article
He never said that courage is impossible outside religion.

Indeed he directly declared the opposite. After noting that religion gave the Huegonots courage, he declared that a village of atheists could also find such courage.

He declared that religion makes it more likely that a person could find such courage.

Now if you want to debate the argument as presented, go ahead. If you want to construct silly strawmen, go ahead.

Agreed
about absolutist statements, which was precisely what I was pointing out to Marjon.

I agree the debate is worth having.
Many atheists on these boards make the case against religion using the 'bad' that has been done without any recognition for any good.

I believe the good far outweighs the bad to date.

They don't teach this stuff in school
Sexual impulses, in themselves, are normal and healthy. What we do about them is a matter we should assign to our reasoning centers.

Religions like traditional Catholicism and Islam, on the other hand, make this a guilt-ridden subject, and instead command the we repress our healthy instincts. I'm not saying there are no forward thinkers in these religions. But historically the Church has put our welfare in the hands of a supposedly celibate priesthood. With predictably twisted results.

It's unnatural, and should not be a part of any young person's upbringing. Instead, youngsters should be brought up to understand that an unwise surrender to suxual impulse can bring with it three great difficulties:

Unplanned pregnancy;

Disease; and

People now in your life you no longer want there.

They should choose their partners with care. And if they decide to have sex they should understand how birth control works, and what the drawbacks of every method are.

oh no?
Oh, no? He said atheists would have realized the duty but lack the courage.

“In reflecting on the miracle of La Chambon, it would be possible to argue that a village of highly ethical atheists might have acted in the same way the Huguenots did. Certainly they would have recognized that saving the Jews was the right thing to do; but the intellectual apprehension that we have an ethical duty to risk our own lives for the sake of others is not always accompanied by the visceral courage required to take this risk.”

He considers it possible but highly unlikely because of the lack of courage. He reiterates:

“In the abstract, these other Frenchmen shared the same ethics as the villagers of La Chambon, but their ethical principles could not convince them to endanger themselves and their own families. In the face of despotism, mere decency is not enough. There must also be courage.”

How did I distort his views?

Respressing 'healthy' instincts
"nstead, youngsters should be brought up to understand that an unwise surrender to suxual impulse can bring with it three great difficulties:"

How is this any different than repressing 'healthy' instincts?

People smoke. It bad for them. They still do it. Maybe making them feel guilty about might help them quit. Is it worth it?

try letting go of your outrage, and actually reading what he wrote
"but the intellectual apprehension that we have an ethical duty to risk our own lives for the sake of others is not always accompanied by the visceral courage required to take this risk"

This is not saying that those without religion do not have the courage. It is saying that religion gives an extra measure of courage.

“In the abstract, these other Frenchmen shared the same ethics as the villagers of La Chambon, but their ethical principles could not convince them to endanger themselves and their own families. In the face of despotism, mere decency is not enough. There must also be courage.”

He did not say that those without religion have no courage. He is saying that believing in a sense of decency alone is not enough.

This is pretty close to a truism. Once again, he did not say that those with no religion have no courage.

Read what you wrote
Your first quote--"not always accompanied by the visceral courage"--says courage is often lacking. Your second quote--"There must also be courage"--says that courage is absent. He clearly says without religion courage is absent or nearly so.

Obviously he couldn’t say that there is never courage without religion and expect to be taken seriously. He merely implies that this anecdotal example shows that religion brings courage to people that would otherwise pull back like their fellow countryman. This implies that the French lack the courage with these few being exceptions.

If we remember that during WWII the Danish wore armbands in solidarity with the Jews, we see that this is more common than he implies. Perhaps my memory serves me poorly but I don’t remember Denmark being a hotbed of religious fundamentalism.

Overall, he picks poor examples. The problem with Christians isn’t that they don’t have the courage to die. They died with courage when eaten by the Lions in the Roman coliseum and that earned them respect among the Romans. The problem is that they can’t fight and kill for their own survival. More exactly, they couldn’t do that until they adopted Roman ways.

With Constantine a more muscular Christianity was born; Christians were able to show courage in battle to secure their well being and freedom. That’s the kind of Christians I respect. Even here Harris is giving us the wrong example. We needed fighting Christians then and we need muscular fighting Christians now. We slaughtered and defeated the German-***** then. We need to prepare to defeat the Islamic-***** in the future. Enough of this hiding and praying stuff!

The censored word is
N a z i s

In my previous post my phrase German-***** and Islamic-***** had asterisks for the German acronym for National Socialism (i.e. N a z i s). It's not clear why.

I am, we are apparently using different dictionaries
you claimed that the author had claimed that you had to have religion in order to have courage.

To support this, you come up with a quote where the author says that those without religion are less likely to have courage.

If you are unwilling to see the difference between the two positions, then there is nothing I can do to help you.

"Obviously he couldn’t say that there is never courage without religion and expect to be taken seriously."

I think I see your problem. You have decided that you know what the author really meant. The words he wrote are nothing more than a cover.

Sad, really, really, sad.

Assume there is no God, and relgion is just a tool for controlling the masses:
Is this a bad thing?

Institutions like marriage keep men attached tot he women they impregnate and the children those women bear. These kids are MUCH more likely to have a stable home environment because of the fact that there is a man and a woman present, who are both legally and ethically bound to take care of them. Will some of these marriages fail? Of course. Will some of these parents be abusive? Of course. Will the VAST majority of children have better lives because of marriage? Yes.

Are injunctions against murder and theft bad things? If somebody believes they can get away with it, are they more or less likely to do so if they have believe that God will punish them for it?

Is guilt a bad thing? If you know you have wronged another, is it a good thing or a bad thing for you to feel awful about doing so?

Religion is one of the easiest ways to create an orderly society because it causes people to restrain themselves from wronging others, rather than relying on police to do so.

It does get troublesome when heretics are burned at the stake, or religious wars begin. However, in every case I have ever run across, these wars were far more political in nature than religious. People don't go to war over transubstantiation, they go to war over the booty and power they can get by invading their neighbors.

Even if everything you said is true, roy, religion is still a positive force.

What happens to an atheist after he dies?
Nothing. The End.

What happens to a Christian?

They live eternally in a very, very nice place.

Most religions posit the existence of an afterlife, and this gives their adherents a certain amount of strength in this life that they might otherwise lack. The people of La Chambon were more likely to risk their lives than those of this hypothetical atheist town because they believed that something was coming afterwards.

Ask yourself why the Soviets had to station personnel with machine guns behind their troops to keep them from running away, and Americans kept advancing without the "encouragement" of knowing that you would be shot if you retreated.

Don't atheists go to heaven?
Good point Publius, religion instilled a comfort food in the psyche of believers to help them deal with the suffering of life. Its a mental trick. Its not truthful, it provides an answer where none otherwise exists. Thats the purpose religion serves. Whether thats good or bad is another question. Is it better to believe a myth, to delude yourself, for the benefit of peace of mind, or better to accept truth and face the difficulty of reality?

We can each pick which we prefer, but even if you pick the myth you can't escape reality. Smart people are somewhere between, they pick the myth for the benefits but keep a grounding in reality too...
Yikes! I just stuck my whole leg in my mouth with that statement. I'd say most people fit that description, but most people are stupid (I otherwise argue). I need to contemplate that some more. Stupid reality.


"Ask yourself why the Soviets had to station personnel with machine guns behind their troops to keep them from running away, and Americans kept advancing without the "encouragement" of knowing that you would be shot if you retreated."

My answer is: courage, training, discipline, pride, superior firepower. Democratic freedom compared to fascist dictatorship. Wealth and prosperity compared to poverty and dreariness.

What keeps people fighting in a democracy?
"My answer is: courage, training, discipline, pride, superior firepower. Democratic freedom compared to fascist dictatorship. Wealth and prosperity compared to poverty and dreariness." - bj

Damn good list, bj. Victor Davis Hanson considers this question in his book “Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.”

From Barnes and Noble’s website:

“Hanson zeros in on the cultural values that have enabled Western armies, often vastly outnumbered and far from home, to slaughter their opponents and impose their social, economic, political, and cultural structures on other civilizations. ... "

These values include "individual initiative, superior organization and discipline, access to matchless weapons, and tactical adaptation and flexibility. Then he shows how these characteristics develop and flourish as a result of such traditional Western institutions and ideals as consensual government, free inquiry and innovative enterprise, rationalism, and the value placed on freedom and individualism.”

Hanson considers examples “ranging from Salamis in 480 B.C. to the Tet offensive in Vietnam.” By the way, Christianity wasn't the key. Read Hanson's book and forget about Harris’ sophomoric essay.

You don't have a dream?
Better to believe in the grim reality of life and never have any hope, belief or faith that anything will be better tomorrow.

Why not just off yourself as soon as you 'get smart' and understand we are all doomed?

Bringing up young adults
I think what you're getting mixed up about is the difference between a healthy, natural instinct, and an unwise expression of that instinct in activities that may come back on the individual.

A strong upbringing will impart to the youngster the good advice that unwise sex brings a host of problems not easily resolved (the three I mentioned)-- while allowing him or her to not have their growth stunted by guilt, hysteria, resentment or shame.

Do you think it's possible for a teenager to draw lines in their behavior that keep them safe from harm, without being scared by dogmatic religious beliefs?

Atheist missions
Anyone know of any atheist missionaries who spend their lives helping to educate, feed and medically treat the poor around the world?

Prove it is a myth
You cannot any more than I can prove it is so.

Consider this, what if you are wrong?

For that matter, isn't it kind of depressing going thru life with nothing more than this existence? I find most people who scoff usually have some reason they object as a rationalization of their behavior.

Would you consider the founders smart? Then explain how they reached the conclusion of a free and open society within the reference frame of their religious convictions?

Of course, being a moral relativist, you cannot engage in absolutes now can you?

Sex drive is not rational
Your approach to the sex drive is that education is sufficient. I have not found the sex drive to be very rational either in myself or in others.
Repressing it aggravates it... Like going hungry produces an obsession with food.
But letting it loose produces death and chaos.

The Contest of Religion in Politics
In the human political contests known as elections, the voter's opinion is affected by the persuasion of the candidates. In a field of candidates, a freethinker holds an advantage over the religionist. While the religionist must live by doctrine, the freethinker can adjust his beliefs in the changing world. The freethinker is aware of the natural world. The freethinker can seek money, pleasure, or any desire restricted only by the rules of society. The religionist is restricted by the rules of a religion, and must live according to those rules.

Grim reality of life?
It is so telling of the attitude of a religious person that he considers life a grim reality, which his religion allows him to either ignore or suffer through until it ends. So much better to see life as a joy, which can be improved every day without suffering guilt (because of never earning any gulit.)

The value of religion
Religion is always bad because it is based upon lies and the selective rejection of logic. Any standard or result that comes from religion cannot be relied on because it is not based on observable reality.

If a religion were true, we'd call it science or history, not religion.

Missionaries
Know of any religious missionaries who don't try to cripple the minds of the poor by teaching religion?

Au contraire
People of faith see life as positive and full of hope in spite of any hardship and adversity.

The people who have no faith are the ones who tend to towards doom, gloom and despair.

I know many atheists who preach despair
But they are not missionaries to help the poor.

Atheism is also a religion
Religion is based on a belief system. People live their lives based on this system. Atheist believe that there is no God and live their lives by this belief. The fact that they are trying to force this belief on everybody is just as bad as any other religious person trying to force their system on other people.

celibate priesthood
This is a fairly new idea. Priest where allowed to marry until sometime in the Middle Ages when this was stop.

Preaching Despair
Do Christians preach despair? Huh? And all these years I thought it was hope.

Huh?
Exactly how does teaching Christianity teach despair? Have you ever listened to the message?

How about reading one of the gospels? Hardly a lesson in despair...

The 'free' thinker is restricted by reality
A religion can help provide guidance to enhance survivalbility.

"The freethinker can seek money, pleasure, or any desire restricted only by the rules of society. "

What are the rules of society and from where did they originate?

So free thinkers don't have to live by any rules?

Do free thinkers believe in dissing their parents, murder, theft, adultery? Or do they develop creative ways to explain away why they don't have to follow any rules?

Murder is ok as long as the victim is not yet born? Murder is ok as long as the victim is not REALLY human?
Adultery is ok if we are all consenting?

What makes me feel good is ok?

As the saying goes, pay me now or pay me later. You can 'adjust' your beliefs all you want, but there really are standards and rules that if not followed, result in consequences. Religions can help people to follow those rules and mitigate the consequences.

Different approaches to controlling impulse
No, the sex drive isn't rational, it's very basic. Like the drive to go out to impress your friends by getting very drunk, piling them into your car and driving at 100 mph until you drive them into a bridge abutment.

It's the kind of thing every tenager should know how to avoid. But they don't always know that, because they have little experience with life.

Rationailty is my preferred way of deciding what things I decide to include in my palette of behaviors. Many people prefer religion, and it even works for many... or they think they do. But there are a great many conflicted, religious teenagers with gay impulses their faith won't let them resolve. Or hetero kids who give in once and feel guilty. Or kids who define themselves as sinners just for being who they are.

A rational approach would just give them that choice of self-judgments that lay between smart and dumb.

Your view, which I don't quite understand, is that "letting go" sexually will result in death and chaos. That seems awfully stern. Does it allow you to lead a satisfying and fulfilled life?

Atheists in the hospice
First, I come close to agreeing with your earlier comment, above. When you view religion from its positive aspects it has done some good. Especially if you compare it to something that doesn't work very well, like savagery.

But re the comfort religion affords the dying, I think I can offer an insight you may not have heard before. A friend of mine was involved for a time in an outreach mission to console the dying. It was not religiously based, but instead run by a movement of freethinkers and ethical society types. What he found had surprised him.

He said most of the Christians were afraid of death-- and more afraid, the closer it got. Because they had doubts that the stories that had been given to them were true. Mostly they were convinced there was going to be Nothing ahead-- as the Christian view gives you a choice of either believing there's nothing after death or there's a life everlasting in Heaven, probably with harps, etc. And the closer it got, they weren't buying the vision of living in the clouds.

He said his Buddhists were doing just fine. They were ready to renounce the earthly shell and go beyond their purely personal lives to join a greater Being. It worked for them and they were as a group quite content.

He didn't have many atheists. I guess it's like foxholes.

The political brigades
"Ask yourself why the Soviets had to station personnel with machine guns behind their troops to keep them from running away, and Americans kept advancing without the "encouragement" of knowing that you would be shot if you retreated."

I know Richard Pipes says very authoritatively that this method of ensuring that the troops fought originated with the Bolsheviks, in the Russian Civil War. And he's usually an impeccable source. But it was used by the czars as well. It seems that Russian peasants never did have any strongly patriotic feelings about military service. They were only interested in things very close to home.

The reason the political brigades were introduced, by both kinds of governments, was that left to themselves, poorly fed, poorly dressed conscripts had a tendency to shoot their officers and abscond for places far outside the war zone. It's a Russian thing.

as you see, the religion nature of atheism always comes out
If you can prove to me that all religions are lies, please do so.

If you can't, then you have to admit that your previous post wased based on a lie.

you might try talking to a few actual Christians, instead of this cardboard cutout you usually use
As a whole, the Christians that I know, are by far the happiest people.

nice demonstration of bigotry
That is your assumption that religion cripples the mind.

Most of the greatest thinkers in Western History were deeply religious. Do you consider them to have been crippled?

The only one here crippled, is you. You have been crippled by your hatred of religion.

people like chrismaple
take pride in their ignorance of all religions.

It's easier to hate something when you know nothing about it.

Religious people happier
"In 2004, the General Social Survey asked a sample of Americans, "Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" Religious people were more than twice as likely as the secular to say they were "very happy" (43% to 21%). Meanwhile, secular people were nearly three times as likely as the religious to say they were not too happy (21% to 8%). In the same survey, religious people were more than a third more likely than the secular to say they were optimistic about the future (34% to 24%)."

"The happiness gap between religious and secular people is not because of money or other personal characteristics. Imagine two people who are identical in every important way--income, education, age, sex, family status, race and political views. The only difference is that the first person is religious; the second is secular. The religious person will still be 21 percentage points more likely than the secular person to say that he or she is very happy."

http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110010672

False dichotomy
When you offer two choices in an argument and pretend that no other choices exist, that's a fallacy called the false dichotomy.

It's what Lee Harris is committing when he suggests that without religion struggles like Poland's Solidarity movement or the antebellum abolitionist movements might not have happened.

In fact, people act with courage and moral conviction apart from religion. The fact that religion seems to have no particular tendency to produce moral behavior - it may produce evil, or it may produce good - should be evidence that religion is one of those human behaviors that has outlived its usefulness.

5,000 years ago religion might have been necessary to help create communities, but today it only drives balkanization and superstition, and prevents a real understanding of morality.

Of course religion is deeply rooted in our evolutionary past, and it won't be easy to remove it from our social institutions, but once we've done that we'll only be better off.

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