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Sunday, November 2, 2008

What's The Harm?

Too often I listen to and read apologists that use the phrase "But what's the harm? These are private beliefs, and who are we challenge what people believe?" Well, all too often, irrational beliefs that are acted on cause a great deal of harm. Just look at the fantastic website What's The Harm. "3,284 people killed, 306,068 injured and over $2,815,114,000 in economic damages ..." and that's just the beginning.

The three terrorists known as the Bali bombers are due to be executed by firing squad sometime within the next day or so. In 2002, they targeted nightclubs packed with western tourists, killing 202 people, 88 of which were Australians. They have never expressed one ounce of remorse, with Amrozi often seen with a huge grin on his face, which gained him the name "the smiling assassin."

They view themselves as martyrs for their religion. Their brother believes that when they are executed, they will be placed in paradise because they stood up for their religion. Their mother is pleased that they will be put to death, again because they will be martyrs for their religion and will be sent to paradise. There are no doubt countless others that believe the same thing.

In the interview below with CNN, the interviewer tries to insist that the bomber is "twisting the Muslim religion completely", however the bomber is able to point out an exact passage in his holy book that justifies killing for his religion.

The interviewer asks "What gives you the right to take the lives of other people?"
The bomber answers "The verse... blood by blood, soul by soul."

That is the harm.

This also raises another point which I often struggle with understanding. These people not only believe that they are right, they "KNOW" that they are right and are willing to give up the one life that they are certain to have. If you don't hold the belief that they do, then you are either going to hell, or not going to heaven, or whatever particular teaching that religion has. Then there are people from other religions that make similar claims about their own belief systems, and they believe and "know" JUST as much as the other group. It goes on and on, with countless religions making these claims. Some one MUST be wrong. They cannot all be right. Yet each group is just as convinced as the other, and in some cases willing to die for the cause.

As an atheist, I reject all claims of any type of god/s until I have good reason and am justified to believe. Hence there is no dogma, no beliefs to follow, nothing to worship, nothing to want to die or kill for, and in fact makes me love and enjoy every day I have in this life, doing as much good as I possibly can.

It seems to me that atheism makes far more sense.


  1. What's the Harm ?
    On a more personal note I would like to add the following. On a daily basis Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people are mistreated and bashed because of religious beliefs. While these beliefs "are private" the harm is that people do not keep them to themselves but use them as a tool to supress and harm others. I have seen too many people (including myself) struggle with alcohol, addiction and other problems due to the indoctrination they have recieved in childhood which leaves scars throughout a person's life. The Jesuits say "give me a child until he is seven and I will have him for life" and sadly, so much people suffer for years with guilt, self hate and self image problems due to religious beliefs. I took me until I was in my mid Forties to resolve so many of these issues and I think how much time I wasted and how much better than time could have been used.

  2. Funny is it how our Christian prime minister belives that this man should be killed for his actions, but campaigns for Australians who get the death penalty overseas. I think it better to let them languish in prison and deprive the movement of its martyrs.

  3. Thanks for sharing that Robert. It is so true that these irrational beliefs cause harm to all of the community. That quote you mention from the Jesuits "give me the child until he is seven..." is very much a factor in child indoctrination that religions rely upon to recruit for their cause. Something that has always struck a chord with me is the saying that we shouldn't teach children WHAT to think, but HOW to think. By doing this we can equip them with the skills that necessary to judge claims for themselves and approach life with a critical and skeptical mind. By allowing children to reach their own conclusions by weighing up the evidence themselves is far more empowering and useful than exposing them to religious dogma.

    Sean, I agree with you completely about the death penalty, which is the driver that got me thinking about this post in general. As much as I am disgusted by the horrific crimes they committed, I still don't agree that their execution is the best solution, especially when their beliefs put them on a pedestal as martyrs. I view them sitting in a gaol cell for the rest of their lives is far more of a punishment than putting them to death.

  4. It may surprise people hear to know I'm against both child indoctrination and death penalties for the Bali bombers.

    I wonder if I can ask a couple of questions, though, along the way.

    Rach: what does it look like to teach a child 'how' to think without 'what'? Method without content? But then don't you need to teach them to value a particular method? That seems more 'what' than 'how'? It seems to me that claiming that epistemological foundations are value-free is a little naive.

    Alan: we're hitting this little problem with the use of 'know' and 'believe' that I've highlighted before. Could you be a little more precise for those reading your blog and define the two a little more clearly? Otherwise (a) I'm not sure what you're getting at and (b) it makes you sound a little philosophically unsophisticated when you use the terms the way you do.

  5. Mike, I'm not sure if you are familiar with the term "critical inquiry". It is the core of the scientific method, and pretty much the opposite of dogma. It is a process by which we observe the evidence and data, and analyze the information to reach a logical conclusion. This is called "science". Anyone can then take these conclusions and test them for themselves. If they don't stand up, then they are dismissed and we move on. Science and critical inquiry teach us how to think. Science is a process that sorts out science from pseudoscience (junk science).

    This is unlike religious dogma, which has a prescribed set of concrete beliefs that are taught. It's followers are taught WHAT to believe, usually from an ancient book.

    Of course we teach children content. We teach them what the current scientific consensus of scientific theory. We teach them that the earth revolves around the sun. We teach them about chemical equations. We teach them about evolution. The difference is that once they are equipped with the tools of HOW to think, they can test these things out for themselves. They do NOT have blind faith in them.

    Mike, we have defined these terms a number of times for you. Before you go accusing people of being "philosophically unsophisticated", go and watch the debate that you were in again. Alan clearly defined these terms for you.

  6. From

    Barneys4Kids Sundays 9:45am and 5:00pm

    Children's programs run during the Morning and Afternoon services. All kids are welcome to join in games, singing, having fun and learning about God.
    The programs are:
    Creche - for babies 0-2
    Pippies - for toddlers in creche
    Barniccles - for children 3-years to Kindergarten
    Primary age - for children in grades 1-6

    Yes, Mike, it does surprise me to learn that you oppose child indoctrination.

  7. Mike,

    I was not at all suprised to hear that you are against the executions. I would think as a moe or less liberal christian that it would be par for the course.

    I just found our supposed christian PM's calls for their execution a little at odds with his professed beliefs and hypocritical when he is campaigning for clemency in the case of the Bali nine. 88 people died in the bombings, how many people were to die as the result of the drug trafficking by the nine.

  8. Hey Dave,

    "Religious indoctrination refers to customary rites of passage for the indoctrination of persons into a particular religion and its extended community.

    Terms generally vary by culture, custom, and language, though some terms, like "baptism," are pluralist and applicable across several faiths. Baptism itself is a water rite wherein a person is (or submerged) in water, which symbolises their immersion into faith, as defined by the associated religion. Whereas —similar or equivalent to the Islamic concept of "Submission"— immersion represents the complete acceptance of the faith, the passage of the rite itself represents the complete assimilation of the subject into the religion and, where religion is closely bound to ethnic constraints, to its associated social culture.

    In the Catholic faith, church members are indoctrinated through the ritual of baptism and confirmation."

    Therefore, indoctrination has nothing to do with teaching kids stories from the bible. It has to do with rites of passage. Judging by your comments, Mike was using the correct definiton and you weren't.