Historical records of criticism of religion goes back to at least 5th century BCE in ancient Greece , with Diagoras "the Atheist" of Melos. Every exclusive religion on Earth as well as every exclusive world view that promotes exclusive truth-claims necessarily denigrates the truth-claims of other religions. Critics of religion in general may portray religion as one or more of: outdated, harmful to the individual , harmful to society , an impediment to the progress of science , a source of immoral acts or customs, a political tool for social control. Before the 17th century religion was conflated with every day life.
Religion as a modern Western concept developed from the 17th century onwards. Today, religion is broadly conceived as an abstraction which entails beliefs, doctrines and sacred places—even though the ancient and medieval cultures that produced religious texts , like the Bible or the Quran , did not have such conceptions or ideas in their languages, cultures, or histories. Despite believing in gods, Lucretius, like Epicurus , felt that religion was born of fear and ignorance, and that understanding the natural world would free people of its shackles.
In the 18th century, Voltaire was a deist and was strongly critical of religious intolerance. Voltaire complained about Jews killed by other Jews for worshiping a golden calf and similar actions, he also condemned how Christians killed other Christians over religious differences and how Christians killed Native Americans for not being baptised. Voltaire claimed the real reason for these killings was that Christians wanted to plunder the wealth of those killed. Voltaire was also critical of Muslim intolerance. Also in the 18th century, David Hume criticised teleological arguments for religion.
Hume claimed that natural explanations for the order in the universe were reasonable, see design argument. An important aim of Hume's writings was demonstrating the unsoundness of the philosophical basis for religion. In the early 21st century, the New Atheists became focal polemicists in modern criticism of religion.
Their books and articles have spawned debate in multiple fields of inquiry and are heavily quoted in popular media online forums, YouTube , television and popular philosophy. In The End of Faith , philosopher Sam Harris focuses on violence among other toxic qualities of religion.
In Breaking the Spell , philosopher Daniel Dennett focuses on the question of "why we believe strange things". In The God Delusion , biologist Richard Dawkins covers almost every facet of religion, injecting both snarky irony and humor. In God Is Not Great , journalist and polemicist Christopher Hitchens focused on how religious forces attacks human dignity and the corruption of religious organizations. In the Oxford Handbook of Atheism , according to Thomas Zenc the four books were published during a time of intense debate on political, religious and sociological questions.
The works share many common themes yet notably differ in scope, style and content. According to Zenc, while the beginnings of a broader narrative New Atheism seems to have emerged, it does not stand up to the full definition of a movement. Some criticisms of monotheistic religions have been:. Dennett and Harris have asserted that theist religions and their scriptures are not divinely inspired , but man made to fulfill social , biological and political needs. David Hume argued that religion developed as a source of comfort in the face of the adversity, not as an honest grappling with verifiable truth.
Religion is therefore an unsophisticated form of reasoning. As such, they may have served several important functions in ancient societies. Examples include the views many religions traditionally had towards solar and lunar eclipses and the appearance of comets forms of astrology. Religious suffering is, at the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. According to Karl Marx , the father of " scientific socialism ", religion is a tool used by the ruling classes whereby the masses can shortly relieve their suffering via the act of experiencing religious emotions. It is in the interest of the ruling classes to instill in the masses the religious conviction that their current suffering will lead to eventual happiness.
Therefore, as long as the public believes in religion, they will not attempt to make any genuine effort to understand and overcome the real source of their suffering, which in Marx's opinion was their capitalist economic system. In this perspective, Marx saw religion as escapism. Marx also viewed the Christian doctrine of original sin as being deeply anti-social in character. Original sin, he argued, convinces people that the source of their misery lies in the inherent and unchangeable "sinfulness" of humanity rather than in the forms of social organization and institutions, which Marx argued can be changed through the application of collective social planning.
In his book The Selfish Gene , Richard Dawkins coined the term memes to describe informational units that can be transmitted culturally, analogous to genes. Both the religious and non religious are critical of Dawkin's meme theory which has mostly been abandoned [ citation needed ]. Some have criticized the idea that "God" and "Faith" are viruses of the mind, suggesting that it is far removed from evidence and data" that it is unreasonable to extract certain behaviours solely through religious memes.
Sam Harris compares religion to mental illness , saying it "allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy ". They conclude that people with such disorders have had a monumental influence on civilization. Psychological studies into the phenomenon of mysticism link disturbing aspects of certain mystics' experiences to childhood abuse.
Pickover found evidence suggesting that temporal lobe epilepsy may be linked to a variety of so-called spiritual or "other worldly" experiences, such as spiritual possession , originating from altered electrical activity in the brain. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran suggests "It's possible that many great religious leaders had temporal lobe seizures and this predisposes them to having visions, having mystical experiences". Psilocybin from mushrooms affect regions of the brain including the serotonergic system, which generating a sense of strong religious meaning, unity and ecstasy.
Certain physical rituals may generate similar feelings.
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In Michael Shermer 's book Why People Believe Strange Things he theorizes on how emerging mankind imposed made-up explanations and bizarre rituals for natural phenomena they didn't and couldn't understand. This is similar to the arguments made by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell  however Shermer's argument goes further in that the peculiar and at times frightening rituals of religion are but one of many forms of strange customs that survive to this day. Philosopher Auguste Comte posited that many societal constructs pass through three stages and that religion corresponds to the two earlier, or more primitive stages by stating: "From the study of the development of human intelligence, in all directions, and through all times, the discovery arises of a great fundamental law, to which it is necessarily subjective, and which has a solid foundation of proof, both in the facts of our organization and in our historical experience.
The law is this: that each of our leading conceptions — each branch of our knowledge — passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the theological, or fictitious; the metaphysical, or abstract; and the scientific, or positive". In his book Is Religion Dangerous?
Some have criticized the effects of adherence to dangerous practices such as self-sacrifice. A detailed study in found instances of deaths of children due to religion-based medical neglect. Most of these cases involved Christian parents relying on prayer to cure the child's disease and withholding medical care. Jerusalem has loaned its name to a unique psychological phenomenon where Jewish or Christian individuals who develop obsessive religious themed ideas or delusions sometimes believing themselves to be Jesus Christ or another prophet will feel compelled to travel to Jerusalem.
During a period of 13 years — for which admissions to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre in Jerusalem were analyzed, it was reported  that 1, tourists with severe, Jerusalem-themed mental problems, were referred to this clinic.
Idealism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Of these, were admitted to hospital. On average, such tourists have been seen annually, 40 of them requiring admission to hospital. About 2 million tourists visit Jerusalem each year. Kalian and Witztum note that as a proportion of the total numbers of tourists visiting the city, this is not significantly different from any other city.
Honor killings once well known in the Western countries are now extremely rare, however, they still occur in other parts of the world. An honor killing is when a person is killed by family for bringing dishonor or shame upon the family. Stoning is a form of capital punishment whereby a group batters a person with thrown stones until the person dies. As of September , stoning is a punishment that is included in the laws in some countries including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and some states in Nigeria  as punishment for zina al-mohsena "adultery of married persons".
Until the early s, stoning was a legal form of capital punishment in Iran. In , the Iranian judiciary officially placed a moratorium on stoning. According to the World Health Organization , female genital mutilation has no health benefits and is a violation of basic human rights.
Though no first tier religious texts prescribe the practice, some practitioners do believe there is religious support for it. While it is mostly found in Muslim countries, it is also practiced by some Christian and Animist countries mostly in Africa. GFA is not widely practiced in some Muslim countries making it difficult to separate religion from culture. Some religious leaders promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination".
The practice is illegal in all Western countries and it is also illegal to transport a girl to another country to carry out FGM. Multiple parents have been charged for committing this crime in the United Kingdom with those charged being exclusively from Muslim countries. Male circumcision is required in Judaism, optional in Islam, and not required in Christianity. Globally, male circumcision is done for religious, social, and health promotion reasons. Surveys suggest a strong link between faith and altruism. As of , much of research on religion and health has been conducted within the United States.
Despite honor killings occurring in multiple cultures and religions, Islam is frequently blamed for their institution and persistence. Professor Tahira Shaid Khan notes that there is nothing in the Qur'an that permits or sanctions honor killings ,  and attributes it to broader attitudes that view women as property with no rights as the explanation for honor killings. Some aspects of religion are criticized on the basis that they damage society as a whole. Steven Weinberg , for example, states it takes religion to make good people do evil. Hartung has claimed that major religious moral codes can lead to "us vs.
Results can vary from mild discrimination to outright genocide.
According to one study, membership of a religious group can accentuate biases in behavior toward in group versus out group members, which may explain the lower number of interracial friends and greater approval of torture among church members. While terrorism is a complex subject, it is argued that terrorists are partially reassured by their religious views of God's support and reward for their actions. These conflicts are among the most difficult to resolve, particularly where both sides believe that God is on their side and has endorsed the moral righteousness of their claims.
Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku considers religious terrorism as one of the main threats in humanity's evolution from a Type 0 to Type 1 civilization.
John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White , authors of the conflict thesis , have argued that when a religion offers a complete set of answers to the problems of purpose, morality , origins, or science, it often discourages exploration of those areas by suppressing curiosity, denies its followers a broader perspective and can prevent social, moral and scientific progress. Examples cited in their writings include the trial of Galileo and Giordano Bruno 's execution.
During the 19th century, the conflict thesis developed. According to this model, any interaction between religion and science must inevitably lead to open hostility, with religion usually taking the part of the aggressor against new scientific ideas. In addition, some historians contend that religious organizations figure prominently in the broader histories of many sciences, with many of the scientific minds until the professionalization of scientific enterprise in the 19th century being clergy and other religious thinkers.
Recent examples of tensions have been the creation-evolution controversy , controversies over the use of birth control , opposition to research into embryonic stem cells , or theological objections to vaccination , anesthesia and blood transfusion. Some studies show some positive links in the relationship between religiosity and moral behavior and altruism. Some argue that religious violence confuses religious moral rules and behaviour with non-religious factors.
That happens only with the coalescence of a peculiar set of circumstances—political, social, and ideological—when religion becomes fused with violent expressions of social aspirations, personal pride, and movements for political change".