, Salem, MA


June 27, 2013

Column: It is time to rethink religion

Last week’s column discussed the problem of faith — and true believing of any sort. I distinguished between healthy opinions — beliefs that we hold but that are open to new information and subject to adjustment — and unhealthy fundamentalisms, which are beliefs that we will not question and about which we will brook no doubt.

I pointed out that we can hold rigid, zealous positions about any number of things. We can be dogmatic about our politics, religions, art, food preferences, patriotism, privacy rights, environmental defense, gun ownership and many other things — really anything. But a common denominator behind all fanaticism is our certainty that our belief is the only correct one. And our minds are closed.

This column will focus on only one category of belief — one that is causing immense trouble across the world today — religious belief.

For the past 10 years especially, there has been a growing discussion about the damage that the very existence of religion is causing. Some thinkers, while acknowledging the significant good that religion can do, are proposing that it does more harm than good, and that it is time for us to voluntarily abandon either all of religion or significant aspects of it. A growing body of literature is examining that hypothesis.

Four books in particular are notable. They are: “The End of Faith,” by Sam Harris; “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins; “Breaking The Spell,” by Daniel Dennett; and “God Is Not Great,” by Christopher Hitchens.

These books are complex and not easily summarized, but one of their main points essentially is that there cannot be good religion without bad religion. Because the Bible, the Koran and the seminal texts of other religions all contain exhortations to do both good and bad, there is always the reality that some worshipers choose the biblical (or other) instructions to do harm.

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