What is the harm with belief? … You might like to ask the folks in Bangladesh


A police officer on a street in DhakaWho could possibly have any objection to a religious belief, what harm can it really do? If people wish to believe in God or Allah will it not motivate them to be good people and treat others with fairness, so why not leave them alone to just believe, after all, criticism will simply upset them … right?

Wrong – believing in stuff that is wrong can often motivate those who deeply embrace such thoughts to behave in a truly abhorrent manner. The problem is that the belief can trick them into thinking that their actions are just fine, when in fact all the belief is doing is using them in order to try and survive and thrive by obliterating or suppressing any alternatives.

Am I making this up? Nope, we need never look too far to find examples. Take the latest news from Bangladesh on the BBC 

On Sunday, crowds of protesters blocked main roads, isolating Dhaka from other parts of the country.

Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper reported that the group had hired at least 3,000 vehicles, including buses, lorries and minibuses, to bring demonstrators into the capital, while others travelled there by train.

Chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is greatest!”) and “One point! One demand! Atheists must be hanged”,

One witness who watched events unfold from a rooftop in central Dhaka said the demonstrators “were very aggressive, some people were throwing stones and the situation quickly become violent… the police had no option but to respond”.

“Rioters vandalised markets and set fire to bookshops where the Holy Koran is sold. Thousands of Koran and religious books burned. They also attacked the ruling party’s political office and national mosque,” he told the BBC.

The bank employee, who asked not to named, said many people in Dhaka were angry about the violence, particularly as the city is still mourning the recent loss of more than 600 workers in a building collapse.

Let me replay that for you so that it can sink in …

  • A gang of what can at best be described as religious thugs, descends upon the capital to demand that bloggers who do not believe what they believe should be murdered.
  • They then resorted to violent rioting and started attacking the police

Net result of this utter insanity – more than 30 people are now dead.

If tempted to think that there should be no criticism of beliefs and that they are harmeless … well you might want to hold that thought, the evidence says something quite different.

“Ah”, you might say, “that is ‘them’, we don’t do that”. OK, a rather important observation is that most believers within most beliefs are not violent thugs, but instead are decent and honourable, not because of their belief, but despite it. However, rather sadly, even the most passive of beliefs when truly embraced, will motivate some to push against our natural human empathy . For example …

  • Homophobia: I’ve had Church of England folks explain to be that being gay is morally evil, and yet can’t tell me why except to simply point at a verse in the bible that tells them this
  • Misogyny: I’ve had Baptist folks explain that women need to cover their heads, remain silent, and obey their husbands no matter what is demanded

Most Baptists and most C of E folks do not think like that or behave like that, but those belief systems do promote those ideas, so only those who truly believe it all are at risk of doing so.

So what is the harm in belief? The answer is that truly believing bad ideas, stuff that is not actually true, motivates bad behaviour … such ideas should not get a free pass, but should instead be challenged.

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