Nearly all religion is potentially dangerous. By dangerous I mean harmful to our well-being and often times with adverse side effects which don’t help to improve the quality of life any. Well, maybe with the exception of a small few amiable religious faiths like Jainism–which is not harmful, but religions such as this are the exception and not the rule. Most world religions, it seems, are more or less dangerous.
When I say *all religion is dangerous, I don’t mean all religion is evil. I feel I should clarify exactly what I mean by making an obscure Star Wars analogy. ;p
[Note: Mainstream (i.e., Orthodox) Christians claim the Holy Spirit acts as their sixth sense, and guides their moral decisions, and helps them understand the will of God. Even so, there is absolutely no evidence for the Holy Spirit/Ghost as described by Christian theology. The Holy Spirit has never been proved, and until evidence is forthcoming it can only be treated as a Christian fancy–and hence imaginary.]
I should add that different religious values vary according to different religious modes of thought… so all religion is different in terms of scale of harm and threat.
To come back to the Star Wars analogy, people don’t usually fear the Jedi council, because they act within reason. The Jedi work to serve the public. The Sith work only to serve themselves.
Not every religion will be harmful, I know. But even the harmless ones can have harmful elements, mind you. This is why Obi Wan is always telling young Padawan Anakin Skywalker to “Be mindful of the Force.”
The moral Obi Wan is trying to instill in his novice apprentice is that if you take too many liberties with your religious beliefs–then you are distorting it to fit your needs–and this is when it becomes something dark and twisted. It is using religion as a means to an end–usually to fulfill your own desires–instead of following it because it is your desire to do so.
That cult is NOT Christian, she affirmed. They do evil things that aren’t sanctioned by the Bible or God, she insisted. While all that may be true, most Christians do things that aren’t sanctioned by the Bible or God. Most Christians eat ham at Easter and Christmas. Most Christians put up a Christmas tree every year, even as both of these activities are things which the Christian God explicitly prohibits. So simply stating a group isn’t “Christian” because they don’t adhere to the exact same guidelines of the Christian faith as you do is not evidence enough to claim they aren’t sincere Christians.
Meanwhile, the Hephzibah cult practices and adheres to all the same doctrines and tenets as the mainstream Baptist faith. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that most cults add additional practices, rules, and regulations–in other words, they have done what Obi Wan has warned Anakin not to do–they have distorted their faith to fulfill their own personal desires, and in so doing have created something dark and twisted.
Its only when religion has a negative impact–on the individual or on society–that we can say it has crossed the line. The problem is, religion always crosses that line–and most religious people habitually turn a blind eye to it either 1) out of devotion to their faith, or 2) because they don’t feel it’s causing any real harm, or else 3) because they don’t equate any of the negative aspects with their particular branch of faith. It’s not our religion that is corrupt, they’ll remind us. No, indeed, it is the very ideology behind it which is.
But circumcision–for example–is injurious. It’s a form of bodily mutilation, and if done incorrectly it is entirely damaging. Babies die from Herpes when it is done, even in the 21st century. This just boggles the mind at how such a grotesque and odious religious practice can be continued for reasons of faith when it is known to kill hapless infants! However, just because Jews and Christians practice circumcision doesn’t mean the people themselves are evil. They’re not.
But they are misguided, if not entirely deluded.
They are deluded because the believe that this secures a covenant between them and their God. Which supplies them the excuse to inflict this kind of harm and believe it is okay to do so. Like I said, this sort of reasoning is not okay.
Circumcision is a religious practice with hardly any proven medical benefit (at least not enough to warrant infant circumcision). The obvious danger is the act of actually hacking away at a child’s genitalia and thereby cutting the flesh off of his or her reproductive organ.
The only reason religious people practice such traditions in the first place, however, is because it is built into their faith–as a covenant with God (the revealed religion part). Without this peculiar religious belief though, it stems to reason that this practice of severing flesh from the human body for no good reason would not likely exist.
So even good, well meaning, religious believers can still be enacting great harm on others because of their peculiar religious held beliefs without even realizing it.
[Note: Notice I say religion, singular, as in a religious system of belief and not religions, plural, as a cultural form of observance predicated on those prescribed to religious beliefs. Jainism as a belief system, and so too a cultural observance, is quite harmless. The same cannot be said of religions which practice circumcision, or other weird rituals, such as honor killings, stoning and caning as punishment, arranged marriages, withholding their members a proper education, withholding their members proper health care, disavowing their children because they are gay, disowning family members because they adhere to a different belief system, etc. etc. Even though many religious people are themselves good people–their religious practices can often times prove to be harmful.]