Is religion a force for good? 30

One of our highly valued contributing readers, Jeanne, writes in a comment:

We may not like the form of “stabilization” that comes from Islam, but it worked to set up the type of community and family life that Mohammed desired. We may not like the “stabilizing” influence of Christianity from a thousand years ago, but it did the same. We may not like the Christianity of today that came from the Reformation, but it was a stabilizing factor of the beginning of our nation and forms the backbone of many communities by supporting the family, the individual and charities, which benefit them each. Judeo-Christian beliefs and values aided by the Enlightenment (or vice-versa) set the tone for the moral populace that was so important to our Constitutional Republic when it was making its mark and requiring such principled and responsible individuals to form a United States loosely held together by the laws of men and not divine-rule royalty or theocratic forces of Rome.

If we did not have such an organized Communist movement that worked on our nation for a century, helping to secularize the populace, we might have found that those who left the Judeo-Christian religion behind were still moral/ethical and responsible individuals disciplined enough to make a Constitutionalist proud, but that is not how it worked out. Instead we have no consequences for unethical behavior, because there is a deplorable lack of guidance for proper parental behavior, no reason to be ashamed of bearing out-of-wedlock children, no stigma to a man abandoning all his fatherly duties, no desire to be responsible, no desire to have allegiance to one’s community or country or to obey the nation’s laws and respect its heritage. And that has not so much come about as people left their church, but because of Progressive influence that has been very well done. Most people need religion to maintain a discipline of responsibility and morality.

We think it is a comment that deserves attention.

This is our review of it:

On Islam and the family: Muslim men can marry as many wives as they can afford to keep. The wives are totally subjected to the will of the husband. He is commanded by the Koran to beat her if he judges her to be disobedient or insubordinate in any way. There is no such thing as rape within marriage – a husband can rape his wife. A husband can divorce a wife by saying three times that he divorces her. For her, divorce is difficult to the point of being almost impossible. She cannot have custody of children past their infancy. A daughter can inherit only half as much as a son. If a woman is raped and four male witnesses did not witness actual penetration, she is not only considered uninjured, she is accused of illicit sexual intercourse which is a capital offense. Execution is by stoning. There is no lower limit to the age at which girls can be married. Little girls can be married to elderly men. Girls as young as five can be and often are raped by their lawful husbands literally to death. That was indeed the type of family life that Muhammad was said to desire. But if that is “stabilization”, then stability is no virtue.

On “Judeo-Christian”: This is a favorite hyphenation in the West of late. But it makes no more sense than would “Christio-Muslim”. (Islam derived some ideas from Christianity but it is a very different creed.) Christianity was a revolution against Judaism. The essential moral point of Jewish religious teaching was the idea of justice. (What those ancient men thought was just doesn’t match in every particular with what we may think is just, and the Jewish God is more a god of revenge than of justice, but the thrust of the doctrine was that guilt must be punished and innocence protected.) Christianity substituted love for justice. The guilty must be forgiven. The sin can be condemned but not the sinner. St. Paul, who is the author of the Christian religion (see the essay listed in our margin under Pages, The Birth and Early History of Christianity) wanted to abandon the Jewish Law altogether, insisting that it had been superseded by the “sacrifice” of “the Christ”. But the Church fathers could not organize an antinomian church so retrieved the entire Jewish bible as a prologue to their own “Testament” for the sake of preserving the moral law – which is to say, the “ten commandments”. They also needed the Jewish Bible for the prophesies of the Messiah, since they held Jesus to be the fulfillment of them. They changed the meaning of “Messiah” from ”King” to “God”, and declared that God was not One – the central tenet of Jewish theology – but Three. So little more than  a few laws, common to all the law codes of the Middle East and probably everywhere, remained of Judaism in Christianity. Christianity with its extreme intolerance even of slight doctrinal differences came down as a long night on Western Europe for a thousand years. Terrible religious wars between Christian factions, and between Christians and Gnostics such as the Cathars, took untold numbers of lives, century after century. What happened to families and the stability of communities while the Papal Inquisition was at work? Or in the civil wars fought over doctrinal differences? Or to the families and communities of the Jews persecuted throughout Christendom? It’s a blood-soaked history. When the Reformation came, the Protestant churches were as intolerant as the Roman Catholic church. The darkness was lifted at last only by the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment was a revolution against all the orthodoxies of all the churches, and broke their power. Western greatness dates from the Enlightenment. Doubt, valued by pre-Christian Greece and Rome, came back from long suppression to challenge the churches’ insistence on unquestioning conformity. The two greatest products of the Enlightenment were Science and the Constitution of the United States of America.

In a nation that made no laws respecting religion, the history of Western religion changed. Old historical religious conflicts were put to rest. In America, millions live peacefully with neighbors of different faiths and none. (But new ideologies have arisen, secular religions, stirring up antagonisms as intense and bitter as did the old.)

It may well be the case now that American church-going families are in general happier and more successful than others. It may well be that the abandonment of traditional religion contributed of late to delinquency, fatherlessness, and disregard of familial, patriotic, and civic responsibility.

But does that mean most people need religion to live responsibly and morally?

Did most people behave more morally and responsibly when they feared divine retribution? Was there in fact less theft, rape, and murder when, through the long Christian centuries,  everybody went to church? And if so, was it a good bargain to have more security for one’s possessions and one’s person at the price of living one’s entire life in terror of eternal hellfire?

In the past, in the long perspective, has religion proved itself to be a force for good?

Is it good now for a civilized educated nation to teach children to believe that a person rules over the universe, continually watching their every thought and deed so as to reward or punish them?

Is it good if the citizens of a free republic believe that a Lord, a King, an invisible Sovereign rules over them?

Is it good to kneel to, worship, suffer for, pray to, an omnipotent, omniscient, unknowable, immortal Tyrant?

Posted under Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Religion general, United States by Jillian Becker on Friday, May 24, 2019

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