Does the good done in the name of religion outweigh the evil?
in GP essay
The stronger religions are unarguably Christianity and Islam. These two have originated since many years ago, have outlived most religions and have the greatest followings among the people. Professing Christians make up 35% and Muslims, 30%, with regards to world population. They appear many times throughout history and are very strong driving forces.
In the first millennia, there was up to ten crusades carried out European powers. The church was unhappy with the Holy Lord being in Muslim hands. And the church being the powerful voice of god to the people, they are commanded crusade after crusade. Historians estimate as many as 70 millions people lost their lives in one way or another, including civilians who were frequently slaughtered by soldiers of the opposite faith and skin color. This was accompanied with a degradation of morals. Soldiers looted, raped and massacred innocent civilians and enemy soldiers. This shows how religions can clash head-on and result in much evil and suffering.
In fact, such phenomenon has repeated itself in history many times. Even in the present age, it is not absent. Examples include violence between Catholics and Protestants within Europe and which still exists in Ireland, between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia and the Middle East and more recently, terrorism in the name of religion. The fear of terrorism has become very real ever since the collapse of the twin towers, the London train bombings and the foiled aircraft bombings. Many faithful people are misguided into the acceptance of violence and terrorism because their beliefs are twisted into believing that violence is legitimate. Therefore religion has brought much evil into the world.
On the other hand, religion has also been the peace-loving and order-establishing force in a society. In ancient times, the strong Holy Roman Empire made Christianity its state religion. In European countries in the Middle Ages, it was common for the church to be of equal, if not greater power than the monarchy. They could dictate laws and employed faithful to be police of the people. Laws could be very strict at times and crime was kept low. Other societies which have also based on religion include Africa, America and South American tribal nations, and also Muslim-guided societies in the Middle East and East Asia like Malaysia and Indonesia.
Unfortunately, this also has its set of ills. Societies based on religion can be exceedingly harsh and inhumane. Witches and heretics were banned at the stake tortured in Europe. In some Muslim societies, thieves had their hands chopped off while rapists were castrated. Undeniably, these societies were inoculated with religious morals of high standard and which demanded absolute adherence, and people rebelled on pan of death or a life of suffering. Thailand is also another example.
In some sense of good, people were sometimes able to seek religious asylum. In china, prosecuted youth or collaborators with the west could convert and seek shelter with churches. They guaranteed safety by the western powers and the Chinese monarchy could not afford to go against them. This was in the last two centuries, when there was still a Chinese monarchy in place. During the crusades, civilians were made to convert at sword point and killed if they disagreed. More recently this is done with guns instead, especially in the Middle East. Militias have been known to stop cars and transport and harass travelers and foreigners. However, this can be viewed as a façade, people converting to save their skins and not really believing in the religion at all. Therefore, it is rather pointless to convert.
Sometimes, religion is used as a front for other worldly intentions. The Spanish invaded South America in the name of spreading the gospel, but were more intent on finding gold instead. In likewise savagery, the invaders sometimes known as the conquistadors converted those who would at gunpoint, killing the rest. And in subsequent ages, the inquisition descended on these lands. People were tortured for not believing by the most horrific instruments of pain, devised specially for the occasion. Hence religion can be used as a façade for other motives. Similarly, western powers used the same excuse when they colonized and took over Asian territories in the past.
Today, people make many contributions to society in the name of religion. Religious schools and orphanages are established around the world, giving shelter and support for young children. These children also receive moral education based on religious principles, usually teaching of kindness and forgiveness. Many people also do charity work and contribute to society. In Singapore, we have both Christian and Muslim charitable organizations which do not necessarily limit their support to Christians or Muslims alone.
People also seek the meaning of life in religion. This is one reason why such people begin to care for and contribute to the society. They realize their hunger for spiritual fulfillment, and try to make sense of the material and stress-filled world around them from the spiritual point of view.
Lastly, when some people convert, this might cause tension between people. For example, family ties can be strained when members of the family convert. This leads to unhappiness in the family. Sometimes, the family breaks up because of conversion. In certain cultures, people can be cut off from their society. Catholics can be excommunicated, Jews be cut off and Muslims converting are likely to face revenge by those who were friends and family before.
As a conclusion, I do think that the development and pursuit of religion and spiritual fulfillment is inevitable. It is human nature to seek these. However, I feel that the world could have been much different and likely to be better and more peaceful if there was no religion. Religion is not a basic need to survival and we could have avoided all the religious conflicts, suffering and controversy. There has obviously been much evil and suffering with the existence of religion, more so than good. For people would probably be charitable without religion.