Religion's track record

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This page is for documenting how well religion has performed as a means of making decisions and as a source of good, as opposed to non-religiously based methods such as science or personal intuition not based on any religious argument.

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Bad decisions

Religious arguments were used to support slavery (and, later, discrimination, when slavery was outlawed in the United States) long after public sentiment had turned against it.

Many people have committed heinous crimes in the belief that God had told them to do so (e.g. Charles J. Guiteau's assassination of United States president Garfield in 1881). While in each case there is no evidence to think that God did or could in fact order such things there is also no evidence to indicate otherwise, and having been raised in a tradition which encourages belief in communication with God seems likely to render an individual more susceptible to the idea that voices or suggestions "heard" internally might come from God and therefore might be morally acceptable actions when they would otherwise be dismissed as morally wrong.

Areas of study suppressed for religious reasons

More specifics are needed on the following:

  • electricity -- I seem to recall that Benjamin Franklin's study of lightening was condemned as being tampering with God or some such
  • medicine?
  • anatomy?

To balance the picture, there should be a catalog of valid areas of study which religion has been alone in supporting – any candidates?



  • helps build community between its members, typically strengthening the larger community of which it is a part
  • countless majestic cathedrals and works of art (query: how much religious art was truly inspired by religious faith, and how much was essentially commissioned as advertisement for/by the church?)
  • popularization of a number of generally good memes, including:
    • taboo against killing; the sanctity of (human) life (Judeo-Christianity)
    • taboo against lying (Judeo-Christianity)
    • "turning the other cheek", i.e. taboo against vengefulness (Christianity)
    • taboo against envious or jealous thoughts/behavior (Judeo-Christianity): helps to avoid the temptation to steal and also helps reduce friction between people of different levels of wealth
    • help the poor (Christianity)
    • respect for elders (Confucianism, Judeo-Christianity, others): supports parents in their efforts to impart good values to their children; supports the transmission of community history, so it can be learned from; helps prevent elder abuse
  • popularization of memes useful within their cultural context:
    • taboo against stealing; the sanctity of personal property (Judeo-Christianity): some viable cultures don't/didn't have the concept of personal property, at least not to the same extent; results have been mixed


  • 1791: the Priestley Riots
  • The Inquisitions (Catholicism)
  • The idea that not only is believing the wrong ideas a crime, but a crime punishable by death (heresy)
  • Persecution of homosexuals and others with non-standard gender traits
  • Suppression of learning, especially in certain areas such as: sexuality and reproduction; biology (anti-evolution); geology (young earth creation theories)
  • The declaration that rock music is the work of the devil (American Christian extremists, late 1950s)
  • The burning of Beatles albums in response to John Lennon's off-the-cuff statement that the Beatles "are more popular than Jesus now" (American Christian extremists, 1966)
  • Repression of women (most religions, throughout history)
  • Repression of scientific progress
  • Sexual repression, including: repression of homosexuality and transsexuality [W] [1]; adverse control of heterosexual behavior between consenting adults; adverse control of non-interpersonal sexual behavior
  • The destruction of countless works of art; examples:
  • Countless instances of religious violence; examples:
  • The Ku Klux Klan claimed to be a Christian organization (what was Christianity's reaction to this?)
  • The Flat Earth Society
  • Doctrinal arguments in support of slavery caused much of Christendom to support what we now know to be a great evil
  • 1572-08-24 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre: was religion really at the heart of this? Or was it more ethnic/tribal in nature, or even political, with religions serving merely as convenient labels for the opposing sides?

Religious Positivity

  • 2007-05-12 Driver Street tests 3 (complete story, printable): '"We believe that God has hope for this neighborhood more than he wants us to be comfortable," said Miglarese, a member of The Summit Church, a Baptist congregation in Durham where he met his roommates.'
    • follow-up
    • More about Driver Street: "The men at 601 N. Driver St. are not the only Durham residents who have left more comfortable surroundings to live in high-crime neighborhoods, a change inspired by faith."
  • 2007-05-10 Churches to Provide Immigrants Sanctuary: "Churches in five big U.S. cities plan to protect illegal immigrants from deportation, offering their buildings as sanctuary if need be, as they pressure lawmakers to create a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants." This isn't so much a point in favor of religion, however, as a point in favor of having:
    • large groups of people who share resources and a common outlook on life
    • physical places within which the government has greatly reduced authority

Religious Violence

eventually to have its own page when the list gets long enough (redirect from religious conflict too)





  • Evangelical Engagements With Eugenics, 1900-1940: "When I began my research on evangelicals and the American eugenics movement, I thought I would find a large literature of anti-eugenic arguments. I hoped that evangelicals in the period 1900-1940 could prove helpful in current debates in bioethics. For the most part I was disappointed. ...on the whole the evangelical mainstream in the decades following the turn of the century appeared apathetic, acquiescent, or at times downright supportive of the eugenics movement."

Filed Links

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