Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and author Christopher Hitchens recentlyconducted a debate before an audience of 2700 in Toronto, Canada over the proposition: Is Religion a Force for Good?
Mr. Blair, a committed Christian and recent convert to Roman Catholicism, argued in the affirmative.
“Mr Blair, 57, who became a practising Christian while studying at Oxford University, said: “It is undoubtedly true that people commit horrific acts of evil in the name of religion.
“‘It is also undoubtedly true that people do acts of extraordinary common good inspired by religion.’
“He pointed to the good done by faith based organisations, including the millions of lives saved in Africa and care for the mentally ill, disabled and destitute.
“He added: ‘The proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable.
“‘It can be destructive, it can also create a deep well of compassion, and frequently does.'”
Mr. Hitchens, a confirmed atheist who is dying of terminal cancer, argued in the negative.
“Mr Hitchens, 61, said: ‘Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well.
“‘And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea.’
“He said it was not necessary to have ‘divine permission to know right from wrong’.
“And he said religion may promise salvation but the price was the ‘surrender of your critical faculties’.
“He continued: ‘Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and also makes intelligent people say stupid things.'”
In a way the question posed by the debate was the wrong one. Tony Blair had to admit that people do very evil things in the name of religion, thus perhaps conceding ground to Christopher Hitchens too readily. Of course he was also right that people have been inspired to do great things by their religious faith.
The question might have better been phrased, “Can religion be a force for good?” The answer is an unambiguous yes.
The problem of good and evil lays not with any particular religion, but over peoples’ understanding of the same. Believers point to the Bible or the Koran or some other document of divine wisdom as guidelines for how to live. But if one believes in God (however one defines him) and believes that he created human beings (however one defines creation), then one also has to take into account that humans are born with the capacity for reason and free will. That is not an accident.
Christopher Hitchens is on the brink of a point when he implies that unthinking obedience to a dogma is the same as slavery under a communist regime. (Never mind that his analogy is a system governed by an atheistic dogma; more of that anon.) But one can be religious and also approach the dictates of religion with discernment, choosing good instead of evil. Recognize that fact and one concludes that Tony Blair after all had the better argument.
Anyone can point out to passages in the Bible or the Koran that command believers to do horrible things. But there is a danger of choosing this verse or that sura out of context, something that all too many believers do when trying to justify something. If Jesus says do onto others what you would have them do onto you or Mohammed says that the well off should help the poor, then are these not commandments to do good?
While religion has been used as an excuse to commit atrocities ranging from burning women alive as witches to flying airplanes into buildings, the worst inspiration for death and human misery has come from communism, a doctrine based on atheism and total subservience to the state. Hundreds of millions have died and many more lives made waste since the Bolshevik Revolution all in the name of a system that claims to foster human happiness. There are few if any examples one can point out for good resulting from atheistic communism.
Mind, an atheist can be a moral person, choosing good over evil, according to his or her understanding of the same. But being an atheist, nor more than being a person of faith, does not guarantee anything. It is not faith or lack of faith that determines good or evil. It is human understanding, the ability to choose good over evil. Religion can be a guide toward good, if one approaches it not as a justification for base behavior, but rather as an inspiration to be better than one otherwise could be.
Source: Tony Blair defends religious faith, The Telegraph, November 28th, 2010