Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?


Religion Hurts, Why religions do harm as well as good by John Bowker, a book review

This is a beautifully written attractive hardback published by SPCK London 2018.

If religion can hurt or heal as this book says, what if it is God’s religion? It does not even matter for no religion has a monopoly on helping people. Religion says it does matter for only God has the right to set up a religion and use it to bring us to him. But how can it matter if all of us on earth are just as good or bad as each other? Religion is acting like an ideology with lies and pretence and double speak.

Suppose God did set up a religion. If God is good then the followers of his religion are somehow injecting harm in it. They turn what is innately good into something that is innately both good and bad. It is not right to accuse people like that over God who may not exist when you cannot prove him or cannot prove that the religion is his.

Or maybe you will decide that if some supernatural power set up the religion then it is a morally dubious one.

The fact remains that if a religion is saying it came from God then even if it says God is good it is still suggesting he might not be. You can take a position but unless the position is 100% firm which it cannot be there are suggestions being made that you may not talk about. But they are there. If the religion imagines it is from God and is not then God himself is being abused in a sense, in the name of religion.

A manmade religion will hurt as well as heal. It should be regarded as sad that there is that possibility of harm. But saying the religion is from God

A religion that can hurt or harm is not the same as a religion that can be used to hurt. The latter is not the religion hurting. To say that religion hurts or harm is to say it has no right to be immune from criticism. Also, as each religion hurts in different ways a person should be granted encouragement to find a religion that suits them even if it means leaving their own. Yet Catholicism, Mormonism and Islam are examples of religions that just won't let go. A decent humble religion encourages you to go and throws a party if you have found what is right for you.

Religion is also not something that accidently hurts. We are talking here about something that does good to you but with a but. It might turn nasty.

The title of the book is interesting for it denies that religion can say it is just about good and refuse to take responsibility for the bad. Whatever religion means it does not mean something that is just good. That means you don’t need religion to be good or bad or both. It means that all thought systems and communities are as good or bad as each other. It means that a religion by seeking to stand out and monopolise good works is being bad. It's being cynical.

In the introduction, he mentioned how after the terrible religiously linked attacks in the United Kingdom in 2017 which he refers to as “made by people who had some connection with Islam” people were asking if religion does more good than harm.

I would say it depends on the religion. One religion or one holy book may do more harm than another. But we must be clear that good works no matter how great cannot be used as an excuse for saying the bad is in any way okay or does not show the dark side of the religion.

He wrote that the attackers had some connection with Islam. A religion should be assessed by the influence it has on people even if they are poor members or potential converts. It will not do to state, “The attackers are not Muslim at all!” That is no help and is denying the obvious, religion just can't be all good. It is clearly trying to use the deaths or injuries as a way of saying, "No Muslim or whatever would do that." It is using them as propaganda for the religion.

“Thus when in Manchester, in May 2017, a suicide bomber with unequivocal Muslim connections killed 22 people in addition to himself and injured more than 200 others, many Muslims said that it was the act of a degraded individual and that it has nothing to do with the real Islam: Islam, they said, is a truly peace-loving religion. Many non-Muslims agreed, including Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour Party, who said repeatedly in his election campaign at the time that the act was ‘a perversion of Islam, a complete perversion of Islam’.

To this I wish to say that to call it a perversion of Islam is one thing, but to call it a complete perversion is absurd when the religion in its Sharia law and holy book do glorify unnecessary violence. And as violence or praising violence leads to disorder it is best described as not a perversion but an outcome to be expected. And nothing manmade is ever a complete perversion for there is something dark in everything we do.

The author writes, “Yet there are other Muslims who take the opposite point of view, and who insist that the truly faithful are those who obey the command of God in the Qur’an to fight against, and if necessary kill, those who attack any Muslims.”

He writes, “Which – if either – of those two accounts of Islam is correct? Or are both? Clearly, the answer we give makes a massive difference, but no serious response is possible unless we understand the long-running, complicated and often fiercely contested arguments among Muslims themselves”.

In other words Corbyn go and mind your own business. The point is we cannot dogmatically say if Islam is violent or not for it cannot say it itself. The door is open for violent disciples of Allah. That is the point.

Nobody has thought of defining religion as being based on a book that is to be considered the same as if God wrote it or protected the writers from doctrinal or moral error.  Or you could define religion in its fullest sense as what appears when people take such a book seriously.

The author then speaking of fundamentalists starts to ask if the text dictates its meaning to the reader or if it is up to the reader to discern the meaning.  "Dictation theories of meaning allow the text to move from page to person in a direct way."  Both dictation of meaning and you discerning are compatible.  Dictation seems to be the only way to stop a person being led astray by somebody claiming to having authority from God.   It frees you from that.  Liberals who oppose dictation are really just up to something.

Next we are told about Jihad which comes from jahada or he struggled. Muhammad told his troops they came back from the lesser jihad when they were entering Medina after a battle. The greater jihad is considered a spiritual battle within oneself against sin. Oddly enough in a religion that was into polygamy, hitting women, and has a low standard of sin this spiritual battle cannot be what we think it is. In Christian cultures, the Christian needs constant training to love God more and more and with all their heart and to be humble, chaste, generous etc. The greater jihad is best understood as being about believing the religious things and the claims about the Qur’an. As holy war is commanded, it follows the greater jihad means overcoming any aversion to holy war. Why else would the spiritual and bloody jihad be so linked that they even get summarised as jihad? It is one jihad with two sides not two jihads.

Qur’an 22:39 is quoted, “Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is made, because they are wronged – and truly Allah is most powerful for their aid – [they are] those who have been expelled from their homes, in defiance of right – [for no cause] except that they say, ‘Our Lord is Allah’”

Here Allah gives permission to fight. In other words, he makes it their choice. There is no concern if it is the wrong choice for many wars thought to be just and wise turned out to be anything but. And the promise is that Allah will help in the battle. This show exactly why faith in wartime is so dangerous. Those who praise faith in peacetime don’t know what they are talking about.

In the introduction the author asks what religion means. He said that religio in Lucretius when he wrote, “How many evils has religion caused!” is not the same thing as what Marx and Engels attacked when they said religion was the opiate of the people. I would advise not getting into that except to say that for Lucretius religion meant running after gods for favours and for Christianity/Islam it is about dedication to a God who is claimed to be absolute goodness. Both Lucretius and Marx/Engels could still be right to be critical of religion as it is in their day.

At this point, I would like to add that religion for a Muslim does not mean the same thing as for a Hindu. For a Muslim, you need a prophet or prophets who are basically dictating the words of God word for word. That is what makes a religion. Hinduism holds that there are many gods and you just choose whatever works for you and its true for you.

The Christian might say that religion is nothing more than Jesus Christ himself. The idea is that people are in a relationship with him and they learn from him and get spiritual food to be good from him. He is the doctor for sinners. Christ is Christianity. So religion is a person not a gathering of similar beliefs even though being with this person may lead to a gathering. This means that no pope or individual has the right to demand to be seen as Christian for only Jesus assesses that. It is a way of avoiding confusion if some liar or heretic pretends to be Christian and lies about the principles. It means that no other religion is really religion in any proper sense. In this view, if people who say they are devoted to Jesus are not on the whole any different from atheists and those who are not devoted to Jesus then Jesus is to blame. A relationship with him is not producing results so it falls back on him. He stands condemned.

He is firm, “religions have been and still are involved in many of the most difficult and apparently insoluble conflicts around the world.” He is clear concerning terrorism that saying, “violence of this kind is not caused by religions but only by the perversion and corruption of religions” is false.

The author decides that paradoxically religion is both good and bad and extremely good and extremely bad. “The paradox of religion, that religions are such bad news (when they are) because they are such good news.” If religion is about extremes in the way nothing else is then that is a worry. Why does it have to be so extreme? And extreme good balanced with extreme evil or even the threat of extreme evil is useless. Better to be more moderate and do more good than bad. If you are like that then there is no need for religion. The extreme element would be a hint of some psychological disorder.  The author has as good as defined religion as extremism!  The good then is actually evil if the leaning towards extremism is behind it!  Religion depends on pushing forward examples of its extreme good in order to silence those who see through its facade.  They don't want to come across as callous evil cynics.

Fanatics will always exchange one form of fanaticism for another one. It is like there is a hole there that does not care what fills it as long as it is a belief that goes too far.  That is why we have examples in history of fanatics doing good obsessively and benefiting many and then converting then to some belief system that wants innocents hurt.  Extremely good religion then is paradoxically bad!

He warns that he wrote in 1985 that politicians cannot really know what they are talking about when they talk religion. That is very true and yet you see the media influenced by what politicians say about religion when they should be talking to the real experts

He rejects the notion that God is so different from us and transcendent that different religions with diverging views of God are differing in the detail but are reaching out to and getting the one God. This is really making God so vague that it can mean anything. It does not fit the Bible God’s opposition to other views of deity. He writes, “One might conclude that religions are simply different roads leading to the same destination. But not all roads lead to the same destination simply by virtue of being roads.” One God account may be true to the exclusion of others. I would add the notion of all religious people being on the same road is hypocrisy for they are not at the destination yet so how do you know who is going to get to the destination? If you are not at it already then you might never make it.

The lie that all religions are somehow the same is dangerous for it dismisses conflict between religion as a mistake when it is deeper than that and down to fundamental differences. It is going to lead to a dangerous optimism.

He talks about religion and religious. The two might be or not be the same thing. It depends. A person who is not in the Catholic religion or baptised and thus is not considered Christian might take up the religious practice of the rosary.

For some it is dangerous to be religious for they do evil in the name of faith. For others involvement in a religion is what is dangerous. It depends. Or being both may lead to grave harm.

He agrees with Wittgenstein that religions are recognised by having family resemblances. It is something like Augustine said that we know when we see it but it is hard to explain it.

Interestingly he warns that using Occam's’ Razor to make explanations as simple as possible assume that nature is simple in the first place. This is an error. Making something as simple as it can be can still leave you with something complicated. Occam's does not call nature or whatever it comes from simple. It merely asks that you avoid too many explanations for something. Use what is needed.

He goes on to reject the Astonishing Hypothesis. This is that because all your feelings and loves and joys and choices can be explained in reductionist fashion as molecules and nerve cells at work that means nothing more is needed. So God’s and magic and souls are out. You could say that that reductionism is all we need so if there is anything else it does not matter.

He writes that to assume, “that claimed religious constraints are always absurd and wrong makes it impossible to understand what religions are.” But if religion is absurd what would you expect?

He points out how many Muslims would side with the Qur’an for saying there was Adam and Eve and dismiss evolution as bad science. Even those who wait for a solution to the conflict expect an answer that shows the Qur’an to be correct. He tells us that Jews and Muslims have dismissed the science that an animal must be stunned to be humanely killed for meat. The question is if councils should ban halal meat being despatched to Jewish and Muslim schools. If you regard animal welfare as a hugely serious matter and hold that those who hurt animals are edging close to hurting people then you have to hold that this makes the religions undesirable and believers should disband.

He quotes Dagobert Runes in The War against the Jew page 82. “No group or nation or alliance of nations in all known history has ever perpetrated on a hapless minority such sadistic atrocities over so long a time as the Christians have on the Jews. Not one denomination or another, but all did, and especially those of the Catholic faith.” In the light of how Jesus said by your fruits you know them you would wonder what is going on.

The book says that Darwin did not like the phrase natural selection. It points out that the notion has turned into a justification for aggression in politics and business and economics to name a few things. Darwin preferred “natural preservation”. The idea is that a battle against rivals cannot be as important as preserving your own social group.

I would suggest that the two phrases are different ways of saying the same thing. You cannot preserve your social group and genes without being ready to destroy or incapacitate enemies. War is about trying to preserve those you perceive as your own. In fact natural preservation is more manipulative and dangerous than natural selection which is simply being blunt and honest.

The author thinks that natural preservation is the reason religion concentrates so much on family and sex and children. It is about gene preservation. I would call it a form of mild eugenics!

Richard Dawkins is criticisied for his theory of the selfish gene. The error is that the gene which holds the DNA is thought just because it holds DNA to be about making sure bodies survive well enough to transmit DNA. The interesting thing about this logic is that the gene is selfish if there is a God. It depends on his intention. If it is just there it is just there. If there is intent then it is set up to organise competition and taking from the weak to live.

I dismiss the author's notion that it is the selfless gene we should talk about for genes do not have a self. Why can it be about neither self or non-self? The author says it is just very dull and boring and it is about just, “Transmit me”. Wondering if genes have a self is as pointless as wondering if gemstones think about Christmas dinner.

Next we are told that these genes with no self lead to bodies that do have self and are able to sacrifice it altruistically and live for the good of others.

This talk of the selfless gene leads the author to the spurious notion that the selfless gene is the reason why we have religions that are about unselfishness.

The real reason for this bizarre logic is that if you believe we arise from genes and they are of extreme importance and make us who we are, it would be strange to say there is a God who wants us to be brethren but who has left genes to -

Act as if they are just there

Act as if it does not matter if we are selfish or not

Act as if we should be about ourselves to the exclusion of others

The book explains how the altruism in human nature leads to religion endorsing sacrifice. A helpful list is made. Sacrifice can be a way of cleansing sin. Dealing with illness and ill fortune. Turning away the anger of the deity or an enemy. Saying thanks. Offering a deity something in the place of another for example offering a sacrifice of an animal for all life belongs to the deity anyway. [I wish to add this makes no sense. If the deity owns the animal's life then the animal does not need killing. It is killing and using worship as an excuse.] Having meals to unite people together in a community and that entails sacrifice. He mentions “dealing with violence and anger through catharsis (defined, in part, by Aristotle in Poetics as leading through religious frenzy to healing and purgation), accepting death in order to give life to others." This one was worth quoting for it virtually says religion can be your punchbag. You unleash your hateful violent side and indulge it. Religion gives you an outlet instead of you attacking others and ending destroyed by them. He says sacrifice is one of the family resemblances of religion.

The book says that “genes do not control what any individual or group of people must do.” What they do is put them in a state of preparedness. They can do it but don’t have to. For LGBTQ this means you are made able to be LGBTQ but don't have to be. "Born this way" is called a cruel lie.

“It is clearly possible to scan and map the parts of the brain that are engaged and active in those beliefs and behaviours that we call ‘religious’”.

This is hard to make sense of. If we do spiritual things the brain will react. So the wording should be “It is clearly possible to scan and map the parts of the brain that are engaged and active in those beliefs and behaviours that we call ‘SPIRITUAL’”. There can be spiritual without religion but there cannot be religion without spiritual. His point has no real relevance to religion. And as spiritual is really a cloak for emotional experiences of a certain type spiritual is not the right word either but we will say no more.

The book says that religion speaks of how human nature has a transcendental part, something that is bigger than mere nature. “Religions speak of this characterized individuality in such terms as atman, nephesh, jiva or soul. These terms are not synonyms, and they demand much careful analysis if we are to understand what religions mean by them”. If religions then cannot agree on what your spirit means then that means there are huge differences between the religions. All religions at heart are not the same at all.

The book says how Qur’an 14:1 is clear that the Qur’an is a book sent down from God to the prophet so that he may lead all people from darkness to light. In other words, Islam is the only truth. Everything else is darkness. If there is truth in other religions, they are dark even if it a lighter shade of darkness. You still need the light. Thus Christianity is darkness. That is an example of a religion that cannot be mocked by being told that it is basically the same as paganism and everything else.

Core religious values differ from religion to religion. As life is important, it follows that if a religion considers animals to belong to God, and remember Jesus said God loved animals, then it has a huge unsurmountable difference with a religion that sacrifices animals. If a moral teaching is that you are evil if you hurt animals then what about religions that won’t stun animals before killing them for food?

The book says that human rights are assumed to be true for we all have a state of nature, it is just the way we are. But this is vague which is why one party won’t agree with the other about what we really are and what rights we need. Needing food and water and other things is not enough to show we all have a common human nature and are alike enough to apply the same rights to us all. There are other issues such as how we think and feel. It is obvious we should have liberty and happiness but that does not tell us much about how to go about providing them.

I wish the book had this point in it from the excellent work by the former bishop of Edinburgh.

“When religion enters a quarrel it adds a toxic ingredient to the mix that is not always present in other conflicts. Humans are prone to violence anyway, but if they can persuade themselves they are doing it in obedience to God it removes any chance of mercy and moderation from the conflict” page 229, A Little History of Religion by Richard Holloway. I would add that they think God is persuading them and that is the problem. The notion that God put the thought and feeling you must fight in you is one side of it. The notion that God spiritually inspires you by somehow communicating with you is the other.

Finally, I recommend Religion Hurts hugely despite the fact that as you can see there is much room for development in its ideas and deliberations.