For good people to do evil - that takes religion

"Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God's will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion."

Theoretical Physicist, Steven Weinberg speaking at Conference on Cosmic Design, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C. in April 1999.

Comment on the quote

If this quotation is to be believed, then religion inherently has the power to turn a good person into a cause of great harm.

You may answer that it has the power to turn a bad person into a cause of great good.

So it can do either. So it is not really for bad or good so what is is for? Nothing. It's just there. Strictly speaking if it is causing bad and good then it is both bad and good. It is nothing special so making it special is definitely bad. This leads to an argument that religion taken seriously is bad but otherwise religion is okay and does not matter.

You may object, "If more turn out bad than good then it is their choice rather than the religion." This makes religion a separate thing from its adherents. You could say the religion does make people bad but some become bad by choice.

Suppose religion can make the good person do bad and the bad person turn good. Is it worse to make a good person do evil than make an evil one do good?

If you have to make a decision one way or the other then clearly the answer is that it is worse to destroy the goodness in a person. If good is the main thing then destroying it is worse than trying to become it.

The evidence for Weinberg's assertion

The evidence for Weinberg’s claim is how great religious humanitarians may let their children die in agony because they think it’s a sin to get the doctor and they are to depend on prayer instead. No atheist would do that. ISIS members who rape girls from other religions pray before and after and offer the rape up to God. Religious believers may also cover up the fact that their religion is lies or man-made. They make excuses for divinely attributed violence in their scriptures instead of dismissing the books as violent and therefore man-made.

When a religion has some members who molest children and engage in violence and deceit in the name of God and who even pray as they do it, believers make excuses for it. They make excuses for the wickedness attributed to their god and their saints in their divinely inspired scriptures! The Bible is virtually a snuff film. The animal sacrifice regulations are just sick.

The problem of peace

Peace presupposes the imposition of justice and the threat of violence if you try to violate peace. What people mean by peace is outward peace and tensions can be simmering away underneath it all. Equilibrium and peace are not the same thing. This problem shows how ridiculous it is for any entity or organisation to claim to be about peace and to be intrinsically peaceful. It is simply a lie. And the entity that has violent scriptures and adores a God who waged wars even if it is thousands of years ago is a bigger liar than an entity that makes a huge effort to hate violence even if it does entirely succeed.

If you lie about being a prophet of peace and being part of a religion of peace then why do you lie? Do you care about peace enough to tell the truth?

Religion when its members do evil likes to blame them not itself. Why is it blame the religionist not the religion? That is denying that there is a problem with the religion. It is protecting the problem. No religion is truly its member's friend. As discrimination against one in a sense is discrimination against all it is only natural that a religion abusing its own will make the abuse spill out to other religions and communities and it will target them.


Good people will be bad if you put them in highly abnormal and out of the ordinary circumstances where there is a lot of harming and evil going on. Philip Zimbardo’s 1973 study found that even smart people who are very good will change when they are granted enough power and feel safe enough to be bad. Good people are really a myth. It is the environment that makes them good and look good.

If you feel that God has chosen you to be in his plan you will feel that you are protected regardless of how good or bad you are. Religious faith can and must cause the good people to feel safe enough to do harm even if they do not realise they have faith. It takes faith to be sure that you are going to be okay when there is nothing around you but chaos!

Good people and good-religious people are two categories. If the first is so prone to turning bad the second is as bad or worse. We go for worse.


To say a higher power stronger than us and smarter gave us a religious system of rules, mores, doctrine and worship is just a polite way of saying, "This is ideology." It takes away human responsibility for ideology does that in ways you may not even notice or realise. Faith in higher powers solidifies ideology. An ideology proceeds by weakening what is in its way. Every society has it in one way or another. It wants to see the end of whatever contradicts it and hopes that despite the cost it will impose its ideals - preferably by getting the people to think it is good for them without caring if it really is. Ideology can plot like that without being a religion but to be as strong as possible and to seem more persuasive it needs to become not just a religion but a "revealed" one. The ideology that makes a fiction god or a fiction version of a real God its source is serving up manipulation on a plate and has the edge over any other kind of ideology and frees its servants from feeling responsible for its creation and the harm it does.

If religion so much as makes a step towards the higher power doctrine's ideological underpinnings then it is no wonder it can destroy goodness.


As Bob Hostetler said, "We only aid such evil when we lay blame where it does not belong." Something to think about!

So what is to blame if not religion?

- It is people to blame not religion. But that assumes that religion is forced to be a weapon. But maybe it does not need forcing. It is not right to accuse people to protect a system of religious belief. Accusations are terrible at times. Bush slammed the 9/11 attackers as evil not deranged and not misguided and not as freedom fighters and not as victims. In other words they just wanted to harm and it is that simple to him. Most of us see demonisation in such thinking. It is hate speech. The Bible says that evil deeds come from evildoers in 1 Samuel 24:13. This is not stating the obvious "bad people do bad" but warning to expect evil deeds in future from evildoers.

- Bad religion happens and so does evil religion. But if a religion comes along that says that a particular country needs to be destroyed and says "everything people do they do it for a reason even if they do not know what that reason is" it is saying that worse will happen if it is not eliminated. All religion that says that is bad even if it does no harm for the thinking is just harm and potentially murderous.

- Blaming politics is mad for most suicide bombers do not do it directly for political power. 9/11 did not make Al Qaeda get political power in America. It was not intended to. Sometimes evil people are accused of hiding behind religion to chase political ends but why are they not accused of pursuing primarily religious ends not political ones? Why not say they use politics as a cover for religious goals?

A process of elimination does not erase the blame from religion at all. The question is still with us. Does it inspire and give birth to violence?


The banality of evil idea tells us how ordinary evil people - and be extension religions - are. It tells us how they use clichés and superficial arguments to make excuses for what they do. This shows that we don't need people to be clearly villains or obnoxious to know they may be evil. Religion can be summarised as in, "everything happens for a reason." This is rooted in karma and God. But unpack how evil a statement that is. "I put my baby in the crusher but I have to stop condemning myself and start praising myself for clearly the baby was going to grow up to be a sadistic serial killer or something. Everything happens for a reason and when God permits me to abuse my free will he steps in so even when I sin it happens for a reason despite my worst intentions." As an anti-theist I see faith in God as evil. The evil is hidden in nasty implications which makes it more evil not less.

Equating evil people with cartoon villains then is serving evil. It is evil to do that. Evil is more toxic than any grotesque demonic person!

The kind of evil we have just discussed shows that religion always gets people to do evil.

Religion uses the banality of evil to hide the face of evil.  When people judge a religion by the ordinary people in it they fail to see that this has nothing to do with implying or showing the religion is good.  Religion is evil for the cover-up and the clergy through talking to people know exactly what they are doing.


Weinberg is right. The good is the enemy of the best which is why religious thinking can get good people to do evil.

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