Defending the Faith: Don't blame religion for world's ills

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  • Jeff Temple City, CA
    Oct. 28, 2012 5:49 p.m.

    I would also like to comment on the assertion that morality and ethics exist among atheists.
    Of course they do. This assertion is a red herring, distracting people from the real issue, which must begin with this question: Who has the right to define what is moral or ethical?
    Among religious people, morality is defined by religious texts, religious leaders, or religious/cultural traditions. Ethics are defined by groups through mutual consent, so atheists, banding together, have the same rights or the same ability to define what is ethical within the group.
    Among irreligious or atheistic people (not including religious atheists like some Buddhists), all definitions of morality are purely individual. It is this individuality of moral definition that causes problems. Where atheists' "morality" coincides with religious morality, there is no cultural problem, but where atheists insist on individual definitions of morality, there can be nothing but a future of chaos, anarchy, and/or societal collapse (witness Soviet Marxism).
    Religion, as opposed to what Marx suggests, is not the "opiate of the masses," it is the publicly agreed upon moral source for large cultures, and--true or not--it is more essential than critics would have us believe.

  • Diligent Dave Logan, UT
    Oct. 28, 2012 2:02 p.m.

    Traditional religion indeed is much blamed for much evil. And, often and long it has been the source of much evil. And not to justify the evil done in the name of God, but it is important to point out how much evil has been done by atheists. We often think of Hitler as a mass murderer of millions. And so he and his regime were. But Lenin and Stalin probably killed 3 times as many of their own people as Hitler did. And neither believed in God. Mao Zedong, is estimated to have killed, via his policies, between 80 and 100 million or more of his own people in China. And Mao's only "god" might have been himself.

    Supposed science, a secular religion to which many kowtow to, like the Nazi "scientists" who performed horrific experiments on Jews and others in Germany, itself sometimes has been a source of unspeakable evil and horror. As D&C 1 points out, ALL have their own "god", that which they trust, and "worship". And many of those don't believe in a God in the sense of traditional religions. But their doctrine is no less dogmatic in what it requires.

  • gcrobmd GADSDEN, AL
    Oct. 27, 2012 8:27 p.m.

    The lack of religion causes evil. Greed, pride, lust, and hunger for power masquerade as religion and confuse the weak minded.

    A science magazine from England had an issue about religion. The agenda was to debunk religion and promote atheism. Some of the articles quoted studies showing that religious people were more charitable, lived longer, and were happier than non-religious people. Doing away with religion, therefore, was as irrational as any religion has ever been accused of being.

    And from the PEW Forum about Mormons in America we learn that the more educated members are, the more devout they are in their Mormon faith.

    Joseph Smith hungry for wealth? In April, 1844, two months before he was murdered, he spoke to 20,000 people. If he had passed the plate and collected a dime from every person, he could have fled Nauvoo with a small fortune.

    Early on Joseph learned that vision stories weren’t popular, at least for him. If he had promoted the Book of Mormon as fiction bearing Christian ideals and started a mega-church, he could have been very wealthy.

  • terra nova Park City, UT
    Oct. 27, 2012 3:08 p.m.

    Blue wrote: "if you're going to kill, oppress or persecute people because they don't believe in the same system of magic that you do... that requires religion."

    No. Marxist-Leninist Communism embraces atheism and the abolition of religion. Under this oppressive banner, Stalin murdered and imprisoned millions of his own people.

    All without religion.

    The primary purpose of war, terror or tyranny (at any level) is lust for power and material goods. Religion, when it is used (and it is not always used) is merely a cover.

    Some call the communist belief system "secular religion." Blue may have meant that. But if so, the logic of his entire argument crumbles under the weight of the implication that HIS belief system (godless or not), is also: religion.

    Under his mean-spirited rubric, any religious person is also "willfully ignorant" sees the same as a "virtue," and does so "proudly."

    Blue is tarred by his own brush.

    Still we should hope for him. He also says that this sort of behavior is not for him. It is not for any person of good-will, religious or not. Perhaps we have common ground to build on.

  • Jeff Temple City, CA
    Oct. 27, 2012 2:37 p.m.

    It is important to separate true religious belief from cultural identification or political justification from true religious belief.

    For example, I do not consider it a fault of Islam that extremists, claiming that they represent Islam, do evil things. That the Taliban is often represented by ill-educated, disaffected young people (usually men) who are led by political extremists who distort Islam for political purposes, does not mean that Islam is at fault.

    The problem does not reside in the religion, but in the manipulation of the religious/cultural feelings of the ill-educated and ill-informed, for political purposes.

    If the illiterate of Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, were taught to read, taught to understand the the Qu'ran in either Arabic or translation, and were allowed to develop their own relationships with God according to their educated understanding of the text, assuming sanity, they would be much less likely to do anything against what their religious texts teach.

    All of the faults with religion cited by critics above are a result of generally illiterate people's manipulation by political opportunists. Very seldom is religion, faithfully followed, a problem.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Oct. 27, 2012 10:34 a.m.

    Wow, "Scientist." You're clearly intending to stick with your implied claim that Communist religious beliefs created the Gulag, that Hitler invaded Poland for religious reasons, that the French Revolution was led by its religious faith to set up the guillotine, that Mao and Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot were inspired by their religious beliefs to murder scores of millions of people, that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated (and the First World War launched) because of theology, that other countries like Britain and Germany were then drawn into that conflict not because of treaty obligations but because of religious zeal, and so on and so forth.

    And you offer in support of this a single book that argues that religion was AMONG the variables during the Cold War -- which, given the fact that the Cold War was a struggle between an aggressively atheistic movement, on the one hand, and relatively religious people, on the other, is undeniably obvious, and which, anyway, scarcely proves that religion and religious people bear the sole blame for it.

    Your credibility as a constant critic of Peterson's columns is taking a huge hit with this.

  • A Scientist Provo, UT
    Oct. 27, 2012 7:40 a.m.

    I have read credible estimates that attribute almost a Billion deaths to religion and religious wars, and less than a hundred million to "secular" wars.

    But That debate will continue...

    After all is said and done, and the death tolls debated ad nauseum, you can also boil it down to this indisputable FACT:

    In the official, holy books, scriptures, and pronouncements of religion there are countless explicit justifications for killing others.

    But NOWHERE in the official pronouncements, documents, and "sacred texts" of ATHEISM can you find even a SINGLE justification for killing others!

    Yes, that is because atheism has NO OFFICIAL SACRED TEXTS, but that just proves the point! Nobody kills "in the name of atheism" - people don't act motivated by absence of belief... as if a person would kill another human being because the killer DOES NOT believe in Leprechauns, or Sasquatch, or Nessy, or whatever.

  • A Scientist Provo, UT
    Oct. 27, 2012 6:55 a.m.


    Go back to History class.

    Start with something as simple as "Religion and the Cold War", edited by Dianne Kirby, 2002.

    When you are done with that, let me know. There are libraries full of excellent historical analysis and work that directly supports my assertion, and contradicts yours and Peterson's.

  • Hutterite American Fork, UT
    Oct. 26, 2012 11:46 p.m.

    The religious are the problem. The bully pulpit certainly enables the pulpit bullies. I am a member of humanity. An individual. And I don't for a minute enable someone to tell me they are superior because they claim to speak for god. I demand proof. Not 'god says so' or it's in some holy text. You, or god, has to prove it. God's not talking, and I don't believe you.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Oct. 26, 2012 12:39 p.m.

    "A Scientist":

    I don't think you should be accusing PETERSON of being disingenuous or historically ignorant if you're going to claim that religious believers bear primary or even sole responsibility for the massive death toll of the revolutions and wars of the past three hundred years.

    The French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Cambodian "killing fields," Stalin's Gulag, Hitler's Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, Vietnamese reeducations camps, ethnic cleaning in the Balkans . . . Religious believers didn't play a central role in any of these.

    And you can't plausibly describe the Napoleonic wars, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, World War One, the Spanish Civil War, World War Two, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam, the Biafran Civil War, or the Iran-Iraq War as primarily, let alone solely, motivated by religion.

  • dtlenox Olympia, WA
    Oct. 26, 2012 11:45 a.m.

    An analogy I like to use with regards to religion is that it's a tool intended to help people improve and become happier. Like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. When used for evil, it is not the tool's fault, it is the fault of the wielder of the tool, as the tool cannot act on its own. Based on my own personal experience, religion has played a HUGE role in my life, helping me to become a happier, more positive, more loving and caring person, a better husband and father. I can clearly see what I was like before accepting and trying to live my religion and after. For someone without that experience, one path is to automatically assume the worst and see only the bad in religion and blame the tool rather than the wielder of the tool. To me, it is highly illogical, unscientific, and ignorant to harbor such a negative and pessimistic attitude.

  • The Skeptical Chymist SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    Oct. 26, 2012 11:41 a.m.

    In my life, I've met many religious people and many non-religious people. I've met many moral and ethical people, and many who are not so moral and ethical. There doesn't seem to be much of a correlation between belief in God and moral/ethical behavior, as far as I can see. There is a tendency for religious people to *claim* to have higher moral or ethical standards, but I see no evidence of this.

    All in all, I see no evidence that religion is the source of morality or ethics.

  • fkratz Portland, OR
    Oct. 26, 2012 9:41 a.m.

    The amazing 35,000 year old cave paintings in France are a tiny example of a progression along the arc of history of our species. Today's religions would likely be quite different had the original purveyors been aware of their age or that humans were living on earth so long ago. Many such works have been lost forever.

    Religions have made claims without complete knowledge. The Bible or the Qur'an certainly don't reflect our best understanding of our past and so for some aren't the best blueprint for our future. Whatever is true and good and just within our ethics and morals and spirit is most certainly discoverable without ancient texts and should not be offensive to religion which sprang forth from an ignorant past. Yet we can build upon the knowledge they contain without the belief that they offer the only answers.

  • JoeBlow Far East USA, SC
    Oct. 26, 2012 4:55 a.m.

    AGAIN, it does not have to be all or nothing. (why does everything have to be black or white)

    Throughout history, Religion has certainly been the driving force on many tragedies. And it has done much good throughout the world.

    It is not inherently BAD or inherently GOOD.

    It is a powerful force that can be used by some to control the masses and achieve power and money.
    It can also be a vehicle to entice people to be better world citizens.

    Some of each exist. The problem is recognizing which is occurring at the time.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 10:59 p.m.


    Off the top of my head I can't think of any religion "claiming that there is no good in anything other than religion." Religious people routinely express appreciation for the goods of family, friends, charitable acts, kindness, natural beauty, inspiring music, justice, and on and on and on. Can you be a bit more specific?


    Peterson seems to have been arguing that religious belief isn't the sole or even primary cause of human evil. Do you really claim that the "facts of history" prove this to be mere "rationalization" and a "non-sustainable position." In other words, are you seriously prepared to argue on the basis of the "facts of history" that religious belief IS the primary and perhaps the sole cause of human evil? Really?

  • Wally West SLC, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 9:49 p.m.

    re: A Scientist 3:18 p.m. Oct. 25

    Its not just the British Empire.

    Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century had a "convert or die" mentality like no other & that includes what swept out of Arabia in the 7th century.

    It could be argued that Organized Religion is the Ultimate Long Con.

    Bottom line IMO... Org Rel is not a pro or con but a push.

  • jttheawesome Scranton, PA
    Oct. 25, 2012 5:09 p.m.

    It is indeed unfortunate that religion seems to be getting a bum rap, and Christianity seems to be on the top of the rap list. However, I believe that a study of both Christian and secular history will reveal that over all, Christianity has been an enormously powerful force for good in the world. Almost all the major universities in the world were founded by Christian churches. Missions all over the world have brought medical aid, food, housing, and water to millions of needy. Major medical advances have been born from Christian medical missionaries working with such dreaded diseases as leprosy and aids. Indeed, almost all of modern civilization owes the backbone of its laws and legal system to Christian ethics, morals, which in turn are found in the Bible. It is true that some evil has been perpetrated using religion as a backdrop, but that does not and cannot cancel the great good that religion, espspecially Christianity, has done and continues to do around the world.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Oct. 25, 2012 4:08 p.m.

    Mr. Peterson is correct that religion is not the sole cause of war, probably not even the cause of most wars. But as a sanctioned system of dogma (that is taboo to criticize), it is inherently divisive. And the fact is the most peaceful and healthy countries in the world today are those that take religion the least seriously. Those that take it the most serious contain large numbers of people who literally believe it is morally justifiable to kill in “defense of the faith.”

    I hope he’s right that religion turns out on balance to be a greater force for good than evil, but given the state of the world today, it is conceivable that religion will be the prime motivator in fulfilling its own apocalyptic prophecies.

  • A Scientist Provo, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 3:18 p.m.

    At one time, "the Sun never set on the British Empire". The British Crown essentially and literally dominated the world.

    And with the power of the British Crown, which was explicitly and deliberately justified by "The Divine Right of Kings", religion - and specifically Christianity - was foisted upon the world.

    When British/Christian Colonialism/Imperialism would "take over" an area of the world, it would immediately start preaching its Christianity and segregating the believers from the "others".

    These religio-political lines continue to exist today, and one has only to look at the bloody, bloody revolutions of the past 300 years to see how that religious oppression, and the throwing off of it by peoples who should have never been subjected to such illegitimate "authority", accounts for almost all the bloodshed of the past three centuries, with very few exceptions!

    So, I think we must conclude either that Daniel Peterson is disingenuous, or horribly uneducated about history.

  • LVIS Salt Lake City, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 3:09 p.m.

    "We live in a world where people sometimes kill other people in the name of religion."

    True enough. However, we do many in things in the "name of (insert whatever you want here--religion, tolerance, equality, fairness, etc)".

    That does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that religion teaches killing--quite the opposite. Because man perverts an idea does not mean that the idea was wrong.

    Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Tamerlane, Mao Tse-tung, Idi Amin, etc. The list is endless. These men were the cause of the death of millions, and none were 'religious' men.

    "Religion demands that it be exempt from critical examination, it makes willful ignorance into a virtue, and it does it proudly."

    Really? Where does any religious teaching make this demand? Where does any religious teaching claim that ignorance is a virtue? And--where does it teach any of this 'proudly'? Your shibboleth sounds more like the definition of socialism to me.

  • outdoorsguy SANDY, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 2:50 p.m.

    I have been active in religion all my life. 99% of what I have observed religion inspire people to do at the local level has been positive. Help your neighbors, including food bank, yard clean up for widows, give money and material things to the poor, and more. It encourages love and service to family. It softens hard edges and encourages us to repent and forgive. It promotes good choices.

    However, having said that, I think religion has been used for evil historically and even currently with tremendous force and impact. Terrorism is a word that was created to describe and define the behavior of religious extremists. Religion is used as an excuse to mistreat women and deny them education, privileges like driving and voting, and even forcing them to completely hide themselves and never speak to men except their husbands. It has been used as an excuse to sponsor genocide and conquer countries. Once people start perceiving themselves as "righteous" or "chosen" or "appointed to speak for God", they can justify doing just about anything.

    So, from a believer, religion is a great force for good, but it is also used as a great force for evil.

  • donn layton, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 2:44 p.m.

    To Red Corvette And religion should not be credited for morality either.?

    I was in NKP Thailand and LAOS in 1969-70. There were Christian missionaries
    (Protestant)feeding the starving mountain tribesmen.
    I heard of Catholic nuns sharing Christs’ love in orphanages near and in combat
    The Salvation army(evangelical Christians) feeding the hungry and preaching the
    Gospel in Saigon.
    There were Paid Military Chaplains (Christian and Jewish) praying and
    serving communion in harms way. Some were killed and some received the Medal of
    Our medic was SDA who could have received a deferment.
    We had some Buddhist Monks not disclose our position which may have saved
    I was not a Christian then but I believed in God, I don’t recall any atheists .

  • skeptic Phoenix, AZ
    Oct. 25, 2012 1:10 p.m.

    Mr. Peterson always loyal to his religious agenda regardless of facts or history, again proves the power of rationalization to promote a non- sustainable position.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Oct. 25, 2012 12:40 p.m.


    I leave it to Pres. Hinckley: "I see so many good people everywhere—and there’s so much of good in them. And the world is good. Wonderful things are happening in this world. This is the greatest age in the history of the earth."


    Please. The most faithful LDS I know are quite rational and are NOT willfully ignorant. Many are folks who employ critical examination daily in their professional lives. Whether you find that their answers are sufficient for you is one thing. But they clearly find them sufficient for themselves.

    Surely you know at least one or two persons of faith who are worthy of your respect as being insightful and thoughtful folks? I know many such people of faith both LDS and not.

  • Kalindra Salt Lake City, Utah
    Oct. 25, 2012 12:06 p.m.

    I would be more than happy to stop blaming all the ills of the world on religion if the religious would kindly stop claiming that there is no good in anything other than religion.

  • Blue Salt Lake City, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 11:56 a.m.

    What is good about religion is not unique to religion, and what is unique to religion is not good.

    You can provide great humanitarian service in a multitude of ways without religion, but if you're going to kill, oppress or persecute people because they don't believe in the same system of magic that you do... that requires religion.

    Religion by its very nature seeks to terminate rational, evidece-based inquiry of its foundational beliefs and its actions. Doubt me? Try opening a conversation on the real-world evidence pertaining to church history, fincances, prophecy, or "miracles."

    Religion demands that it be exempt from critical examination, it makes willful ignorance into a virtue, and it does it proudly.

    No thanks, that's not for me.

  • Verdad Orem, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 11:37 a.m.

    Unwieldy Toaster, how did you manage to read Peterson's column and still come up with the idea that he "set out to vindicate religion from any evil doing"? He obviously set out to do nothing of the kind. In fact, he actually says that ""Like many things, religion can play a positive or a negative role."

    Incredibly, you quote that sentence, and then you suggest that, despite his efforts to argue for a completely different conclusion, that's all he "actually accomplished."

    You seem to have arrived at your view of Peterson's article without paying any serious attention to what it really says.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Oct. 25, 2012 11:34 a.m.


    "....Some speculate that was Joseph Smith's reason for the Book of Mormon and building the church. Power, money, and lust...."

    A few years after publication of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith made the startling confession that he was warned by Moroni that “Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. “

    That angel not only knew about Joseph’s poverty but had heard about his failed efforts as a money digger. Of course, Joseph could have made it all up to make a more credible story if he was really that unscrupulously cynical. Or maybe an endeavor that began as a get rich quick scheme brought out something better in him. The creative process doesn’t always follow a predetermined course.

    I’m just speculating, as you are. But to millions of believers, Joseph really did translate an ancient record by the gift and power of God.

  • Moontan Roanoke, VA
    Oct. 25, 2012 11:25 a.m.

    Country A wants country B's resources, or simply its space. It invokes God to justify its actions and to motivate its citizens. This isn't a war motivated by religion. Religion was just the innocent passerby who was grabbed and forced into the town hall meeting and used as justification for doing something they wanted to do to begin with.

    Suppose we outlaw Religion tomorrow (much the same way Communism did only to regret later). Does anyone here want me to rely on the goodwill of Man for charity, hospitals, etc? Man is basically good? All wars will cease? History shows that Man is a selfless, caring creature who, without the evil influence of religion, would live in peace with everyone? Please.

    Religion isn't the be-all end-all answer to everything; nor the cause of misery the world over.

  • TimothyR Everett, WA
    Oct. 25, 2012 9:47 a.m.

    It is not so much about Religion that should be blamed for particular "evils" and human tragedies. Part of our humanity is that we tend to blame a particular movement because of the actions of particular individuals within that movement. This is not to say that some movements do deserve to be called out. However, in the case of religion, it is individuals that may hold to a particular belief system and then act out in nefarious actions. It is time that people stop using religion as the end-all-be-all scapegoat and actually condemn the actions of people, not what they claim to believe in and adhere to. I mean, if religion is responsible for all the evils in the world, then atheism is just as responsible for all human tragedies because of individual atheists.

  • christoph Brigham City, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 9:46 a.m.

    Mankind could not and would not invent the commandments on its own; the commandments came from above. What man would suggest fasting or keeping sabbath day holy or loving one's enemies or turning the other cheek, or giving a generous fast offering, if he wasn't commanded to do so? Religion and sacred books could not have originated from man.

  • LValfre CHICAGO, IL
    Oct. 25, 2012 9:33 a.m.

    "And surely it requires little imagination to think of other things besides religion that lead to war. (Pride, greed and lust come to mind.)"

    Some speculate that was Joseph Smith's reason for the Book of Mormon and building the church. Power, money, and lust (women). He certainly received it despite what outsiders saw.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Oct. 25, 2012 9:04 a.m.

    My personal experience with religion has had its unpleasant episodes but for the most part has been positive. It provides a community joined in trying to understand what life is about and what is the right and ethical thing to do. Religion often provides an inner reserve of strength to see us through the tough times of bereavement and despair.

    But religion has its dark side as well, as we all know. We live in a world where people sometimes kill other people in the name of religion. It can make people closed-minded and foster feelings of exclusiveness and group superiority. Like anything else, religion doesn’t cause all the world’s problems so much as it mirrors them.

  • O'really Idaho Falls, ID
    Oct. 25, 2012 8:38 a.m.

    If we were to return to the peaceful and nonconfrontational state of the cavemen, we'd have to get rid of politics, philosophy, scientific processes and all forms of educated thought. WE'd have to live like...cavemen.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Oct. 25, 2012 8:14 a.m.

    Like the Northern Ireland conflict, religion is often simply a mask for or a marker of a whole host of other, non-religious issues that drive the real conflict.

  • bandersen Saint George, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 7:36 a.m.

    Unweildy toaster: Regarding, "If religion is divinely inspired why does it only play a positive or negative many things?" Because Jesus Christ believed in choice, something that can't be found in the philosophies of men as embodied in the current struggle to limit government, which is driven by compulsion, not choice!

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 7:35 a.m.

    Religion isn't responsible for all the worlds ills, in fact it has done substantial good. However it is also responsible for a lot of bad. Especially where and when it was allowed to have more power than it does here and now. It claims to be representative of a loving God, in too many instances it hasn't behaved this way.

  • Unwieldy Toaster Bluffdale, UT
    Oct. 25, 2012 7:24 a.m.

    Mr. Peterson, it seems that you set out to vindicate religion from any evil doing. What you actually accomplished is this one liner "Like many things, religion can play a positive or a negative role."

    It's true that many things can be positive or negative. Cake for instance, or secularism, or mormonism, or bird watching.

    In my mind this is another example of how religion is actually a contrivance of man. If religion is divinely inspired why does it only play a positive or negative many things?