How do you view the net impact of religion on the world?

That author and activist Christopher Hitchens left a massive legacy cannot be questioned. Perhaps one of his finest moments was in 2010 when he debated Tony Blair in Toronto on the question “Is Religion A Force For Good In The World?”  Inspired by that debate and in order to be able to more thoroughly describe the atheist population, I added this item to the survey.  For this question (as well as many others in the survey) I allowed a space for respondents to provide narrative support for their answer.   2,873 individuals took advantage of this opportunity, and some of their responses are below.

From this wide array of self-identified atheists I found that there are some very strong views about the impact of religion.  As you can see the vast majority of the respondents viewed religion to be, overall, a “force for bad” in the world.

How do you view the net impact of religion on the world?

Religion is, overall, a strong force for good in the world.
0.31% (26)
Religion is, overall, a moderate force for good in the world.
1.41% (117)
Religion is a roughly equal force in the world with respect to good and bad.
10.86% (902)
Religion is, overall, a moderate force for bad in the world.
41.42% (3,439)
Religion is, overall, a strong force for bad in the world.
45.99% (3,818)
Total 8,302

Here are some of the narrative responses:

  • Nothing has been completed with religion that could not have been completed without it. Religion has been the cause of millions of deaths worldwide, and continues to be a source of hatred, bigotry, misogyny, racism, homicide, and inequality.
  • Religious War, Religious Genocide, Honour killings, Honour rapes, bigotry, racism, slavery, anti-scientific barbarism, dogmatic rejection of simple life-saving things such as: Condoms in AIDS-ridden parts of Africa, indoctrination and enforced ignorance of Children, Rape of children (both passivly allowed and actively covered up), and massive oppression of women and minority “out-groups” generally over thousands of years.
  • Depends on the religion. Some are considerably more harmful than others. It’s almost impossible to put Quakers and Islamic fundamentalists in the same equation.
  • Religion has done some good things, but I believe the suffering caused by religion has been indescribably huge. Judging people and punishing them for “wrong doing” e.g. (and these are just words to give a snapshot of what I mean) attitudes to women, hunting “witches”, persecution of people who belong to a religion other than own – for power, for god, for cruelty, attitudes to LGBTQ people, rape and abuse of children in care. Religion has been responsible for so many wars and suffering.
  • This is one of my core beliefs. In my reading of world history, there can be no other conclusion. More innocent people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason.

That the respondents of the survey had a negative view of religion is quite obvious, but though there is much about the survey data the research team has not yet explored, one result, germane to the above, is quite interesting:

Which statement below best describes your perspective relative to organized religion versus individual believers?

Answer Choices Responses
I have a “live and let live” attitude with respect to both organized religion and individual believers.
3.63% (238)
I have negative feelings towards organized religion, but a “live and let live” attitude towards believers.
 72.58% (4,765)
I have a “live and let live” attitude toward organized religion but negative feelings towards believers. 1.23% (81)
I have negative feelings for both organized religion and individual believers.
22.56% (1,481)
Total Total   6,565
As you can see, though very much against religion the respondents have a very strong “live and let live” attitude toward believers.
What is the take home from all of this?  Perhaps it is that as the atheist/freethought movement moves forward in the coming months and years there should be some effort into examining what tactics might be inclusive of those who have some beliefs in higher powers but who also feel as if organized religion is not a positive choice.  It may be that some of the “nones” are these people.


Your thoughts?
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