Which Religious Beliefs Cause the Most Problems?
What I hear from religious people is that they feel like atheists unfairly single out their religion (usually, Christianity) to fight against. You rarely hear atheists go on and on as much about Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism or Wicca, for example. So are atheists just bigoted against Christianity or Islam in particular? Maybe they should be honest and say they're anti-Abrahamic, rather than merely atheistic. For if someone simply just does not believe in something, why the antagonistic attitude toward it? I don't believe in UFOs, for example, but I can be nice to people who do.
The answer is that certain religious beliefs are widely considered by the atheist/skeptic community to be dangerous. The idea is that if a religious community practices peace and tolerance, we don't really care what they believe in. But holding specific beliefs cause problems for society in general. And yes, these beliefs are more common to specific groups within the huge, diverse umbrella of either Christianity or Islam. But we recognize that "not all Christians" or "not all Muslims", and I would like to thank Muslims and Christians who don't hold these beliefs.
The problem lies largely with specific, usually small, fringe groups or cults that take these beliefs too far.
So what are the worst religious beliefs?
I've identified 28 statements I consider to be the most harmful religious beliefs. These beliefs were chosen because they often imply violation of the rights of others is permissible, whether it comes to innocent children, non-believers, critics of the religion, or people who left the religion. I don't care what you believe in specifically about God or gods, but don't think that your belief about God or gods entitles you to abuse anyone else.
Beliefs Allowing Abuse or Persecution of Non-Believers
1. People who are not part of my religion deserve no human rights.
2. People who are not part of my religion are subhuman.
3. People who are not part of my religion are incapable of human empathy, feeling, love, compassion, kindness, etc.
4. People who are not part of my religion are threatening.
5. People who are not part of my religion are stupid.
6. People who are not part of my religion are evil.
If you think this way, your religious beliefs have suddenly become a problem for everyone not sharing those religious beliefs. Believing even one of the above statements causes me to be concerned that the person with such a belief does not respect the human rights of all people, but only those people with the same exact religious beliefs as them. And I have heard both Christian and Islamic preachers say things to the effect of the above statements, and have felt worried by the number of people murmuring in hearty agreement to such statements.
Beliefs That Your Beliefs Should Be Law
7. My religion's laws must be followed by all people, regardless of whether or not they agree with my religion.
8. My religion, or a country or political group representing my religion, should conquer and dominate the world.
9. My religious beliefs about gender and sexuality must be forced upon everyone, regardless of whether or not they choose to follow my religion.
10. My religious views about sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, charging interest, working on holy days, etc. must be the law of the land, enforceable to everyone in my country, regardless of whether they follow my religion.
11. Respect for my religion, and reverence for my God, must be a legal obligation for everyone in my country, even for people who don't follow my religion.
12. If secular laws conflict with my religion, I will always automatically side with my religious beliefs.
13. My religion needs preferential legal treatment in my country.
14. I will consider it religious persecution if I am not in a theocratic society governed solely by the laws of my religion.
15. My religious beliefs require me to loyally serve my country no matter what. I see my country as never wrong, and will fight for it because it is a country of my religion. My country's wars are always justified, because it is a country of my religion, and
therefore its military action is what God wants.
Thankfully, I don't see a lot of this among mainstream believers. But extremists in both Christianity and Islam do sometimes hold these opinions. It's harmful if they believe that their religion should dominate everyone on the planet, regardless of how those people feel about it. Or, including people who don't share the same religious beliefs as them. One problem I have with the Evangelical right-wingers is that they seem to think everything they think is a sin needs to have a law against it. The Bible never said that. The Bible said people should struggle with sin on their own and develop the strength to avoid sin, even if it is legal. Trying to get rid of temptation with legislation you push on everyone is not only unfair, but it seems like cheating. You're supposed to be able to see the apple and not take a bite. You don't get points if you simply paid for an expensive campaign to ban apple trees. Think about it.
Beliefs in the Right to Abuse Wives, Children
16. Children must be separated from other children who don't follow my religion. They must be home-schooled, or taught in a public school, only curricula that do not conflict with my religious beliefs. I will work hard to shelter my children from 'outside' influence or information.
17. My religious beliefs prohibit me from giving my children or myself modern medicine, including but not limited to vaccines and blood transfusions.
18. My religious beliefs require that I shun/disown/abandon my own children, if they start to disobey me or question my beliefs.
19. My religious beliefs allow me as a husband to beat and rape my wife. Even if there are secular laws to the contrary, this is the law of God. A wife must obey her husband.
20. My religious beliefs allow me as a parent to beat, choke, torture, confine, withhold food from, or otherwise inflict pain upon my children in an attempt to correct their behavior. This is the law of God, even if secular laws disagree. Children must obey their parents.
When your religious beliefs are excuses for you to abuse others without repercussions, they cease to be protected under the concept of freedom of religion. In these cases, your religious beliefs are being used to take the rights away from others. That's something I can never tolerate or forgive. The above ways of thinking are common among the most abusive and destructive cults.
Beliefs That Signify Extremism and Anti-World Thinking
21. Soon there will be a world-ending event in which everyone will perish or go to hell if they don't follow my religion.
22. People who don't follow my religion must be convinced to do so
before they die.
23. Deception or manipulation, or even violence and the threat of violence, are all acceptable means to the end of converting others to my religion.
24. We believe our religious authorities without question. Even if they break secular laws or violate the human rights of others. They are infallible, and my final moral arbiter.
25. I am afraid of the wrath of my God. And others should be too.
26. I hear the voice of God inside me telling me to do things.
27. I believe that God will make me invulnerable to snakes, poison,
28. I believe illness is caused by a lack of faith.
Though these beliefs are not necessarily dealing with an implied threat to the rights of others, they're worrisome red flags. They signify a bent toward extremist or cult-like thinking.
The 28 statements I've given here reflect what I would call 'red flag' beliefs. By themselves, no one of the above statements means someone is an extremist or has the bad religious beliefs. I don't feel the need to argue against or try to get people to give up all religious beliefs. For example, if you think praying to faeries in the morning helps your garden grow, that belief isn't harming anyone, and doesn't make you a threat to society, or to everyone who doesn't believe that. But if you think the faeries appear to you in dreams and instruct you to sacrifice the blood of newborns, that's kind of a problem for society.
I hope this clears up the question of why atheists mostly focus on or target Islam and Christianity. Sure, there are extremists in every religion who may agree to the above statements. But, most likely, when we're dealing with someone who believes many or most of the above statements, it's likely that the group they belong to is Christian or Muslim, at least self-identified as such. Or, they're a cult that branched off from either Christianity or Islam.
So then we have to ask, what is it about the beliefs particular to these two religions that cause both to breed so much weirdness and extremism? That's why atheists like to criticize the Quran and the Bible. Because we're looking for answers as to why the above statements are more commonly believed by adherents of these religions than by adherents to other religions. But that's a discussion for a future article.