"Religion Deserves To Die!"
Updated: Jul 20
“It [religion] makes good people do bad things while thinking they are doing good – effectively turning good people into bad people, at least sometimes. Religion deserves to die.”
- David Silverman
David Silverman, a past president of American Atheists, abhors religion. He absolutely seethes with hatred toward it. He sees God as a lie invented by Neanderthals and religious leaders and their followers as liars and victims. To him, religion – all religion – deserves to die!
Fortunately, Silverman doesn’t believe religious people deserve to die. After all, his wife believes in God and he comes from a nice Jewish family in Massachusetts. He even sent his daughter to a Workmen’s School, which teaches secular Jewish culture and activism, and he gave her a King James Version Bible. He claims to hate no one. Why, then, does he have so much hatred for religion?
Silverman’s definition of religion
Let’s start with definitions. In his book, Fighting God, Silverman initially defines religion as belief in a god – not a moral philosophy.
“Religion is about belief in a god, not a general philosophy on how we humans should behave or treat others.”
However, Silverman never actually establishes how belief in God, of itself, is a bad thing. That's the first problem with his claim.
Lumping all religions together
Silverman then expands his definition of religion by saying it is the interpretation of “holy books.” In doing so, he essentially lumps all religions together. However, religions are far from being the same. What they teach about God (or gods), religious practices and morality can be dramatically different. This is another problem with Silverman’s statement.
It hardly seems fair to condemn all religions as worthy of death when they’re clearly not the same.
What part of religion deserves to die?
Silverman also overlooks the good that religious people have done. Religion has actually had a hugely positive impact in America – even on non-religious people. Here are a just few examples:
Education – By the 1860s, 96% of the 182 colleges in America were founded by religious groups. Would America have been better off without them?
Hospitals – Today, there are over 700 faith-based hospitals in the United States. Do their patients not benefit from their treatment?
Benevolence – American religious groups help the poor and homeless and provide relief and aid throughout the world. Which of them deserve to die: Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, Food for the Poor, Compassion International, Feed the Children, Mercy Ships or Catholic Medical Missions?
These groups help others because of their religious beliefs. Silverman disagrees. He says religious people are good in spite of their religions – not because of them. Yet are these people not the best judge of their own motives?
Silverman’s biggest complaint
Now for Silverman’s big complaint. He discounts the good various religions teach and that religious people have done and, instead, focuses on the reasons for his contempt. Among them are the moral position many religions have taken toward abortion and homosexuality. He also equates the idea of hell to terrorism. However, his number one complaint is that “religion makes good people do bad things.”
What bad things?
Is this true? Does all religion make good people do bad things? Well, we know people sometimes do bad things and that most people on the planet do have religious beliefs. Yet is it religion at fault or something deeper in human nature – maybe selfishness, pride, prejudice, greed, hatred, fear, desire for power, or rage? People seem to be flawed whether they have religious beliefs or not.
One of the things most religions seek to do is provide a moral code. They recognize the tendency in people (whether by intent or not) to do wrong. Yet David Silverman contends good religious people are good in spite of their religions – not because of it. He says their religions teach them to do evil.
Is this a valid claim? To determine if all religions make people do bad things, we have to first look at what religions teach. Since Christianity is the largest religion in America, let’s start there. Does it teach or command people to do evil?
Does Christianity make good people bad?
Silverman claims Christianity “spurs hate, division and murder, as it has throughout history.” He must have missed the part of the New Testament where Christians are supposed to love their enemies, be merciful, and be peacemakers. He may also have missed that, for 100 years, 78% of Nobel Peace Prize-winners were Christians. Pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of them.
Silverman also says, “Killing gays and blasphemers is just as much a part of Christianity as loving thy neighbor.” However, the New Testament doesn’t actually say that or anything like it.
The New Testament teaches that all people possess incredible value. However, some conduct is wrong – murder, blasphemy, adultery, theft, sexual immorality and lying are examples. People who do these things have value to God, but that doesn’t make these things morally right. And, it certainly doesn’t mean we should condone them.
Have Christians done evil? Definitely. There have been misguided Christians and errant Christian leaders. However, it’s a stretch to say that belief in God, Jesus or Christian teachings were the primary culprit. After all, in America, 90% of people believe in God, but only 1/10th of 1% of violent crime is attributable to religion.
Are any of Silverman’s criticisms valid?
Some of Silverman’s criticisms of religious people and religious beliefs are valid. He is correct in some of the things he says. He is also correct in pointing out that some religions have embraced violence as a means of spreading their beliefs. However, his all-encompassing condemnation of religion is unjust and unjustified.
Religions are not the same. Polytheism, monotheism and pantheism are very different. And, even the two largest monotheistic faiths are not the same – Christianity and Islam are different.
Is the world better off without belief in God?
Silverman sees all religion as “inherently and demonstrably harmful to society and moral progress” and atheism to be morally superior. However, a college-level western civilization course would generally reveal the opposite.
Perhaps David Silverman should have a chat about living in a world without God with Peter Hitchens. At one time, Hitchens might have agreed with him. Hitchens, a British journalist, was an atheist. People who believed in God actually made him feel physically disgusted. Yet, he changed his mind.
Hitchens’ journey included a two-year assignment as a journalist in the Soviet Union – an atheist nation. Rather than seeing the country as better off without God, he saw it as a bleak, desperate, hopeless place. He experienced a taste of a world without God and wanted no part of it.
The world is not better off without belief in God or religion. Religion does not generally “make good people do bad things.” It generally does the opposite. It doesn’t “deserve to die.”
About David Silverman
David Silverman was President of American Atheists, the organization founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair. He was terminated from his position by the Board of American Atheists in 2018. Silverman claimed to have been wrongfully dismissed. He earned a BS at Brandeis and an MBA at Penn State University.
Copyright 2022 by Patrick Prill
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