Does Faith Encourage People to Do Good or Evil?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Does Faith Encourage People to Do Good or Evil?

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg opined, "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.” I think there is truth to his statement, with qualifications.
I agree that religiosity per se does not seem to predict whether a person will do good or evil. The power of self-delusion, particularly when reinforced by similarly deluded people, can be so strong that God-fearing people have often done terrible things to other individuals and convinced themselves that they are acting righteously on behalf of God.
While some of the most compassionate and ethical people I know are atheists, I do think that religion has inspired many people to acts of kindness and justice. Indeed, the early leaders of many progressive movements, including the anti-slavery movement and the animal-welfare movement, were clergy and other religious people who claimed a religious foundation for their activism.
What does it take for good people to do evil? I think it requires an unreflective, uncritical acceptance of dubious beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs directly benefit believers, and sometimes they benefit those who have convinced believers. Sometimes those beliefs are religious in that they include notions about the divine, and sometimes they are secular but have religious elements. A most obvious example of the latter would be Nazism, which called for sacrifice and violence in service to the destiny of a certain “race” of people and their sacred nation. Other examples include past and/or present efforts to restrict intimate relationships between people of different “races” or people of the same gender, evidently on the grounds that such relationships are “impure” and violate the “natural order” of things.
We are always good at identifying the sins of others, but we have much greater difficulty recognizing our own sins. Thus it is that most people would recoil at my claim that denial of basic rights to animals is another example of evil perpetrated by otherwise decent people.
I don’t see faith as a problem – it seems that blind faith often leads to trouble. Is the notion of “rational faith” a contradiction of terms? I’ll explore this question next essay. 

Go on to: Is “Rational Faith” a Contradiction of Terms?
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