The dehumanizing effect of religion

Many people believe that religion can cause the best qualities of humanity to be expressed: compassion, empathy, humility. And in many cases, they’re right.

Sometimes, though, religion has the opposite effect: it can dehumanize. Perhaps the best example is the idea, promoted by some brands of Christianity, that humans have little to no inherent value. That any good thing they do is because God caused them to do it (I talk about this more in my essay on religion).

I was reminded again of the potentially dehumanizing influence of religion when reading about a new manual published by the Mormon church. It’s aim is to encourage parents not to reject and disown their gay, lesbian or transgender children. The fact that such a manual is even needed in the first place is shocking. Apparently many Mormon LGBT children, on confessing their sexual orientation to their parents, are effectively thrown out the house. Many go on to commit (or attempt) suicide.

So now Mormons have to be told mind-bogglingly obvious things like “Parents’ attitudes can have a dramatic impact on their gay and transgender children’s lives”. You don’t say!

And, “Open communication between parents and children is a clear expression of love, and pure love, generously expressed, can transform family ties.” Who would have thought!

Clearly Mormonism has, in many families, stripped parents of their common sense when it comes to parenting, and now they have to be reminded of the basics. This is what happens when you place dogma (in this case, bigoted dogma) ahead of people’s well-being. It’s fundamentally dehumanizing.

The same can be said about the horrific rant (some call it a “sermon”) of Sean Harris, a pastor in North Carolina, in which he advocated that parents “punch” their sons if they exhibit effeminate behavior.  Harris’s beliefs have stripped him of the basic human qualities of compassion and empathy and have put violent authoritarianism in their place.

We should all try to be aware of the effect we’re having on other people’s emotional lives, no matter who those people are, and no matter how much we may disagree with their sexual orientation and other characteristics. Unfortunately, religion sometimes makes people lose sight of that, instead of making them better at it.


4 Responses to The dehumanizing effect of religion

  1. I disgree, Keith. Religion doesn’t make these people act in this way; extremist irrationality makes these people act in this way. You cannot blame a belief system for the few who take the belief system’s intent completely out of context. You are demonizing an entire belief because of the few who would be better served going to counseling and working on empathy, compassion, etc.

  2. Keith says:

    Warrioress: I don’t expect you to agree with me that your own belief system is irrational, but in my opinion many aspects of it are, which is why I am no longer a believer.

    “You are demonizing an entire belief because of the few who would be better served going to counseling and working on empathy, compassion, etc.”

    I am not demonizing an entire belief. Please read my post again. I am very careful to use words like “sometimes” and “potentially”. The dehumanizing effect I discuss here is most certainly not applicable to any entire belief system.

  3. L.Long says:

    Well Keith I do believe that they are all dehumanizing in over all effect, you are being to kind. Yes there are some sects that ignore the parts they do not like and talk about love and peace. But the Holey Texts are all about GAWD and what IT wants and wishes. Lying is a good example as the text says DO NOT LIE or go to hell. But everyone lies and sometimes for good human reasons. But you have to ignore the dogma to do the lie for human reasons and if you follow the dogma for gawd reasons then humans get the shaft.

  4. I came across your blog when I started searching the internet after thinking about the influence religion has had on the warlike, destructive, colonialist behavior of ancient civilizations like the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans etc. You have helped my thinking by showing me something of the process that takes place through practising modern religions.

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