When Religion is Toxic

Many religions have elements that are toxic. By their very definition, religions are divisive and exclusive. Most religions claim they and they alone have the answers. Most religions put science aside and make faith, not logic, the primary requirement to be a member. I believe religion is toxic when there is manipulation of followers by those in power, often involving money, sex, fear, abuse, children, dictation and even violence. Religion has held itself above the law many times in history, and still has a hand in forming laws either directly or indirectly.

A great number of people are impressed by the current Pope Francis and he does seem progressive compared to some of the previous pontiffs. However, recently when the Pope said gay people should not be discriminated against, he was applauded, but is that really progressive when it is about 50 years behind actual discrimination laws?

Thankfully, progressive and secular voices had been heard before the church said it was OK to push for the rights of all humans.

The Catholic Church still stands against contraception and abortion in spite of overpopulation, rape, poverty and AIDS, which is not only toxic, but quite cruel.

Many atheists and critics of religion are careful to differentiate between the religion and the religious. I think it is important too; people are more than just their denomination and we have become all too aware that there are different levels of belief within religion. After all, when a country has questionable human rights policies, we do not think ‘all people of that nationality’ are to blame.

Even Richard Dawkins calls himself a cultural Anglican, despite being a staunch atheist. Spiritual believer Deepak Chopra once distanced himself from conservatives such as Bill O’Reilly after joking with him, in an apology to Dawkins.

There is a scale of nonbelief to belief. Within belief, there are those who merely believe in a mild form of that religion, such as ex-Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong. Then there are those who believe religious law to the letter, such as fundamentalist Christians, as well as Orthodox Jews and Muslims. It seems many ‘moderate’ believers are actually closer to atheists in terms of humanism and morality than they are to their own fundamentalists. Spong, a believer and a humanist (who also denies the miracles in the Bible) once said he has never had a death threat from an atheist and yet couldn’t say the same for believers.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently said that when she finally took her hijab off, she was amazed that nobody raped her. That is how deeply instilled religious beliefs and customs are held. She also makes the point that she acknowledges the diversity of Muslims and embraces Muslim people and yet rejects Islamic Doctrine.

The debate then follows is what the doctrine is actually saying. This happens in Christianity and many other religions, no doubt.

There is then an argument between believers over interpretation.

You would think if a god really wrote or had a hand in writing any of these holy scriptures, then there would not be any confusion in its meaning.

Image credit: iStock
Image credit: iStock

It is said people are becoming less religious and many people are now just nominally religious. This is all fine and good, but it is still toxic if there is still abuse of power going on. Religions get tax breaks — that affects us all! Many churches are very wealthy and why? They have taken and continue to take from their followers. Why do these people so willingly give? The church has the cure that these poor people need for salvation, for hope, for the afterlife. All of these beliefs are based upon fear and faith.

This is the power religion still has and it is toxic.

While there is abuse happening within the church, tax dollars filling religious pockets, children being threatened with the idea of hell, arbitrary laws about sex and discrimination happening by religious authority, then it is still fair to say religion is toxic.

 


Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

View all posts by Kevin Davis →

48 thoughts on “When Religion is Toxic

  1. > Many religions have elements that are toxic. By their very definition, religions are divisive and exclusive.

    Bull. There is no single definition of religion. But there is nothing in most definitions which imply division. Now, there are plenty of religions which are collectivist in nature, but all collectivist systems are divisive, while also unifying. They improve ingroup relationships at the expense of outgroup relationships. A prime nonreligious example is sports teams.

    While the monotheistic religions tend to focus on a concept of “one truth” this is actually a relatively new concept. Most religions throughout human existence have been far less divisive as people just merged their religions together. We still see this in some religions, especially the highly syncretic religions in Japan.

    You say that you have an issue with putting science aside? Well listen here kiddo. The current SCIENTIFIC view of religion is nearly antithetical to your expressed views on religion.

    1. Any good books on the scientific models of religion? Paschal Boyer comes to mind.

      So. you don’t think that there are things in Evangelicalism or Catholicism that are toxic?

      1. > Any good books on the scientific models of religion? Paschal Boyer comes to mind.

        I would suggest reading through textbooks on the anthropology of religion, such as https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Witchcraft-Religion-Reader-Anthropology/dp/0078034949/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1471957333&sr=8-1&keywords=magic+witchcraft as a start.

        Boyer has a few issues. His notion of “counterintuitive” views as a foundation of religion rests with the notion that there is a universal view of what would be intuitive. What is intuitive to one group may be counterintuitive to another. This is somewhat a conjecture, but if you were to study whether or not religious beliefs were counterintuitive among the members who practice the religion, the answer would be “no.”

        > So. you don’t think that there are things in Evangelicalism or Catholicism that are toxic?

        So you go from there being toxic elements which exist within certain subsets of certain religions to “religion is toxic.” Do you not think that such unsubstantiated generalizations of worldviews border on bigotry?

        1. Well, the title of the article is “When Religion is Toxic.” I didn’t take it to mean that all religion is toxic, but that it certainly can be. I’ve dealt with enough of what I would call toxic religion in the form of Fundamentalist Catholicism. It made me an atheist and has nearly destroyed my marriage. Does that mean that all forms of Catholicism are toxic? Eh, I’m actually divided on that one. Does that mean that all forms of religion are toxic? Hell, I dunno. To the extent that they close off thought, then yes. But they are probably also necessary.

          1. It’s not just the title. The article itself goes after religion, as a whole, while making a variety of unsubstantiated claims regarding the topic. This is clearly written by someone who does not have any expertise on the topic. And no, having been religious does not make you an expert.

            A good example: people believing that being an atheist means that you’re not religious. Okay. So you stopped believing in a god. You MAY be secular now. But that’s not necessarily the case.

            > To the extent that they close off thought, then yes.

            This again is an ignorant claim that is unsubstantiated by evidence. The bulk of Japan is religious. Where’s the closed off thought? Where’s the closed off thought in people like Newton, Dyson, Gödel, and so many others?

            I have spent a great deal of time building a profile of a certain group of people that I refer to as “religious rejectionists.” I suppose I could narrow it down to American religious rejectionists. If I had to guess, you would be included. The negative view of religion is part of the religious rejectionist ideology.

            But if you really want to be open minded and want to look through the lens of science, then what you’re doing now, by judging religion as you do, is the exact opposite.

          2. It just seems like people who are on the “religion ain’t that bad” bandwagon, are from places where it probably isn’t as bad.

          3. So you’re saying that your personal experience overrides scientific theory and evidence on the topic? Because I’m not citing personal experience. I’m citing scientific knowledge. I mean, if you want to reject science and allow your own personal worldview to supersede it, I guess that’s fine. Just admit that.

          4. What I’m saying, is that I’m from a part of the country where the majority of people probably think the earth is 6000 years old or less. Hell, nearly half the U.S. does, if you want to actually look at the statistics. If you want to talk science, then, fine, we can talk science, but so far you haven’t risen to that level.

          5. Okay. But you are judging religion as a whole based on that personal experience. And calling religion toxic, when it is not justified, is nothing but hate speech. What you are doing is ignoring the overall evidence on the topic of religion and placing your own life experiences above that. Doing so isn’t even faith. It’s beyond faith. What you are doing is the same as those who reject scientific knowledge on the age of the Earth and placing their own belief above it.

          6. The article itself goes after religion, as a whole, while making a variety of unsubstantiated claims regarding the topic.

            As for unsubstantiated claims regarding the topic:

            The current SCIENTIFIC view of religion is nearly antithetical to your expressed views on religion.

            Where is the substantiation for this claim?

          7. I also find this claim problematic.

            The bulk of Japan is religious.
            Religion in Japan is dominated by Shinto (the ethnic religion of the Japanese people) and by Buddhist schools and organisations. According to surveys carried out in 2006[1] and 2008,[2] less than 40% of the population of Japan identifies with an organised religion: around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of Shinto sects and derived religions, and from fewer than 1%[3][4][5] to 2.3% are Christians.[note 2]

            Most of the Japanese (50% to 80% considering degrees of syncretism with Buddhism, shinbutsu-shūgō[6]) pray and worship ancestors and gods (神 kami, shin or, archaically, jin) at Shinto shrines or private altars, while not identifying as “Shinto” or “Shintoist” in surveys.[7] This is because these terms have little meaning for the majority of the Japanese,[7] or they define membership in Shinto organisations or sects.[8][9] The term “religion” (宗教 shūkyō)
            itself in Japanese culture defines only organised religions (that is,
            religions with specific doctrines and required membership).[10] People who identify as “non-religious” (無宗教 mushūkyō)
            in surveys actually mean that they do not belong to any religious
            organisation, even though they may take part in Shinto rituals and
            worship.[10]

            Scholars Isomae Jun’ichi and Jason Ānanda Josephson have challenged
            the usefulness of the term “religion” in regard to Japanese
            “traditions”. They have shown that the Japanese term and concept of
            “religion” (shūkyō) is an invention of the 19th century.[11]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Japan

          8. I also find this claim problematic.

            Kir does not, and as you may soon learn, that is all that matters in this universe.

          9. Oh. I certainly do. While most theories relating to religion are either firmly in the field of psychology or firmly in the field of anthropology, the definition that I use is a mixture of both.

          10. > I also find this claim problematic.

            You can find it problematic, but it’s true. While the Japanese often reject the classification of religion, including the classification of Shinto as religion, it is, by anthropological and psychological classification, a religion, or at least a class of religions.

            Or are you going to argue that if states began sponsoring Shinto, you would not consider that a violation of the first amendment prohibition of state sponsored religion?

          11. The worship of a god is unnecessary for the existence of a religion. Shinto is a religion, or really a class of religions, for other reasons.

            Now answer the question. Would the state sponsorship of Shinto be a violation of the constitution? If so, on what grounds?

          12. The worship of a god is unnecessary for the existence of a religion.

            According to dictionaries:

            religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

            religion: (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

            Etc., etc.

            According to Kir:

            religion: Whatever I say it is.

          13. Folk shinto is listed with “Nones” on the official listings. Buddhism is also often considered atheistic, at least strains of it. Would the state sponsorship of pastafarianism be a violation of the constitution? It seems as if you want to list religions as broad social movements. Which is kind of O.K. But renders the term pretty much meaningless.

          14. No. I do not want to list religion is a broad social movement. Indeed, I have a rather specific view of what constitutes religion, and am working on publishing a paper on that topic. However, even if we exclude my specific definition for a moment, many anthropological definitions would categorize Shinto, Buddhism, etc as religions, and anthropologists do treat them as such.

            Now, are you going to run away from my question for a third time, or will you finally answer? Would the state sponsorship of Shinto be a violation of the constitution? If so, on what grounds?

          15. Would state sponsorship of Pastafarianism be a violation of the constitution? If so, on what grounds?

          16. Yes; I would say that this would be an establishment of a religion. Are you too cowardly to answer the question? Can the state fund or otherwise support Shinto or Buddhist shrines, temples, practices, etc or would that be a violation of the establishment clause?

          17. I think it would, but even the Japanese don’t strictly consider Shinto a religion, from what I gather. The point is, it wouldn’t even have to be a real religion to violate the establishment clause.

          18. I take it you don’t like my example? Hell, you could call capitalism a religion if the govt tried to institute it.

          19. > I take it you don’t like my example?

            I already said that such an example would be the establishment of a religion. You say that supporting Shinto would be a violation of the establishment clause because it’s “like” a religion. Okay. How is it “like” a religion and yet “different” from a religion? How does being “like” a religion constitute a violation of the establishment clause, when the establishment clause is specific to RELIGION?

            > Hell, you could call capitalism a religion if the govt tried to institute it.

            Uh no. Because that wouldn’t fit the anthropological or psychological definitions of religion, or the definition that I’ve been building.

          1. You must be one desperate sh*t in order to create a whole account just to respond to me. But note that I did preface the statement with it being a conjecture, rather than a claim of truth.

          2. The reason why the person was talking out of his or her ass was because he or she was using a conjecture as if it were fact.

            In any case, I’m not going to waste my time with a troll who is so desperate that he or she has to create a sock puppet account dedicated to replying to a single person who has blocked him/her.

            Blocked.

    2. > Many religions have elements that are toxic. By their very definition, religions are divisive and exclusive.

      Bull. There is no single definition of religion.

      The statement doesn’t claim that there is a single definition of religion.

      This is a straw man.

      But there is nothing in most definitions which imply division.

      A definition divides (the conceptualization of) a thing from (conceptualizations of) all other things. That is its function. To state that a(ny) definition is not divisive is pure nonsense.

      The current SCIENTIFIC view of religion is nearly antithetical to your expressed views on religion.

      In what way(s), exactly?

  2. I hate to break the news there is zero science in he bible. Dont know if you knew that. Not only is there no science it’s intentionally zero science. The last i checked the bible there is zero ways to create the high carbon foot print of global warming that’s science. The bible has zero ways to increase population that is all science. THere are also zero ways to create the resource intense systems for mass production in the bible that is science. In fact by every scientific analytic the underlaying causation of global warming and the Anthropocene extinction global over population is in fact 100% science itself. But somehow that is totally ignored by many and the real problem in the world are people who read books of story song and poetry!!! Omg we must ban all of that in totality and science will then be free to save us from it!!! Please be scientific. I am sorry your family was some kind of religious dysfunctionists that’s normal!!! It appears that the vast atheists come religiously dysfunctional families. Curiously you know the dipshit spong!!! Bad theologian worse scientist. Clueless about god and nature.. Typical.

    1. Robert Eisenman explained in a lecture one day that the bible is literature. It isn’t a history book nor is it a science book. It doesn’t deal with fact. It is simply a compilation of lore and entertainment. Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians don’t understand that and treat it as if it is anything but that.

    2. Typical christian arrogance

      Know what else ain’t in Abe’s holey books?

      How to: set a broken bone; suture a wound; correct poor eyesight; treat disease as anything other than demonic possession or the will of the ever lovin buddy jebus; replace hips or knees; repair a decending aorta; use various means to prevent unwanted births;… Ad infinitum

      How does one understand an imaginary being that curses a fig tree for being barren out of season.

      Science inspires people to search for earth like planets in other galaxies

      Religion inspires people to fly planes into buildings

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