Last week the Cambridge Union welcomed Professor Richard Dawkins and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams among others to debate the role of religion in the 21st Century.
Tim Squirrell, a second year natural sciences student at Churchill argues that we would be better off without religion.
Let's be clear on two things from the beginning: first, 500 words isn't enough to begin to cover such an incredibly broad and important issue. Second, I have no qualms with private spirituality or faith. Whilst I don't subscribe to any kind of spirituality myself, I believe it's every human being's fundamental right to attempt to find some modicum of happiness in an intrinsically meaningless world. To go around telling people that they have no right to their own beliefs is absurd, and is just as bad as attempts by religious organisations to push their beliefs into legislation.
I don't think that all religions are all bad all of the time. I think that they have provided a sense of community and hope for a large number of people over the ages, and I believe that a lot of the work that they do for underprivileged people is fundamentally good.
However, I don't think that any of the good things which religions do are unique, and nor are they able to counterbalance all of the terrible things which they have done, which they continue to do, and which have been done in their name. In addition to this, I have major issues with the way in which religious texts and organisations can so easily be hijacked and used to justify extremism, hatred and violence.
The latter is what separates religion from any other form of tribalism or group identity: the fact that it provides its members with the ultimate get-out clause for their actions - God willed it to be so. When an institution builds its authority upon claims of divine revelation and thereafter either endorses or fails to publicly condemn morally reprehensible acts, that is when we have a huge problem.
The people who commit these acts - whether they be the molestation of children, the incitement or instigation of violence, or attempts to legislate beliefs that are at best ethically tenuous - feel that they have the backing of their church, and that they are justified in their actions because they have the tacit backing of up to a billion people. An institution simply does not exist without its members, and as inconvenient and uncomfortable as it may be, those members are therefore indirectly and collectively responsible for the actions of those who receive their backing from that institution.
This means that any person who claims to be a Catholic, who goes to mass on Sundays or who buys a Catholic Bible gives their tacit endorsement and approval of the actions of the institution of the Catholic church by being a part of that religion.
I am not saying that every Catholic supports the molestation of children: that would be a horrible and offensive simplification of an incredibly complex problem. However, what I am saying is that without organised religion and the institutions it entails, people who do horrible things in the name of religion would no longer be able to claim the justification that they currently do.
All of the good things which we find in religion - charity, hope, support - can be, and are, found elsewhere. The only thing that religion really provides that is utterly unique is the ability to absolved of any responsibility for one's actions. For this reason, we would be better off without it.
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