KAMPALA, UGANDA – Gwyne Dyer’s commentary in the New Vision of March 27, page 10, arguing that religion promotes bad behaviour, while secularism promotes good, has more holes in it than a house of Swiss cheese.
Sadly, some religious people do behave in unbecoming ways. There’s a saying that “with or without religion, good people do good and bad people do evil, but for good people to do evil, that takes religion.”
That has an unfortunate, blunt truth. From ancient Aztec human sacrifices, to Christianity’s mediaeval Inquisition, to Islamic extremism, history writes it with blood. But the alternatives – humanism, agnosticism, atheism – aren’t lily white either, and they’re no alternatives at all.
Especially considering the evils of evolution, a pet theory of secular humanists that’s now trumpeted by Dyer. Quoting religion researcher Gregory Paul, Dyer tells us that social ills like murder and sexual diseases and marital weakness in the “anti-evolution” regions of the south and midwestern United States, are worse than in America’s northeast, “where societal conditions, secularism and acceptance of evolution approach European norms.”
European norms? Give us a break. A couple of generations ago such so-called norms birthed a madman named Hitler who twisted Europe’s fascination with evolution into a holocaust and global war that killed over 75 million men, women and children.
Closer to home, let’s remember Rwanda, another atrocity branching from the demonic theory that some humans are worth less than others. At best, human evolution is unproven pseudoscience that continues to be riddled with contradictions.
The other note to keep in mind (besides the need to scrutinise Paul’s data and methods) is that some of the planet’s most significant social transformations have come from people driven by deep religious faith. History’s greatest strides in science, medicine, education and social welfare, in fact, often have Christian roots.
Take the abolition of slavery. In its 200th anniversary, this turning point in world history is now being remembered across Africa and beyond. Abolition, in fact, was championed by British parliamentarian William Wilberforce, a rather weak-looking man who burned bright with a great passion for Jesus Christ, the force that helped him work tirelessly for decades on a new law that eventually freed millions of Africans.
Interestingly, Wilberforce’s opponents included members of the established church, people who enjoyed the various profits and securities brought by the slave trade.
Which brings us to the real issue, one that unwittingly the skeptics are half-right about: dead religion is a poor counterfeit for living faith. Yes, it is true. Dead religion does lead to questionable behaviour.
But the answer is not to discard religious conviction, but to, like Wilberforce, renew it. This is especially relevant in a culture like in Uganda, a place where mainstream religion, Christianity in this case, is easily expressed, but where following the rules often seems more important than understanding their context. Jesus, after all, was basically an irreligious man, and the Bible an irreligious book.
This is worth repeating. Jesus was an irreligious man. He constantly challenged religious leaders by desecrating their cherished icons and tearing down their self-righteous walls. Over and over he broke rules of tradition, tribalism and territory.
Why? He knew that empty religiosity intimidated and burdened the masses who, above all, craved freedom.
Freedom. Deep, liberating, cleansing and forgiving freedom.
It’s something that the secular humanists and other critics don’t quite understand, because, apparently, they have not experienced it. Yet. For those of us who have, the daily challenge is obvious. Preach the good news. And when necessary, use words.