THE BLOG

This House Regrets Organised Religion

13/05/2015 10:52 BST | Updated 12/05/2016 10:59 BST

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Proposition

Leyla Gumusdis

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The twitter handle @TheTweetOfGod has nearly two million followers.

Worldwide, more than eight out of ten people identify with a religious group (or at least, this is what the Pew Research Group found in 2010). This is over five and a half billion people. The remainder are religiously unaffiliated, an identification that by no means excludes them from holding religious or spiritual beliefs.

Organised religion is huge. There is no denying this fact. It has adherents worldwide and over history has given us moral standards and education. It has helped create communities and spread learning - in Europe literacy was advanced by Protestants who believed men should be able to read the bible and by Catholic orders who established schools. Organised religion has the resources, influence and reach to do good.

Yet tonight this House urges you to reconsider this judgment. This House regrets organised religion. This House believes its benefits are far outweighed by the damage it has done to this world. Yes, it sets moral standards. But it makes it extremely easy to cower behind these and refuse change - it makes it acceptable to deny marriage to those who do not conform to societal expectations, to force women to have children they feel they cannot raise. Yes, it has furthered education. But at times it held back learning for centuries - the Catholic Church tried Galileo for heresy and placed him under house arrest because championed heliocentrism. Yes, the Muslim world preserved classical learning and advanced it at the time when Europe had rejected it, but the fundamental fact remains that Europe rejected it in no small part because of organised religion. Yes, it creates communities. But too often it has created them in opposition to others, too often it has spurred mankind to war, too often it has turned us against each other.

Organised religion is a danger. In the form most of us know it, it is beholden to ancient customs and teachings. In order for society to advance, we must do away with traditionalism and superstition (as the Enlightenment tried to). We cannot justify decisions based on: my people have always done this, a religion created over a thousand years ago proclaims this, I have a community who will back me up on this.

We regret organised religion - we regret it deeply - because it has held us back. Does it encourage any to do good, to be charitable, to think of others? Yes. Is it used to encourage us to create territorial communities, to foster hostility, to retard the forward march of society? Also yes.

Herein lies the fundamental problem: by itself, organised religion is no evil. If anything, it is a force for good. But it has been corrupted over the centuries and is too easily manipulated. Many of the worst atrocities have been committed in the name of a religion, and we forget this at our peril.

And so we implore you, for the sake of civilisation, to follow God and skip church.

Opposition

Naile Shamgunova

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Disclaimer: I am religious, but I passionately believe in secularism and separation between organised religion and state. However, that does not mean that organised religion in itself is a bad thing.

The common arguments against it tend to rest on the amount of influence a religious organisation be it the Catholic Church with its Inquisition or countries ruled by Sharia Law. There is a principal difference between these two examples: one represents a powerful independent organisation which can influence a government and another - a direct rule by a religious organisation.

Any arguments against the latter, good as they might be (a secular state is better because it is, at least in theory, based on rational principles rather than beliefs of a particular group of people etc), cannot be equated to arguments against organised religion per se. The secular and democratic state which secularism strives to create is, by definition, respectful to people of any gender, sexuality, political or religious affiliations. Prohibiting organised religion would be going against the very principles which secularism is supposed to be upholding.

The right of a religious organisation as a private association of like-minded people to exist is more difficult to argue against than the right of a religious organisation to be directly involved in governmental structures. However, independent religious organisations are also a form of organised religion. By the virtue of being private associations, they have a right to exist. If individual members of a religious organisation commit certain crimes, for example, hate speech or harassment, it is their individual responsibility rather than the result of the principle of freedom of organisation. In other words, just because members of a pro-life church harassed women outside of an abortion clinic, despicable as it might be, does not mean that hundreds of other peaceful people should not be allowed to come together to worship as a community if they wish so.

All this means is that religious organisation should be allowed, it does not really mean that their existence is not regrettable, some would argue. Look at all the influence some 'independent' organisations, such as the Catholic Church, have. Look at the amount of power they can have in covering up various abuses and crimes. The obvious answer to that would be, again, that the existence of those individual organisations is regrettable, but not the entire principle. The same principle can be applied to secular organisations. Just because, say, BP has a huge amount of power and can evade justice in environmental cases does not mean that a hard-working Uncle Jo should not be allowed to be industrious and open a small petrol station. The abuses are the problem in both cases, and they must be tackled, but that does not mean that the whole framework is inherently flawed. A similar argument can be used for the issue of 'regretting' what religious organisations have done in the past. Again, an analogy can be made between the 'Church N burned that many people' argument and any other type of organisation. For example, just because the British state persecuted LGBT+ people in the 20th century does not mean that the existence of the British state or even the concept of a state in general is regrettable, it just means that a particular historical example is.

I could talk about spiritual solace people can get from representatives of an organised religion or the positive effect certain religious organisations can have on communities by organising various activities and bringing people together, but that is essentially anecdotal evidence. What is more important is the right of people to have access, even theoretically, to that solace or community experiences if that is what they want. Denying people the right of association based on an ideological factor, among other things, sets a dangerous precedent. To conclude, I do regret various factors connected with organised religion, but that does not mean that the very principle of it is regrettable.

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