Religion. Defintion. 1. A worldview about ethics or how people should behave. 2. about metaphysics or the nature of the world that is discovered by philosophy rather than science or more by abstract reasoning rather than empirical investigation. 3. About eschatology or matters of life after death and spiritual phenomena. 4. Accepts some principles as incontrovertible. The quantity of principles that are regarded as unquestionable determines how much a religion adheres to fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is the thesis that some views in the worldview are unquestionable. All religions are fundamentalistic by definition, yet because there are degrees of fundamentalism, some are necessarily more fundamentalistic than others.
Religions are dangerous on the account that fundamentalism discourages critical thought. Fundamentalism also encourages people to believe that some of their views are unquestionable. Because they are discouraged from thinking critically, their abstract reasoning faculties are frequently weakened severely. In order to construct an interpretation of a piece of literature, one needs critical thinking skills. When one lacks critical thinking skills, one easily succumbs to wishful thinking and merely interprets the literature in a way that appears pleasing to him or her. For this reason, the religious often interpret the text in a way that in the views of many is sacrilegious or an act of distortion of the scripture. For example, many Muslims believe that those who use Islam to justify violence are distorting the scripture. Is Islam blameless?
No, it is not. Islam has discouraged people from thinking critically inevitably placed them in a position where they are likely to interpret scripture in an undisciplined fashion, or simply put, interpret it however they please. Is Islam intrinsically more objectionable than other creeds? Possibly true, as after all Christians, Jews and Buddhists do not attempt to justify violence nearly as much as Muslims do. However, is this solely the fault of Islam? Possibly because this religion is unopposed by secular authority and the Muslims who commit violence face few intellectual challengers to their views. Christians, however, most prominently in the Western Europe and North America are forced to question their beliefs on a daily basis because they are forced to deal with a separation of a church and state. However, the same could be said with respect to Islam in Europe or in the United States. Notably, Islamic extremists are much more common in the Middle East and Africa than in Europe or the United States. Thus, there are different kinds of Islam and Christianity. Some forms of Islam are more rigid than others, and the same can be said with respect to Christianity.
As a result, can we conclude that Islam is intrinsically more rigid than Christianity? That is unclear. In order to answer this question we would need to know of a one way correct way to interpret both holy books. At this point, such a feat cannot be accomplished. Language and culture in which both of these holy books were written have changed drastically and we lack much of the important information to construct the proper interpretation of both works. Moreover, even if we did, both works are high on figurative, poetical and ambiguous content which makes constructing a plausible interpretation of either of these books an onerous task.
Simply put, we do not know if true Islam is in itself more objectionable than Christianity, as we do not know what the true brand of each religion is. Since we have discovered that we do not know what true Islam is, what do we make of the claim of Muslims who assert that their religion is not to be blamed for the acts of violence that have been committed in the name of Islam. As sincere as they may have been, they are simply mistaken to assert that true Islam is against such acts. They merely confused their interpretation of the Koran for the true religion and it may well be the case that the acts of violence disagree with their Islamic religious views. However, it must be clearly noted that all they can legitimately claim is that the acts of violence merely disagree with their views.
On the one hand, we see that religion, and Islam most prominently, can produce kind and peace loving people, yet on the other, fanatics who are willing to kill thousands in favor of their beliefs. Is religion to be blamed for this? Certainly because this is a result of people believing that their views are incontrovertible. This, however, is not the entirety of the problem. If someone merely believes that their views are indisputably true, he or she will not have the sufficient motivation to kill thousands. After all, a very high degree of aggression is necessary in order for people to behave in such an ignominious manner. Is religion solely responsible for the problem? Certainly not, as there is a variety of reasons why people became intensely aggressive, poverty or oppression are clear-cut examples of such reasons. Does religion contribute to the problem? It certainly does on the account that it discourages people from being open-minded and compels them to believe that they are right only because a sacred text or a divine authority insists that they are.
As a result, they are completely unprepared for the critical thoughts of others whose views disagree with their own. Does this fact lead them to become highly aggressive? Certainly because religion tends to promise great rewards for those who manage to maintain their views. As a result, they become fearful when others question their views and because they lack critical thinking skills, they are unable to approach those who disagree with their views in a civilized manner. Hence, in this respect, religion entails violence.
In addition to Islam, Stalinistic violence is an example of religion entailing violence. Stalinism propounded rigid ethical views which included the maxim that those who abide by them will be greatly rewarded and those who do not will be punished direly. It also propounds several views about the nature of the world (metaphysical) that are philosophical rather than scientific (empirical) in nature. In addition to that, it advocates a worldview that is commonly regarded as Marxist materialism, thus it comments on eschatological matters by vehemently rejecting the thesis that there is life after death. Certainly, it is highly legalistic or fundamentalistic on the account that it accepts many, if not all of its principles as incontrovertible. Stalinism was arguably as legalistic as many groups of contemporary extremist Islam. It is therefore unsurprising that these were the religions guilty of the most violence in the world.
Although religion is not the sole cause of violence, and in many violent acts is not the cause of violence, it is certainly striking that the majority of violent acts today are committed for a religious cause. For this reason, it is important to eradicate religion from contemporary education. All that separates religion from philosophy is the last principle, or the incontrovertibility axiom, which is the proposition that some views must be accepted as unquestionable. If this principle is to be eliminated, the religious influence in the contemporary society will decline significantly.
How can this be accomplished? Should a draconian policy be instituted that bans all educators from teaching religious doctrines or asserting that any particular view is not to be questioned? No, this proposition is likely to violate many fundamental principles of the open society.
This is to be accomplished by restructuring the program of education where critical thinking is emphasized more and no effort is made to convince the children that any view is unquestionable. Slowly, a society will emerge where people will not have a need to believe in things that are unsupported by arguments but merely feel pleasant to believe in. When that is accomplished, there simply will not be any further need for religion.
Religion and the cause for the majority of violent acts today can be eradicated only by virtue of fundamental changes to education. Some political theorists such as Slavoj Zizek, for instance, maintain that we should cease patronizing the religious. We should stop pretending that their views are acceptable only for the sake of being polite. Instead, we should subject their views to a respectful, but ruthless critical analysis of their views. Then and only then will we have bestowed adequate respect upon them becuase only at that point will they be treated like serious adults who are genuinely responsible for their beliefs.
I think that this view is fundamentally wrong-headed. Those adults, especially from third-world countries that are dominated by religious thought have not developed their critical thinking skills. They simply are not adults in the intellectual respect and therefore should not be treated like adults in that regard. Challenging their views will be futile because such persons will not be intellectually astute enough to understand the criticisms of their beliefs, but they will also be enraged. This will only create unnecessary controversy. Unlike their younger counterparts, these people are the kind of children who never grow up. We simply should leave them be and focus on those who truly can be taught to be reasonable and open-minded, namely the youth of today. We may arrive closer to achieving this goal by restructuring our educational program today.