With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
— Steven Weinberg, quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999
At first glance this seems to make sense, but the more I ponder this quote, the more apparent is becomes that it is a total load of horse5#!7. It amazes me how intelligent people can say some of the stupidest things…and believe them. That does not mean that my views are beyond question as I am sure some will assert. But this statement relies on facts that are not present or demonstrable. First the above statement predisposes people to either do good or evil things, hence the “good” people do good things and those “evil” people doing evil things. Hmmm if this is true than we should be able to determine who is good and who is evil, perhaps with the help of Santa Clause, and then round them up and eradicate them from society. Then you would only have good people doing good things! Is that realistic? No, it isn’t very realistic, the good people would probably view this type of behavior as evil…no? In reality, the evil people left unchecked will consume the good people until the evil people far outnumber the good people leaving the good people helpless for perpetual victimization. A good person is one defined as someone who is “good to other people”. While an evil person is “somebody whose selfishness and perceived inhumanity or vicious behavior terrifies and disgusts people”! But in this world without religion would people be inclined to do good? If so why? Without religion you would be much more prone to only be concerned with your own needs and desires. By definition this would make you a candidate to be labeled an evil person. This has to lead to the understanding that Steven Weinberg’s “without religion” is incorrect. Since he knows religion exists this quote must en a dig at religion indicating that only through religion can good people do evil things. There is that presumption that we can discern good people from evil but let’s let that slide for now.
Examining with his caveat, good people do evil things when religion is involved, we should first define religion. For simplicity let’s leave God out of this for right now. So this argument stands first we should define religion: “A set of beliefs and practices, often centered upon specific supernatural and moral claims about reality, the cosmos …” The “often centered upon” text means we do NOT need a God to have a religion so we can continue. If we look at this from a non-God centric view we again will quickly see that evil will most likely win over good since the tendency will be toward selfish goals. Notice I am not putting a time line on how long this transition will take. Giving the “good” people the benefit of the doubt and assuming we start with more good than evil people the outcome will eventually lead to evil people being the norm. This shift will occur because the secular religion is subject to the whim of it’s parishioners, what feels good today may not tomorrow and hence lead to a morally acceptable shift over time. This happens even with God centered religion involved so there is no reason to feel secular religion would fair any better. Some will argue that Godless does not always equate to selfish and I will agree with the “not always” part, however, this is an exception not the norm. Want proof? Look at divorce, fidelity rates, drug use, pick your poison.
What if we put God into the mix? From Steven Weinberg’s view this would provide the excuse for good people to do evil things. I am sure he would site the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition among his reasons for such a statement since we all know that the only atrocities in the world were motivated by religious teachings! Religion is to often used as an excuse of those without any for the problems of the world. There is a term for that, self-justification. Since religion is practiced by humans who are imperfect there will always be wolves in sheep’s clothing leading the flocks of the world to do wrong. The real problem is not with the religion but with the complacent and sheeple that follow blindly when diverting from the teachings of the religion. There again the real problem is that people often do not even understand their own religion much less what is acceptable. This is further exacerbated by the current culture of personal morality where people feel they can select which aspects of a religion they accept or deny to follow. If you don;t like the rules, simply change them! Christianity is perhaps the best example of this problem. In reality religion leads people to more selfless acts if a person truly believes and is part of a peaceful religion. Interestingly I would say that he only got the last part wrong, meaning ‘for evil people to do good things, that takes religion’!
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for evil people to do good things, that takes religion.
— Sensei Mitch, February 4, 2009