Religion and Ideology In Its Proper Place
When Paradigms Attack
People with religion get all sorts of grief about the supposed evils caused by religion. If one assumes that having a belief system itself causes evil, then one must assume there is some sort of religion or philosophy that can cause goodness.
At least, if you don't think about it very hard, anyway.
It is true that a lot of evil has been done in the name of religion, but religion is not alone in standing as an ostensible cause of barbaric acts. Ideology of any sort may stand in for religion as an excuse for doing evil. I can give you a whole raft of atheist non-religions like communism, Marxism, socialism and Nazism that have done horrific things, committed outright genocide, and instituted practices that resulted in the death, starvation and persecution of millions.
There is no system of belief that cannot be perverted, misused or even misdirected. Power, it is said, corrupts. I disagree. Power, rather attracts the corruptible. Every human has a system of belief. We depend on our personal belief paradigm to provide a background against which we may discern what is happening in the world around us. Without this belief system, we couldn't function.
People who reject religion tend to collect data that supports the "religion is evil" element of their personal paradigm. People who embrace religion often do the same. I think this is a mistake, that is, if you are honestly seeking to understand your universe. Everyone needs a personal paradigm, a system of belief that provides a mental structure against which to perceive activity in one's world.
The sky, for instance, is blue. The Earth is pretty much earth tones. In front of the skyline, things move back and forth and up and down. Structures stand out. We aren't so very aware of the sky and earth. We aren't aware of the shelves and pictures on the walls in our homes. If that background changes, we notice, but otherwise, we pay attention to the things in the foreground for the most part. It is in the foreground that we find truth.
A sturdy background is essential if you wish to successfully search for truth. When the background, the paradigm if you will, becomes foreground, it becomes religion or ideology at its worst. When background is no longer a framework in the search for truth, but becomes the truth itself, the mind ossifies, becomes rigid and unyielding and no longer allows for a truly open-minded discussion. The background, in essence, obscures the foreground - the things that are truly important.
There is a reason that ideologues and religious fanatics and the leaders who serve those fanaticisms and ideologies eventually resort to bloodbaths and pogroms. The truth has a way of intruding on the background and demanding attention. Intrusions on the truth of the background, which has become the all-consuming foreground, must therefore be destroyed.
Communism was supposed to increase crop yields. The person who points out that the people are starving under communism, must therefore be eliminated so that he doesn't mar the paradigm upon which the politburo is utterly committed to defending.
Catholicism was supposed to make the people content and obedient. When dissatisfaction reared its ugly head among the people, The stakes were set up, the fires lit and dissenters tied up in gruesome rows to be burned.
Belief systems are equal opportunity excuses for mayhem. They are not, however, the soul cause for this mayhem. Unless a belief system advocates mass murder, pedophilia, torture or abuse of your fellow man, the bare bones belief system must be judged by what it says about itself, not what gets layered upon it by its adherents.
It is not the background that must carry the blame for evil. We essentially create our own version of our background belief system. It is the person who does evil based on his belief system that must carry the blame, that is, if you believe in free choice. Any two people can be Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Satanists, Atheists, Pagans, Buddhists or free-will Baptists and commit acts that are good or evil depending on what he or she has layered onto his or her basic beliefs. When defending the background belief system becomes the end-all, be-all of a person's life, it becomes easier and easier for an individual or group of individuals to justify acts that suppress disagreement with that belief system.
One may believe in God and see the world as clearly as one who rigidly believes there is no God. He may come to different conclusions about what he sees, but that in itself is not a bad thing so long as he chooses based on principles like the Golden Rule or some variant thereof.
It is my belief that it is not so much religion or militant non-religion from which derives all the evil credited to both religion and atheism. I can see where some people believe that ideology and religion cause evil, although neither consistently does so. Plenty of positive things come from strong belief systems as well. This rather challenges B.F. Skinner's behavioral explanation of human behavior as being the result of experience or training alone. Countless examples exist of two individuals with similar beliefs and experience taking quite different paths from each other. Free choice seems to enter into our human decision-making process, Skinner not-withstanding. Pavlov's dogs may salivate when you ring a bell, but people don't necessarily dance when you play a tune.
Those who lust for power and control prove able to commit atrocity no matter what religion or philosophy they claim to believe. That what I believe is the original human sin - the lust for power and control. I believe that lust is driven, not so much by belief (or atheists would not ever become Christians or vice versa), but by the lack of a coherent belief system. I believe that not thinking out what you believe clearly leaves one without an emotional anchor.
To compensate, I believe many of us try to substitute personal control in the place of the external security of a solid belief system. Everyone who disagrees with this power hungry, often-vague personal paradigm must be beaten down and forced to agree. That which challenges the belief system that justifies this kind of person's or group's excesses. That's why the leaders of religions, political entities or groups very often don't really believe in the philosophies or religions they espouse. They merely appropriate such belief systems as are useful to securing power and control over others.