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“I read recently that religion is bad for society. The author claimed that religion, especially Christianity, only serves to hamper progress in ethics, education and science. Any comments?”— Lisa
A great question, touching on a widespread debate in western culture! Obviously, people have been known to promote demagoguery and exercise intolerance in the name of religion. Plenty of examples may be marshaled from history to demonstrate how some who claim to be religious and indeed to be acting out religious beliefs have shown a knack for violently pursuing power and suppressing freedom.
Christianity is no exception. Individuals claiming to act on behalf of Christ and the church have unabashedly exercised secular powers, opposed social progress and attempted to cop-opt science and education for sectarian purposes. People claiming to be Christian are famous for intolerance, bigotry and stupidity in the name of the faith.
Two observations are made here. First, anyone who believes that religion, in particular Christianity, is bad for society reveals an embarrassing ignorance of history. Countless clinics, hospitals and social service agencies providing clothing, food and shelter exist because of concerned Christians. Many schools, including the first universities in America, have a Christian origin. Christians played important roles in major cultural causes including the development of the Bill of Rights, abolition, temperance, civil rights and labor. The broad, moral/ethical underpinnings of our society found some footing in the religious milieu of its earliest days.
Second, the value of a religion to society cannot be fully deduced from its practice by any one group of adherents who are free to misinterpret and distort at will. Again in the case of Christianity, appreciation of its genuine usefulness in society will arise from a careful examination of the life and teachings of its Founder. An honest, open-minded reading of scripture is a good starting place, which is where we will pick up next week.
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