Monday, September 12, 2011

The best excuses for bad behaviour are found in religion

A piece entitled Secularism and its Many Excuses for Bad Behaviour in the National Post religion blog called out for a response, which was published a few days later. I was a contributing author, along with two others from the Centre for Inquiry Canada. I particularly like the last paragraph, which was my largest contribution.

The best excuses for bad behaviour are found in religion

There was no excuse for the bad hybrid of tired anti-secular tropes 
and self-congratulatory jeering that characterized Charles Lewis’
 recent piece “Secularism and its Many Excuses for Bad Behaviour.”

article managed merely to misrepresent both secularism and religion.

The first gross mischaracterization is delivered right at the outset,
 with the assertion: “The most popular objection to religion is that it
 replaces thinking with sets of unprovable truths …”

This is simply
 incorrect. First of all, the most popular objection to religion is 
that there is insufficient evidence to support it, and much to 
contradict it. This is the reasoning of most atheists, and also of
 most religious people regarding all faiths other than their own. The
 phrase “unprovable truths” shows both bias and ignorance. Rationalists
 deal with claims, not truths, and with evidence rather than “proof” in 
empirical matters.

Lewis writes, “What religion teaches is that the dignity of each 
person is paramount. It also teaches that with this exalted state 
comes responsibility.” The various religions of the world (and
 denominations thereof) are far from being in total agreement on any one subject, and personal responsibility is no different.

The article continues to make such generalizations: “As Western
 societies have become more secular, they have become even more 
self-pitying and more likely to blame their travails on amorphous

The attribution of a negative personality trait to entire
 societies is both ridiculous and a tacit rejection of individual

 While no mechanism is given to explain how secularism in itself leads
 to excuses for bad behaviour, it isn’t hard to see how religion might 
have a few.

Consider Article XI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1571), 
considered the defining statement of Anglicanism: “We are accounted 
righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior
Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings.”

prioritizing of belief in what many atheists might consider an
 amorphous entity over actual good works is the heart of Protestant 
theology in the form of the doctrine of sola fide, or salvation “by
 faith alone.”

As another example, a strict believer in Catholic dogma need not lead
 a virtuous life to go to heaven – he can sin all he wants, as long as 
he makes a good, full and heartfelt confession before dying. How this
 translates into personal responsibility is a mystery: if no mechanism of action is offered, neither is any evidence for the
 supposed relationship between secularism and bad behaviour.

On the 
other hand, much evidence is at hand for a competing pattern.

According to a 2005 study by sociologist Gregory Paul focusing on 18
 democracies, those with higher levels of atheism and secularism had
 lower levels of murder, suicide, abortion and teen pregnancy. The U.S.
 Bible belt contains higher levels of violent crime than does the more
 secular regions of the country. 

 Atheistic secularists take more responsibility for themselves and 
their actions because they believe that this world is all there is.

There is no excuse that “The Devil made me do it.” There is no excuse that suffering is “all part of God’s plan.” There is no recourse that “you will be rewarded in Heaven.” Secularists demand we take
 responsibility for our impact on our society because our sole legacy 
will be the world that we leave to our collective descendants.

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