The title is shamelessly stolen from Alice, as she’s not around to use it herself at the moment.
On christmas day, 2010, 15 year old Kristy Bamu was murdered in a London flat after being tortured for four days along with two siblings, because they were believed to be sorcerers.
In May, 2011, Hana Williams, 13, was found dead of hypothermia in the back garden of her adopted parents' home in Washington state. She had been locked out, naked, in wet weather not much above freezing, as punishment; part of a regime of what can only be described as torture, advocated in the book To Train Up Your Child, by the Reverend and Mrs Pearl; a Biblically based book on child-rearing which advocates, amongst other things, beating a child with a length of plumbing hose. The book's been implicated in at least two other murders of children.
In May 2009, an abortion provider, Doctor George Tiller, was shot dead by Scott Roeder, who believed on religious grounds, that abortions shouldn't be provided to women, even if their lives are being put at risk by continuing the pregnancy.
In July, 2011, Yelena Abduzhalimova Makhachkala lost her leg to a landmine, whilst playing volleyball on the shore of the Caspian sea. The mine had been left there by local Muslims, who didn't like women wearing bikinis. Some yards away, a group of children were playing; and—as Abduzhalimova herself said with commendable lack of self-pity, given her circumstances—it was only pure luck that it was her, not a child who stepped on that totally indiscriminate weapon. Islam is, at present, by far the worst of the major religions as far as murders go—including state-sanctioned death penalties for the victimless crime of blasphemy—but this case, to me, really shows up the sheer inhumanity of the thought-processes of those who take fundamentalist religion to its logical extreme.
All of the above—and anyone interested can find many more like them without trying very hard at all—have one thing in common. Real, flesh-and-blood people were killed, tortured and maimed as a result of belief in unproven, unevidenced supernaturalism; in gods and the alleged desires of those gods.
And it's all very well saying that that's just extremists; that ordinary believers don't do such things (I've said it myself, and on the level of individuals, I still say it), but there's something about religion, of whatever creed or sect, that lends itself to such thinking.
I'm talking, here, about faith in the strong sense. Not my faith that a doctor will attempt to cure me if I'm ill, or that a bus will be along because the timetable says so, but rather the religious definition of faith that says that evidence doesn't matter; that, indeed, it is one's duty to believe no matter how contradictory the stories, or how little evidence there is for their factual, historical accuracy.
Specifically, I'm talking about the idea, unique to religion and other forms of supernaturalism, that holding onto one's beliefs in the face of the evidence is a virtue. And, contrariwise, promotes the idea that refusing or ceasing to believe something for which we've seen no evidence is a bad thing; a sin against the unevidenced god, which will be punished by everlasting torture in an unevidenced afterlife.
This supposed virtue is so ingrained into our culture that even many who don't believe, still unconsciously frame that faith, that refusal to allow one to change one's mind on receipt of new data, as a virtue.
I'm not saying that religion is a slippery slope; that a mild believer will necessarily become a fundamentalist. What I am saying is that turning the deliberate refusal to use critical thinking into a virtue makes it much easier for people to to make that step, and that combining it with the fear of the apostate and the heathen, waiting in the wings to damn your neighbours and family for eternity by tempting them from the True Path,™ provides both motive and excuse for atrocity. What matters it, if a few people who are already damned, die a little sooner, if their deaths mean that your loved ones won't be tempted off the straight and narrow path to everlasting bliss?
The basis for all religion is the existence of a supernatural being and/or realm; gods, heavens, hells and afterlives. There is no evidential basis for such belief, so the various religions and churches fall back on evidence-free faith-based belief, and advertise that as a virtue. Depending on how strict your particular sect might be, you can question aspects of doctrine, but it all has to be built on that purely faith-based foundation. And that's a problem.
Once you tell people that the core of their belief system has to be based on faith; when you shore up that position by spinning faith as virtue, you weaken their defences. If we promote the idea of one impossibility as an explanation, we can't give a valid reason for not believing another one without calling the first into question. If we tell people that they must accept one thing on faith (and no religion I can think of stops at a mere one) then we imply that faith is a valid reason to accept any course of action. And when we go on to present the world to them as a struggle between good and evil for the everlasting souls of ourselves and our children, they're going to see any action promoted by a 'Holiness,' a 'Pastor' or a 'Reverend' as authoritative and correct, taking it 'on faith,' that a cruelty in the here-and-now is as nought compared to a soul saved from a damnation that's also taken 'on faith.'
Your religion might be mild, and meek, and gentle, but I submit that the core 'virtue,' your very faith itself and the promotion of it as a virtue, is the most unvirtuous about religion.
I do sincerely apologise to any mildly-religious people reading this. I know it must be an uncomfortable thought even if you reject it, unless you do so out of hand and don't allow yourself to think it. I, too, was raised in this culture where faith is seen as virtue. Intellectually I know it isn't, but it's still an easy trap to fall into when talking of people of gentler faith, even for me who's never had faith in the first place. So yes, I apologise. But I don't retract.
There will always be nasty, bad and cruel people. There will always be those who, for some reason, are less well educated than others. And there'll always be those who are as thick as a very thick rectangular building thing. Whatever combination of those things the step-parents of 13 year old Hana Williams are, I can't stop myself wondering: would she still be alive today, if they hadn't been taught that it was perfectly sensible to look uncritically on anything labelled 'Christian'; that, indeed, such faith was a virtue?