Ian Bennett made an interesting comment on an article published the other day that is worth making a discussion point. It actually makes two points… firstly that politicians will say whatever they think they need to say to stay in power… I regard this as a truism and so not really worth discussing other than to say “indeed”. The second point however was more contentious:
Religion is unconditionally dangerous, simply because it is irrational; the distinction between “extreme” and “moderate” adherents is a false one, and is better regarded as “consistent” and “inconsistent”. The inconsistent moderates may not actually call publicly for the murder of non-believers (despite that being a core dogma of their faith), but they provide the context in which the consistent extremists operate, namely that adherence to a religion is a perfectly acceptable way of life. Eating only fish on a Friday “because God tells me to” is no different in its motivation from committing any other act “because God tells me to”. If we accept the performance of an act which has no rational underpinning simply because of its motivation (“God told me to”), we must accept the performance of all acts with that same motivation. This is what consistent, “extremist”, religious adherents do.
I sort of agree… which is to say, yes but no but…
I think the nature of what “God tells you to do” is a non-trivial distinction between religions and whilst even Buddhism has gone through militant phases, some religions default suppositions are broadly positive (i.e. if you are actually being ‘consistent’ you really cannot justify slaughtering the Cathars based on anything Jesus said), whilst others have clearly negative default suppositions (i.e. yes you really can justify slaughtering apostates based on what Mohammed said and there really is not a lot of wiggle room if you are being consistent).
As a atheist myself, I regard God as nothing more than a psychological artifice, but it also seems demonstrably true that many believers are nevertheless entirely capable of rational moral judgement that is not of any practical difference to my God-free moral theory based way of going about things. Indeed many of the writers for Samizdata are people with religious beliefs.
Is this simply what Ian describes as the difference between consistent versus inconsistent believers? Not so sure. If a religion can include “God says be rational because you are responsible for your actions due to having free will and are not merely God’s meat puppet” and also says “you will roast in eternal hellfire if you murder anyone, so put that gun down dude!”… well I think a ‘consistent’ follower of that particular God will find it rather harder to say “Kill ’em all for God will know his own”. Indeed it seems rather inconsistent even if slaughtering Cathars is very much The Done Thing these days.
So I think maybe religions are conditionally dangerous rather than unconditionally so. When following “the word of God”, it is fairly important what that particular God has to say… and clearly contrary to what many adherents claim, the God Jesus was referring to and the one Mohammed was referring to have about as much in common as Freyja and Shiva.