Criticism of religion
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|Criticism of religion|
Religious criticism has a long history. It goes at least as far back as the 5th century BCE in ancient Greece with Diagoras "the atheist" of Melos, and the 1st century BCE in ancient Rome with Titus Lucretius Carus' De Rerum Natura. It continues to the present day with the advent of New Atheism, represented by authors and journalists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Victor J. Stenger, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Alternatively, "religious criticism" has been used by the literary critic Harold Bloom to describe a mode of religious discussion that is secular but not inherently anti-religion. Criticism of religion is complicated by the fact that there exist multiple definitions and concepts of religion in different cultures and languages. With the existence of diverse categories of religion such as monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, nontheism and diverse specific religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and many others; it is not always clear to whom the criticisms are aimed at or to what extent they are applicable to other religions.
Critics often consider religion to be outdated, harmful to the individual, harmful to society, an impediment to the progress of science, a source of immoral acts or customs, and a political tool for social control.
The 1st century BCE Roman poet, Titus Lucretius Carus, in his work De Rerum Natura, wrote: "But 'tis that same religion oftener far / Hath bred the foul impieties of men:" A philosopher of the Epicurean school, Lucretius believed the world was composed solely of matter and void, and that all phenomena could be understood as resulting from purely natural causes. Lucretius, like Epicurus, felt that religion was born of fear and ignorance, and that understanding the natural world would free people of its shackles; however, he did believe in gods. He was not against religion in and of itself, but against traditional religion which he saw as superstition for teaching that gods interfered with the world.
Niccolò Machiavelli, at the beginning of the 16th century said: "We Italians are irreligious and corrupt above others... because the church and her representatives have set us the worst example." To Machiavelli, religion was merely a tool, useful for a ruler wishing to manipulate public opinion.
In the 18th century Voltaire was a deist and was strongly critical of religious intolerance. Voltaire complained about Jews killed by other Jews for worshiping a golden calf and similar actions, he also condemned how Christians killed other Christians over religious differences and how Christians killed Native Americans for not being baptised. Voltaire claimed the real reason for these killings was that Christians wanted to plunder the wealth of those killed. Voltaire was also critical of Muslim intolerance.
Also in the 18th century David Hume criticised teleological arguments for religion. Hume claimed that natural explanations for the order in the universe were reasonable, see Design argument. Demonstrating the unsoundness of the philosophical basis for religion was an important aim of Hume's writings.
Criticism of religious concepts 
Some criticisms on monotheistic religions have been:
- Beliefs sometimes conflict with some scientific models or findings (i.e. evolution, origin of the universe, miracles)
- Requiring behaviors that are not sensible (i.e. Old Testament prohibition against wearing garments of mixed fabrics, or punishing children of guilty parents).
- Revelations may conflict internally (i.e. discrepancies in the Bible among the four Gospels of the New Testament).
Conflicting claims of "one true faith" 
In the context of theistic belief, Stephen Roberts has claimed that he dismisses all gods in the same way others dismiss all other gods.
Survey research from the US indicates that many people change their religious affiliation over time. Those with no religious affiliation are the fastest growing group. However, this group has a relatively low retention rate (46%) when compared to other groups. Such data suggest that significant numbers of people do not believe consistently that a single faith is uniquely true.
Lack of permanence 
Opsopaus and Hitchens note obsolete religions — which no longer have active adherents — are evidence that religions are not everlasting. Including Greek mythology, Millerism, Roman mythology, Sabbatai Sevi, and Norse mythology. The short work "The Syrian Goddess" by the ancient author Lucian of Samosata provides many examples of once thriving religions that had gone out of existence.
Explanations as non-divine in origin 
Social construct 
Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens, assert that theist religions and their scriptures are not divinely inspired, but man made to fulfill social, biological, and political needs.[page needed][page needed][page needed] Dawkins balances the benefits of religious beliefs (mental solace, community-building, promotion of virtuous behavior) against the drawbacks.[page needed] Such criticisms treat religion as a social construct and thus just another human ideology.
Narratives to provide comfort and meaning 
Daniel Dennett has argued that, with the exception of more modern religions such as Raëlism, Mormonism, Scientology, and the Bahá'í Faith, most religions were formulated at a time when the origin of life, the workings of the body, and the nature of the stars and planets were poorly understood.
These narratives were intended to give solace and a sense of relationship with larger forces. As such, they may have served several important functions in ancient societies. Examples include the views many religions traditionally had towards solar and lunar eclipses, and the appearance of comets (forms of astrology). Given current understanding of the physical world, where human knowledge has increased dramatically; Hitchens, Dawkins, and Onfray contend that continuing to hold on to these belief systems is irrational and no longer useful.
Opium of the people 
Religious suffering is, at the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
According to Karl Marx, religion is a tool utilized by the ruling classes whereby the masses can shortly relieve their suffering via the act of experiencing religious emotions. It is in the interest of the ruling classes to instill in the masses the religious conviction that their current suffering will lead to eventual happiness. Therefore as long as the public believes in religion, they will not attempt to make any genuine effort to understand and overcome the real source of their suffering, which in Marx's opinion was their capitalist economic system. In this perspective, Marx saw religion as escapism.
Marx also viewed the Christian doctrine of original sin as being deeply anti-social in character. Original sin, he argued, convinces people that the source of their misery lies in the inherent and unchangeable "sinfulness" of humanity rather than in the forms of social organization and institutions, which, Marx argued, can be changed through the application of collective social planning.
Viruses of the mind 
In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins coined the term memes to describe informational units that can be transmitted culturally, analogous to genes. He later used this concept in the essay "Viruses of the Mind" to explain the persistence of religious ideas in human culture.
John Bowker criticized the idea that "God" and "Faith" are viruses of the mind, suggesting that Dawkins' "account of religious motivation ... is ... far removed from evidence and data" and that, even if the God-meme approach were valid, "it does not give rise to one set of consequences ... Out of the many behaviours it produces, why are we required to isolate only those that might be regarded as diseased?" Alister McGrath has responded by arguing that "memes have no place in serious scientific reflection", that there is strong evidence that such ideas are not spread by random processes, but by deliberate intentional actions, that "evolution" of ideas is more Lamarckian than Darwinian, and that there is no evidence (and certainly none in the essay) that epidemiological models usefully explain the spread of religious ideas. McGrath also cites a metareview of 100 studies and argues that "[i]f religion is reported as having a positive effect on human well-being by 79% of recent studies in the field, how can it conceivably be regarded as analogous to a virus?"
Mental illness or delusion 
Richard Dawkins argues that religious belief often involves delusional behavior. Others such as Sam Harris compares religion to mental illness, saying it "allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy."
There are also psychological studies into the phenomenon of mysticism, and the links between disturbing aspects of certain mystic's experiences and their links to childhood abuse. In another line of research, Clifford A. Pickover explores evidence suggesting that temporal lobe epilepsy may be linked to a variety of spiritual or ‘other worldly’ experiences, such as spiritual possession, originating from altered electrical activity in the brain. Carl Sagan, in his last book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, presented his case for the miraculous sightings of religious figures in the past and the modern sightings of UFOs coming from the same mental disorder. According to Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, "It's possible that many great religious leaders had temporal lobe seizures and this predisposes them to having visions, having mystical experiences." Michael Persinger stimulated the temporal lobes of the brain artificially with a magnetic field using a device nicknamed the "God helmet," and was able to artificially induce religious experiences along with near-death experiences and ghost sightings. John Bradshaw has stated, "Some forms of temporal lobe tumours or epilepsy are associated with extreme religiosity. Recent brain imaging of devotees engaging in prayer or transcendental meditation has more precisely identified activation in such sites — God-spots, as Vilayanur Ramachandran calls them. Psilocybin from mushrooms contacts the serotonergic system, with terminals in these and other brain regions, generating a sense of cosmic unity, transcendental meaning and religious ecstasy. Certain physical rituals can generate both these feelings and corresponding serotonergic activity."
Keith Ward in his book Is Religion Dangerous? addresses the claim that religious belief is a delusion. He quotes the definition in the Oxford Companion to Mind as "a fixed, idiosyncratic belief, unusual in the culture to which the person belongs," and notes that "[n]ot all false opinions are delusions." Ward then characterizes a delusion as a "clearly false opinion, especially as a symptom of a mental illness," an "irrational belief" that is "so obviously false that all reasonable people would see it as mistaken." He then says that belief in God is different, since "[m]ost great philosophers have believed in God, and they are rational people". He argues that "[a]ll that is needed to refute the claim that religious belief is a delusion is one clear example of someone who exhibits a high degree of rational ability, who functions well in the ordinary affairs of life ... and who can produce a reasonable and coherent defense of their beliefs" and claims that there are many such people, "including some of the most able philosophers and scientists in the world today."
Immature stage of societal development 
Philosopher Auguste Comte posited that many societal constructs pass through three stages, and that religion corresponds to the two earlier, or more primitive stages by stating: "From the study of the development of human intelligence, in all directions, and through all times, the discovery arises of a great fundamental law, to which it is necessarily subject, and which has a solid foundation of proof, both in the facts of our organization and in our historical experience. The law is this: that each of our leading conceptions – each branch of our knowledge – passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the theological, or fictitious; the metaphysical, or abstract; and the scientific, or positive."
Harm to individuals 
Some have criticized the effects of adherence to dangerous practices such self-sacrifice, as well as unnatural restrictions on human behavior (such as teetotalism and sexual prohibitions) and claim that these result in mental and emotional trauma of fear and guilt.
Indoctrination of children 
In the 19th century, Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that teaching some ideas to children at a young age could foster resistance to doubting those ideas later on. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, use the term child abuse to describe the harm that some religious upbringings inflict on children which include:
- Fear of punishment such as eternal damnation
- Guilt about sexual urges
- Depriving children the opportunity to think freely or openly
Dawkins states the labeling children as "Muslim child" or "Catholic child" is unreasonable since children are not mature enough to decide major questions in life for themselves. In his view, no reasonable person would speak of a "Marxist child" or a "Tory child", for instance. He suggests such labeling is not seen as controversial because of the "weirdly privileged status of religion".
On several occasions Dawkins has made the claim that sexually abusing a child is "arguably less" damaging than "the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing up a child Catholic in the first place". This claim was later rebutted by Theodore Beale who wrote that Dawkins "first provides anecdotal information from one woman who was raised Catholic, was sexually abused by a priest, and later had nightmares about Hell....Despite posing the proposition as a comparison, Dawkins does not bother to consider what, if any, the negative effects of childhood sexual trauma might happen to be" and notes that "half" of the anecdotes Dawkins cites in favour of his case "aren't even related to Catholicism". Beale cites several studies that attribute suicide to childhood sexual abuse rather than to religion. Beale also cites studies that conclude that religiousity correlates with better mental health and less likelihood of suicide. Beale concludes that "[w]hile there is no evidence that being raised Catholic is more psychologically damaging than being sexually abused as a child, there is a great deal of evidence proving the opposite."
Child marriage 
Islam has permitted the child marriage of older men to girls as young as 9 years of age. Baptist pastor Jerry Vines has cited the age of one of Muhammad's wives, Aisha, to denounce him for having had sex with a nine-year-old, referring to Muhammad as a pedophile.
The Seyaj Organization for the Protection of Children describes cases of a 10 year old girl being married and raped in Yemen (Nujood Ali), a 13 year old Yemeni girl dying of internal bleeding three days after marriage, and a 12 year old girl dying in childbirth after marriage.
Latter Day Saint church founder Joseph Smith married girls as young as 13 and 14, and other Latter Day Saints married girls as young as 10. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints eliminated underaged marriages in the 19th century, but several branches of Mormonism continue the practice.
Inadequate medical care 
A detailed study in 1998 found 140 instances of deaths of children due to religion-based medical neglect. Most of these cases involved religious parents relying on prayer to cure the child's disease, and withholding medical care.
Jerusalem syndrome 
Jerusalem has lent its name to a unique psychological phenomenon where Jewish or Christian individuals who develop obsessive religious themed ideas or delusions (sometimes believing themselves to be Jesus Christ or another prophet) will feel compelled to travel to Jerusalem.
During a period of 13 years (1980–1993) for which admissions to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre in Jerusalem were analyzed, it was reported that 1,200 tourists with severe, Jerusalem-themed mental problems, were referred to this clinic. Of these, 470 were admitted to hospital. On average, 100 such tourists have been seen annually, 40 of them requiring admission to hospital. About 2 million tourists visit Jerusalem each year. Kalian and Witztum note that as a proportion of the total numbers of tourists visiting the city, this is not significantly different from any other city. The statements of these claims has however been disputed, with the arguments that experiencers of the Jerusalem syndrome already were mentally ill.
Religions have been criticized about their views on certain issues relating to sexuality. On one hand they have been accused of opposing certain practices - such as masturbation, or certain consensual sexual acts between adults that they see as "unnatural" and asking for their legal prohibition (see sodomy laws);  and on the other hand they have been accused of promoting certain forms of sexual violence such as marital rape.
Honor killings and stoning 
Honor killings and stoning continue to be practiced today in parts of the world such as Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Mali. Cases exist where such punishment is based on what Islamic law says on dealing with adultery.
Blood sacrifice 
Hitchens claims that many religions endorse blood sacrifice, wherein innocent victims are killed or harmed to appease deities, specifically citing Judaism for its obsession with blood and sacrifice, particularly the goal of identifying and sacrificing of a pure red heifer (described in Numbers 19), the pursuit of which Hitchens characterizes as "absurd", singling out the goal of raising a human child in a "bubble" so as to "be privileged to cut that heifer's throat".
Genital modification and mutilation 
Counterarguments to religion as harmful to individuals 
Responding in the book The Irrational Atheist to criticisms that religion is harmful, Theodore Beale argues that religious individuals tend to be happier and healthier, more likely to have children, and more sexually satisfied than non-religious individuals. There is substantial research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed. Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people. An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that "high religiousness predicts a rather lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being," and a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency.[vague] Studies by Keith Ward show that overall religion is a positive contributor to mental health, and a meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 also found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization. Andrew E. Clark and Orsolya Lelkes surveyed 90,000 people in 26 European countries and found that "[one's own] religious behaviour is positively correlated with individual life satisfaction.", greater overall "religiosity" in a region also correlates positively with "individual life satisfaction". The reverse was found to be true: a large "atheist" (non-religious) population "has negative spillover effects" for both the religious and non-religious members of the population. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that "the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse."
However, as of 2001, most of those studies were conducted within the United States. There is no significant correlation between religiosity and individual happiness in Denmark and the Netherlands, countries that have lower rates of religion than the United States. A cross-national investigation on subjective well-being has noted that, globally, religious people are usually happier than nonreligious people, though nonreligious people can also reach high levels of happiness.
Harm to society 
Some aspects of religion are criticized on the basis that they damage society as a whole. Steven Weinberg, for example, states it takes religion to make good people do evil. Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins cite religiously inspired or justified violence, resistance to social change, attacks on science, repression of women, and homophobia.
Hartung has claimed that major religious moral codes can lead to "us vs. them" group solidarity and mentality which can dehumanise or demonise individuals outside their group as "not fully human", or less worthy. Results can vary from mild discrimination to outright genocide. A poll by The Guardian, a UK intellectual newspaper noted that 82% of the British people believe that religion is socially divisive and that this effect is harmful despite the observation that non-believers outnumber believers 2 to 1.
Holy war and religious terrorism 
- Religions sometimes encourage war (Crusades, Jihad), violence, and terrorism to promote their religious goals
- Religious leaders contribute to secular wars and terrorism by endorsing or supporting the violence
- Religious fervor is exploited by secular leaders to support war and terrorism
Although the causes of terrorism are complex, it may be that terrorists are partially reassured by their religious views that God is on their side and will reward them in heaven for punishing unbelievers.
These conflicts are among the most difficult to resolve, particularly where both sides believe that God is on their side and has endorsed the moral righteousness of their claims. One of the most infamous quotes associated with religious fanaticism was made in 1209 during the siege of Béziers, a Crusader asked the Papal Legate Arnaud Amalric how to tell Catholics from Cathars when the city was taken, to which Amalric replied: "Tuez-les tous; Dieu reconnaitra les siens," or "Kill them all; God will recognize his."
Arguments against religion being a significant cause of violence 
Some argue that religious violence is mostly caused by misinterpretations of the relevant religions' ethical rules and a combination of non-religious factors. Robert Pape argues that the news reports about suicide attacks are profoundly misleading: "There is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions". After studying 315 suicide attacks carried out over the last two decades, he concludes that suicide bombers' actions stem from political conflict, not religion. Michael A. Sheehan argues that many terrorist groups use religious and cultural terms to conceal political goals and gain popular support. Terry Nardin suggests that religious terrorism does not differ in "character and causes, from political terrorism." Mark Juergensmeyer argues that religion "does not ordinarily lead to violence.That happens only with the coalescence of a peculiar set of circumstances—political, social, and ideological—when religion becomes fused with violent expressions of social aspirations, personal pride, and movements for political change.":10 and that the use of the term "terrorist" depends on whether or not the speaker believes the acts involved are warranted.:9 Believers have also responded to atheists in these discussions by pointing to the widespread imprisonment and mass murder of individuals under atheist states in the twentieth century:[self-published source?]
H. Allen Orr also attributed many of the historical religious violent activities to the secular and political roles that were performed by the church in the past and noted that the recent absence of religion among the government of modern communist nations did not lead to Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, or Joseph Stalin leading any less violently. In response to some apologists who note that the lack of religion did not prevent many modern dictators from committing great acts of violence, Christopher Hitchens said: "it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or Nazis or Stalinists." Furthermore, Richard Dawkins, in response to Pope Benedict's accusations that atheism was responsible for "some 20th-century atrocities", has replied: "how dare Ratzinger suggest that atheism has any connection whatsoever with their horrific deeds? Any more than Hitler and Stalin's non-belief in leprechauns or unicorns.... There is no logical pathway from atheism to wickedness."
Suppression of scientific progress 
Early modern atheism developed in the 17th century, and Winfried Schroeder, a scholar of atheism, noted that science during this time did not strengthen the case for atheism. In the 18th century, Denis Diderot argued that atheism was less scientific than metaphysics. However, since the 19th century, both atheists and theists have said that science supports their worldviews.
John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, authors of the conflict thesis, have argued that when a religion offers a complete set of answers to the problems of purpose, morality, origins, or science, it often discourages exploration of those areas by suppressing curiosity, denies its followers a broader perspective, and can prevent social, moral and scientific progress. Examples cited in their writings include the trial of Galileo and Giordano Bruno's execution.
During the 19th century the conflict thesis developed. According to this model, any interaction between religion and science must inevitably lead to open hostility, with religion usually taking the part of the aggressor against new scientific ideas. The historical conflict thesis was a popular historiographical approach in the history of science during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but its original form is almost entirely discarded by scholars today. Despite that, conflict theory remains a popular view among the general public, and has been publicized by the success of books such as The God Delusion.
Historians of science including John Hedley Brooke and Ronald Numbers consider the "religion vs. science" concept an oversimplification, and prefer to take a more nuanced view of the subject. These historians cite, for example, the Galileo affair and the Scopes trial, and assert that these were not purely instances of conflict between science and religion; personal and political factors also weighed heavily in the development of each. In addition, some historians contend that religious organizations figure prominently in the broader histories of many sciences, with many of the scientific minds until the professionalization of scientific enterprise (in the 19th century) being clergy and other religious thinkers. Some historians contend that many scientific developments, such as Kepler's laws and the 19th century reformulation of physics in terms of energy, were explicitly driven by religious ideas.
More recently, many debates have arisen that follow a pattern of faith versus reason, in particular the rise of fundamentalist and bible literalist opposition to science and liberal democracy. Examples include the creation-evolution controversy, and controversies over the use of birth control, the separation of church and state, opposition to research into embryonic stem cells, or theological objections to vaccination, anesthesia, and blood transfusion.
Counterarguments against assumed conflict between the sciences and religions have been offered. For example, C. S. Lewis, a Christian, suggested that all religions, by definition, involve faith, or a belief in concepts that cannot be proven or disproven by the sciences. However, some religious beliefs have not been in line with views of the scientific community, for instance Young Earth creationism. Though some who criticize religions subscribe to the conflict thesis, others do not. For example, Stephen Jay Gould agrees with C. S. Lewis and suggested that religion and science were non-overlapping magisteria. Scientist Richard Dawkins has said that religious practitioners often do not believe in the view of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA).
However, research on perceptions of science among the American public concludes that most religious groups see no general epistemological conflict with science or with the seeking out of scientific knowledge, although there may be epistemic or moral conflicts when scientists make counterclaims to religious tenets. Even strict creationists tend to have very favorable views on science. Also, cross-national studies, polled from 1981-2001, on views of science and religion have noted that countries with higher religiosity have stronger trust in science, whereas countries that are seen as more secular are more skeptical about the impact of science and technology. Though the United States is a highly religious country compared to other advanced industrial countries, according to the National Science Foundation, public attitudes towards science are more favorable in the United States than Europe, Russia, and Japan. A study on a national sample of US college students examined whether they viewed the science / religion relationship as reflecting primarily conflict, collaboration, or independence. The study concluded that the majority of undergraduates in both the natural and social sciences do not see conflict between science and religion. Another finding in the study was that it is more likely for students to move away from a conflict perspective to an independence or collaboration perspective than vice versa.
Suppression of art and literature 
Muslims in Bangladesh issued a fatwa (religious decree) calling for the death of poet and author Taslima Nasrin because of the women's rights issues raised in her books, particularly her novel Lajja.
Albert Einstein stated that no religious basis is needed in order to display ethical behavior. Nobel Peace laureate, Muslim, and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi has criticized dogmatic Islam as morally deficient, arguing that it elevates to moral status many ancient and ill-informed rules that may have been designed for reasons of hygiene, politics, or other reasons in a bygone era.[verification needed] An example of this would be the idea that women and men must be kept separate, or that women who do not cover themselves up modestly have tendencies for immorality, or are in some way responsible for sexual assault.
Dawkins contends that theistic religions devalue human compassion and morality. In his view, the Bible contains many injunctions against following one's conscience over scripture, and positive actions are supposed to originate not from compassion, but from the fear of punishment.
Treatment of homosexuals 
Many major religions, most prominently traditional Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Orthodox Judaism, consider homosexuality immoral. Singer Elton John said organized religion promotes the hatred of homosexuals: "I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people... Organized religion does not seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate."
In the United States, conservative Christian groups such as the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund have filed numerous lawsuits against public universities, aimed at overturning policies that protect homosexuals from discrimination and hate speech. These groups argue that such policies infringe their right to freely exercise religion as guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Homosexuality is illegal in most Muslim countries, and in many of these countries carries the death penalty. In July 2005, two Iranian men, aged sixteen and eighteen, were publicly hanged for homosexuality, causing an international outcry. Human rights organisations estimate that hundreds of people have been executed for homosexuality by Iranian authorities since the 1979 revolution.
However, many liberal religious groups, and particularly most New Age religions, are accepting of homosexuals and do not regard their behavior as sinful, in particular: the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church, Progressive Judaism, Moravian Church, Neopaganism, Raëlism, the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalism, Haitian Voodoo, Wicca, and the Metropolitan Community Church, which was established almost specifically for this purpose.
Religion has been used by some as justification for advocating racism. The Christian Identity movement has been accosiated with racism. There are arguments, however, that these positions may be as much reflections of contemporary social views as of what has been called scientific racism.
The LDS Church excluded blacks from the priesthood in the church, from 1860 to 1978. Most Fundamentalist Mormon sects within the Latter Day Saint movement, rejected the LDS Church’s 1978 decision to allow African Americans to hold the priesthood, and continue to deny activity in the church due to race. Due to these beliefs, in its Spring 2005 "Intelligence Report", the Southern Poverty Law Center named the FLDS Church to its "hate group" listing because of the church's teachings on race, which include a fierce condemnation of interracial relationships.
On the other hand, many Christians have made efforts toward establishing racial equality, contributing to the Civil Rights Movement. The African American Review sees as important the role Christian revivalism in the black church played in the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., an ordained Baptist minister, was a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a Christian Civil Rights organization.
Treatment of women 
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There have been reports that Islam authorizes the punishment of female rape victims, such as the Saudi Arabian case where a rape victim was sentenced to receive 90 lashes because she was in a car with a man that was not her relative.
Hitchens and the United Nations also say that Islam is used to justify unnecessary and harmful female genital modification and mutilation, when the purposes range from deprivation of sexual satisfaction to discourage adultery, insuring virginity to their husbands, or generating appearance of virginity.
Witch hunts 
Witch trials by the Christian churches from 1480 through 1800 often resulted in torture or death of the alleged witch. Some were influenced by the Old Testament in the Exodus 22:18, which prescribes "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live". These trials were unfair, witchcraft was often not in evidence, and the trials were generally used to punish assertive or independent women, such as midwives, or activists.
Cruelty to animals 
Kosher slaughter has historically attracted criticism from non-Jews as allegedly being inhumane and unsanitary, in part as an antisemitic canard that eating ritually slaughtered meat caused degeneration, and in part out of economic motivation to remove Jews from the meat industry. Sometimes, however, these criticisms were directed at Judaism as a religion. In 1893, animal advocates campaigning against kosher slaughter in Aberdeen attempted to link cruelty with Jewish religious practice. In the 1920s, Polish critics of kosher slaughter claimed that the practice actually had no basis in Scripture. In contrast, Jewish authorities argue that the slaughter methods are based directly upon Genesis IX:3, and that "these laws are binding on Jews today."
Supporters of kosher slaughter counter that Judaism requires the practice precisely because it is considered humane. Research conducted by Temple Grandin and Joe M. Regenstein in 1994 concluded that, practiced correctly with proper restraint systems, kosher slaughter results in little pain and suffering, and notes that behavioral reactions to the incision made during kosher slaughter are less than those to noises such as clanging or hissing, inversion or pressure during restraint.
Other forms of ritual slaughter, such as Islamic ritual slaughter, have also come under controversy. Logan Scherer, writing for PETA, said that animals sacrificed according to Islamic law can not be stunned before they are killed. Muslims are only allowed to eat meat that has been killed according to Sharia law, and they say that Islamic law on ritual slaughter is designed to reduce the pain and distress that the animal suffers.
Recent calls for the abolition of kosher (Jewish) and halal (Muslim) slaughter were made by Germany's federal chamber of veterinarians and the Party for Animals in the Dutch parliament. The lower house of the Dutch parliament passed the bill but left a loophole saying that religious groups could continue ritual slaughter if they proved it was no more painful than other methods of slaughter. However, in June 2012, the upper house, the Senate, prevented the bill from becoming law.
Counterarguments to religion as harmful to society 
A common response to such criticisms is that those guilty of such actions are merely misguided extremists and don't represent mainstream religion, or that such things are only exceptions and that, by and large, religion is a positive civilizing influence on society. Hector Avalos counters that this may be a No true Scotsman fallacy in that decisions on which believers are considered "mainstream" and which ones are "extremist" are based on biases to support any given position.
One study notes that significant levels of social dysfunction are found in highly religious countries such as the US and that countries which have lower religiosity also tend to have lower levels of dysfunction. In response, an analysis published later in the same journal contends that a number of methodological problems undermine any findings or conclusions to be taken from the research. In the same issue, Gary Jensen builds on and refines Paul's study. His conclusion, after carrying out elaborate multivariate statistical studies, is that a complex relationship exists between religiosity and homicide with some dimensions of religiosity encouraging homicide and other dimensions discouraging it." Other studies show positive links in the relationship between religiosity and moral behavior among prisoners and the general population  — for example, surveys suggesting a positive connection between faith and altruism. Other research in criminology indicates an inverse relationship between religion and crime, with many studies establishing some degree of beneficial connections. Indeed, a meta-analysis of 60 studies on religion and crime concluded, "religious behaviors and beliefs exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior".
Some scientific studies show that the degree of religiosity is generally found to be associated with higher ethical attitudes — for example, surveys suggesting a positive connection between faith and altruism. Survey research suggests that believers do tend to hold different views than non-believers on a variety of social, ethical and moral questions. According to a 2003 survey conducted in the United States by The Barna Group, those who described themselves as believers were less likely than those describing themselves as atheists or agnostics to consider the following behaviors morally acceptable: cohabitating with someone of the opposite sex outside of marriage, enjoying sexual fantasies, having an abortion, sexual relationships outside of marriage, gambling, looking at pictures of nudity or explicit sexual behavior, getting drunk, and "having a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex."
Theodore Beale responds to criticisms that religion harms society by arguing that religious individuals tend to be more generous and more likely to have children. Moreover, a comprehensive study by Harvard University professor Robert Putnam found that religious people are more charitable than their irreligious counterparts. The study revealed that forty percent of worship service attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly as opposed to 15% of Americans who never attend services. Moreover, religious individuals are more likely than non-religious individuals to volunteer for school and youth programs (36% vs. 15%), a neighborhood or civic group (26% vs. 13%), and for health care (21% vs. 13%). Other research has shown similar correlations between religiosity and giving.
Religious belief appears to be the strongest predictor of charitable giving. One study found that average charitable giving in 2000 by religious individuals ($2,210) was over three times that of secular individuals ($642). Giving to non-religious charities by religious individuals was $88 higher. Religious individuals are also more likely to volunteer time, donate blood, and give back money when accidentally given too much change. A 2007 study by the The Barna Group found that "active-faith" individuals (those who had attended a church service in the past week) reported that they had given on average $1,500 in 2006, while "no-faith" individuals reported that they had given on average $200. "Active-faith" adults claimed to give twice as much to non-church-related charities as "no-faith" individuals claimed to give. They were also more likely to report that they were registered to vote, that they volunteered, that they personally helped someone who was homeless, and to describe themselves as "active in the community."
Corrupt purposes of leaders 
Corrupt or immoral leaders 
Hitchens has noted some leaders who have abused their positions for financial gains such as the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who owned 90 Rolls Royce cars, cult leader David Koresh, Joseph Smith who had about 27 wives, and Brigham Young who had about 57 wives.
The term dominionism is often used to describe a political movement among fundamentalist Christians. Critics view dominionism as an attempt to improperly impose Christianity as the national faith of the United States. It emerged in the late 1980s inspired by the book, film and lecture series, "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" by Francis A. Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop. Schaeffer's views influenced conservatives like Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, John W. Whitehead, and although they represent different theological and political ideas, dominionists believe they have a Christian duty to take "control of a sinful secular society", either by putting fundamentalist Christians in office, or by introducing biblical law into the secular sphere. Social scientists have used the word "dominionism" to refer to adherence to Dominion Theology as well as to the influence in the broader Christian Right of ideas inspired by Dominion Theology.
In the early 1990s, sociologist Sara Diamond and journalist Frederick Clarkson defined dominionism as a movement that, while including Dominion Theology and Christian Reconstructionism as subsets, is much broader in scope, extending to much of the Christian Right. Beginning in 2004 with essayist Katherine Yurica, a group of authors including journalist Chris Hedges Marion Maddox, James Rudin, Sam Harris, and the group TheocracyWatch began applying the term to a broader spectrum of people than have sociologists such as Diamond.
Full adherents to reconstructionism are few and marginalized among conservative Christians.[page needed] The terms "dominionist" and "dominionism" are rarely used for self-description, and their usage has been attacked from several quarters. Chip Berlet wrote that "some critics of the Christian Right have stretched the term dominionism past its breaking point." Sara Diamond wrote that "[l]iberals' writing about the Christian Right's take-over plans has generally taken the form of conspiracy theory." Journalist Anthony Williams charged that its purpose is "to smear the Republican Party as the party of domestic Theocracy, facts be damned." Stanley Kurtz labeled it "conspiratorial nonsense," "political paranoia," and "guilt by association," and decried Hedges' "vague characterizations" that allow him to "paint a highly questionable picture of a virtually faceless and nameless 'Dominionist' Christian mass." Kurtz also complained about a perceived link between average Christian evangelicals and extremism such as Christian Reconstructionism.
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- "Ostensibly scientific": cf. Adam Kuper, Jessica Kuper (eds.), The social science encyclopedia (1996), "Racism", p. 716: "This [sc. scientific] racism entailed the use of 'scientific techniques', to sanction the belief in European and American racial superiority"; Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Questions to sociobiology (1998), "Race, theories of", p. 18: "Its exponents [sc. of scientific racism] tended to equate race with species and claimed that it constituted a scientific explanation of human history"; Terry Jay Ellingson, The myth of the noble savage (2001), 147ff. "In scientific racism, the racism was never very scientific; nor, it could at least be argued, was whatever met the qualifications of actual science ever very racist" (p. 151); Paul A. Erickson,Liam D. Murphy, A History of Anthropological Theory (2008), p. 152: "Scientific racism: Improper or incorrect science that actively or passively supports racism".
- Abanes, Richard (2002). One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church. Four Walls Eight Windows. ISBN 1-56858-219-6.
- The Primer, Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities: Fundamentalist Mormon Communities (PDF). Utah Attorney General’s Office and Arizona Attorney General's Office. June 2006. p. 41. Retrieved 29 June 2010
- "Hate Groups Map: Utah". Southern Poverty Law Center.
- "Civil Rights Movement in the United States". MSN Encyclopedia Encarta. Microsoft. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 3 January 2007.
- "Religious Revivalism in the Civil Rights Movement". African American Review. Winter, 2002. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- "Martin Luther King: The Nobel Peace Prize 1964". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2006-01-03.
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- Ahmed Obaid, Thoraya (6 February 2007). "Statement on the International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation". United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Retrieved 2008-02-08.
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- Eller, Cynthia (1995). Living in the lap of the Goddess: the feminist spirituality movement in America. Beacon Press. pp. 170–175.
- Melzer, Emanuel (1997). No way out: the politics of Polish Jewry, 1935–1939. Hebrew Union College Press. pp. 81–90. ISBN 0-87820-418-0.
- Poliakov, Léon (1968). The History of Anti-semitism: From Voltaire to Wagner. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-8122-3766-8.
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- "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies)". Retrieved 2007-10-30. "There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms."
- Moreno-Riaño, Gerson; Smith, Mark Caleb; Mach, Thomas (2006). "Religiosity, Secularism, and Social Health". Journal of Religion and Society (Cedarville University) 8.
- Jensen, Gary F. (2006) Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates among Nations: A Closer Look, Journal of Religion and Society, Department of Sociology, Vanderbilt University, Vol. 8, ISSN 1522-5658
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- Saroglou, Vassilis; Pichon, Isabelle; Trompette, Laurence; Verschueren, Marijke; Dernelle, Rebecca (2005). "Prosocial Behavior and Religion: New Evidence Based on Projective Measures and Peer Ratings". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44 (3): 323–348. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2005.00289.x.
- Regnerus, Mark D.; Burdette, Amy (2006). "Religious Change and Adolescent Family Dynamics". The Sociological Quarterly 47 (1): 175–194. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2006.00042.x.
- for example, a survey by Robert Putnam showing that membership of religious groups was positively correlated with membership of voluntary organisations
- As is stated in: Doris C. Chu (2007). Religiosity and Desistance From Drug Use. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 2007; 34; 661 originally published online Mar 7, 2007; doi:10.1177/0093854806293485
- For example:
- Albrecht, S. I.; Chadwick, B. A.; Alcorn, D. S. (1977). "Religiosity and deviance:Application of an attitude-behavior contingent consistency model". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 16 (3): 263–274. doi:10.2307/1385697.
- Burkett, S.; White, M. (1974). "Hellfire and delinquency:Another look". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 13 (4): 455–462. doi:10.2307/1384608.
- Chard-Wierschem, D. (1998). In pursuit of the "true" relationship: A longitudinal study of the effects of religiosity on delinquency and substance abuse. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation.
- Cochran, J. K.; Akers, R. L. (1989). "Beyond hellfire:An explanation of the variable effects of religiosity on adolescent marijuana and alcohol use". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 26 (3): 198–225. doi:10.1177/0022427889026003002.
- Evans, T. D.,Cullen, F. T.,Burton, V. S.,Jr.,Dunaway, R. G.,Payne, G. L.,& Kethineni, S. R. (1996). Religion, social bonds, and delinquency. Deviant Behavior, 17, 43–70.
- Grasmick, H. G., Bursik, R. J., & Cochran, J. K. (1991). "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's": Religiosity and taxpayer’s inclinations to cheat. The Sociological Quarterly, 32, 251–266.
- Higgins, P. C., & Albrecht, G. L. (1977). Hellfire and delinquency revisited. Social Forces, 55, 952–958.
- Johnson, B. R.,Larson, D. B.,DeLi,S.,& Jang, S. J. (2000). Escaping from the crime of inner cities:Church attendance and religious salience among disadvantaged youth. Justice Quarterly, 17, 377–391.
- Johnson, R. E., Marcos, A. C., & Bahr, S. J. (1987). The role of peers in the complex etiology of adolescent drug use. Criminology, 25, 323–340.
- Powell, K. (1997). Correlates of violent and nonviolent behavior among vulnerable inner-city youths. Family and Community Health, 20, 38–47.
- Baier, C. J.; Wright, B. R. (2001). "If you love me, keep my commandments":A meta-analysis of the effect of religion on crime". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38: 3–21. doi:10.1177/0022427801038001001.
- Conroy, S. J.; Emerson, T. L. N. (2004). "Business Ethics and Religion: Religiosity as a Predictor of Ethical Awareness Among Students". Journal of Business Ethics 50 (4): 383–396. doi:10.1023/B:BUSI.0000025040.41263.09.
- e.g. a survey by Robert Putnam showing that membership of religious groups was positively correlated with membership of voluntary organizations
- "The Barna Update: Morality Continues to Decay" (archive copy at the Internet Archive), The Barna Group, November 3, 2003 ("The Barna Update: Morality Continues to Decay" – Summary version posted on the Barna website)
- "Religious people make better citizens, study says". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2007–10–18. "The scholars say their studies found that religious people are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community. They are more apt than nonreligious Americans to work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes – including secular ones. At the same time, Putnam and Campbell say their data show that religious people are just "nicer": they carry packages for people, don't mind folks cutting ahead in line and give money to panhandlers."
- Campbell, David; Putnam, Robert (2010-11-14). "Religious people are 'better neighbors'". USA Today. Retrieved 2007–10–18. "However, on the other side of the ledger, religious people are also "better neighbors" than their secular counterparts. No matter the civic activity, being more religious means being more involved. Take, for example, volunteer work. Compared with people who never attend worship services, those who attend weekly are more likely to volunteer in religious activities (no surprise there), but also for secular causes. The differences between religious and secular Americans can be dramatic. Forty percent of worship-attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly, compared with 15% of Americans who never attend services. Frequent-attenders are also more likely than the never-attenders to volunteer for school and youth programs (36% vs. 15%), a neighborhood or civic group (26% vs. 13%), and for health care (21% vs. 13%). The same is true for philanthropic giving; religious Americans give more money to secular causes than do secular Americans. And the list goes on, as it is true for good deeds such as helping someone find a job, donating blood, and spending time with someone who is feeling blue. Furthermore, the "religious edge" holds up for organized forms of community involvement: membership in organizations, working to solve community problems, attending local meetings, voting in local elections, and working for social or political reform. On this last point, it is not just that religious people are advocating for right-leaning causes, although many are. Religious liberals are actually more likely to be community activists than are religious conservatives."
- Brooks, Arthur. "Religious Faith and Charitable Giving".
- Brooks, Arthur C. "Religious faith and charitable giving", Policy Review, Oct–Dec 2003.
- Will, George F. "Bleeding Hearts but Tight Fists", Washington Post, 27 March 2008; Page A17
- Gose, Ben. "Charity's Political Divide", The Chronicle of Philanthropy, 23 November 2006.
- Brooks, Arthur C. Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism, Basic Books, 27 November 2006. ISBN 0-465-00821-6
- Stossel, John; Kendall, Kristina (28 November 2006). "Who Gives and Who Doesn't? Putting the Stereotypes to the Test". ABC News.
- "Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians", The Barna Update, The Barna Group, 11 June 2007.
- Hitchens, Christopher. God is not Great. pp. 155–169.
- Diamond, Sara (1989). Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right. Boston: South End Press.
- Ansell, Amy E (1998). Unraveling the Right: The New Conservatism in American Thought and Politics. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3147-1.
- Schaeffer, Francis (1982). A Christian Manifesto. Crossway Books. ISBN 0-89107-233-0.
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- Davidson, Carl; Harris, Jerry (2006). "Globalisation, theocracy and the new fascism: the US Right's rise to power". Race and Class 47 (3): 47–67. doi:10.1177/0306396806061086.
- Diamond, Sara. 1989. Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right. Boston: South End Press.
- Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-864-4.
- Clarkson, Frederick (March/June 1994.). "Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence". The Public Eye 8 (1 & 2).
- Clarkson, Frederick (1997). Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage. ISBN 1-56751-088-4.
- In her early work, Diamond sometimes used the term dominion theology to refer to this broader movement, rather than to the specific theological system of Reconstructionism.
- Yurica, Katherine (11 February 2004). "The Despoiling of America". Retrieved 3 October 2007.
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- Yurica, Katherine 2005. Yurica Responds to Stanley Kurtz Attack, 23 May 2005. Retrieved 6 October 2007.
- The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism By Chris Hedges, TheocracyWatch.
- Hedges, Chris (May 2005). "Feeling the hate with the National Religious Broadcasters". Harper's. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
- Hedges, Chris, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Free Press, 2006.
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- "The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party", TheocracyWatch, Last updated: December 2005; URL accessed May 8, 2006.
- Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.
- Diamond, Sara, 1998. Not by Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian Right, New York: Guilford Press, p.213.
- Ortiz, Chris 2007. "Gary North on D. James Kennedy", Chalcedon Blog, 6 September 2007.
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Further reading 
- Mencken, H. L. (1930). Treatise on the Gods. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8536-1.
- Russell, Bertrand (1957). Why I am not a Christian. Barlow Press. ISBN 1-4097-2721-1.
- Ellens, J. Harold (2002). The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-99708-1.
- A Historical Outline of Modern Religious Criticism in Western Civilization
- The Science of Religion by Gregory S. Paul
- The Poverty of Theistic Morality by Adolf Grünbaum
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams