I don’t quite agree with Steven Weinberg‘s famous line:
With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
The implied dichotomy between “good” and “evil” people and things is one problem, but not a big one in the context of a pithy remark intended to make a broad, generally true point.
More interestingly, it’s also not the case that it’s only religion which seriously decouples people’s moral intentions from the real world, and drives “good” people to “evil” acts. Other irrational ways of thinking can be dangerous in the same way. There’s nothing qualitatively different about religion, over and above any other memeplex, which gives it this special and unique power.
But it still stands out in its ability to do this kind of damage. Religion is one of the most powerfully exacerbative examples out there.
Cases like that of a mother who beat her son to death can leave little room for doubt about that.
Whatever can drive someone to beat their own seven-year-old child to death can’t be simple. It’s not enough to blame religion; even most religious extremists don’t go that far, would stop and be tempered by their compassion and love for their offspring before allowing any other passions to overtake them to such a degree.
I can only speculate as to how Sara Ege might have gone beyond even that point. It seems a safe bet that a large part of the psychological situation comes down to fear. Fear of castigation, of punishment, by God, by society, by the rest of your family, by tribal elders or their modern equivalent.
Hate, too, and anger; a natural inclination to lash out at the world with fury and spite, perhaps because that’s how it’s always treated her. Confusion. Frustration.
These are all things anyone can experience, or even be overcome by. Being an atheist isn’t a forcefield against any of it. But there are things that alleviate it, and things that make it worse. It has to actively be made a lot worse for something like this to result. And it’s certain that religion only stirred up this complex, poisonous concoction of negativity and hurt even further.
This particular tragedy wouldn’t have been possible without a particular set of religious beliefs, and the privilege those beliefs are given in discourse, and the lack of humanity – humanism – afforded to people as a result of exalting the importance of these beliefs above everything else in life. Even above principles like “love your children” and “be kind and patient in your dealings with others” and “don’t beat your own fucking kids to death with a fucking stick, for fuck’s sake”.
There are many memes in conflict with such principles, all of which blend together into the familiar complicated mass of humanity. Religion is just one of these among many. But it by no means gets let off the hook.
(h/t The Twenty-First Floor)