Religion: society's saviour or nemesis?

  (28 October 09)
  by Greg Spearritt

In the wake of Christopher Hitchens’s visit to Oz, and more especially in the lead-up to the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne next March, the argument about whether religion is society’s saviour or its nemesis is likely to hit our shores with renewed vigour.

 

Two such salvos have just been fired in The Age: Jew Dvir Abramovich vents at the hypocrisy of anti-religion writers like Dawkins and Hitchens, and atheist James Richmond presents a lively rebuttal.  

 

So is religion good or bad on balance? In a poll of SoFiA members at the recent Toowoomba Conference the results were pretty even: 26% saw religion as a force for good, 21% as a force for evil and 53% felt it was neutral.

 

James Jupp, editor of the newly-published Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia, says of that volume in The Australian:

 

If you go through the whole book the general message is that religion in Australia is fairly benign. Most of the things the religions do here are socially desirable and relatively benign.

 

(Jupp, by the way, says he is “not a person of faith”, though he won’t lay claim to being an atheist either. Phillip Adams has recently interviewed Jupp and two other contributors about The Encyclopedia of Religion In Australia.)

 

There is, surely, no objective way of judging the question. ‘Religion’ is far too broad a category to say anything much that is coherent about its virtues or vices. Personal experience counts for a lot in this debate, and evidence heavily skewed to a sample of one just doesn’t stack up in the reasoned argument stakes.

 

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