I wanted to take a moment to cleanse the palate, after all, it gets really hard writing about the various religious horrors week after week. A while back, I put up a general page to track each weekly horror and on it, I provided a means to e-mail me stories that readers thought would qualify. I am very grateful for the people who have so far sent in their stories, some of them are going to be used in the next few weeks.
However, there are some people who have sent in stories that really don’t qualify as religious horrors. Certainly, they might make interesting fodder for other articles, but I wanted to spell out in detail exactly what it is that I’m looking for, both to help people know what to look for, and, well, to avoid having to write another gut-wrenching tale this week.
When I started the original feature, back around 2006 or 2007, it wasn’t something that happened on any particular day of the week, it was just a label I put on stories that had certain common features. I had noticed that while lots of atheist blogs posted stories about bad things religious people do, and there are lots of them to be certain, a small percentage of them seemed to stand out to me. These were stories where religion was the unmistakable cause of the bad things, where, absent the beliefs, these stories simply could not exist.
- It must be a case of demonstrable harm, preferably physical, although extreme emotional distress can work too.
- The harm must be done to others. Self-mutilation for your beliefs, while perhaps gruesome, probably wouldn’t fit in most of the time. If you want to scourge yourself because your mind-poison tells you to, knock yourself out. Literally.
- The harm must be directly caused by the beliefs themselves, such that if the beliefs were removed from the situation, the harm could not logically have happened. This is perhaps the place where most submitters lose their way so the rule I want to spend the most time on. I get stories about person X who defrauds people, and who happens to be a minister, or person Y who drives his car over a little old lady and happens to be a rabbi. Yes, those can be horrors, but the religion isn’t integral to what happened. You could have a non-rabbi running over old people with great abandon. Unless the religion made him do it, it just doesn’t qualify.
- Don’t over-think it. I’ve seen people say “these people are clearly crazy, if you took away religion, they’d just find some other way to justify their insanity”. While that might be true, that’s not really the point of the exercise. The point is to show that religion influences people to do things that other, rational, intellectual pursuits would not. If they were crazy, then perhaps they could have received help earlier, if not under the “you can’t accuse the religious of being insane” banner.
Let’s look at an example, in fact, one of the earliest cases I covered, although certainly not the first, we have the case of the Beagleys, a couple who lived in Oregon City, Oregon, who allowed their 16-year old son Neil to die of a simple urinary tract obstruction in June of 2008. The couple are members of the Followers of Christ Church, which has a long, long string of dead children to show for their strict no-medical-treatment beliefs. It was a story of the sad, painful death of an innocent boy who could easily have been saved had he just been taken to the doctor for treatment. This case spurred the state of Oregon to pass a law in 1999 eliminating the religious freedom defense in cases where the welfare of children are concerned. Had religion not been involved, there’s no way the parents would have allowed their child to die a horrible death while they just sat and talked to themselves.
So please, keep sending in those stories, the link to do so is here. Together, we can share all of the evil that religion demonstrably does with the world.