Bad things have been done in the name of religion. Yes, it's true. It has been true throughout history. In some social circles, it seems popular these days for people to separate themselves from all expressions of religion because of this fact. They mention the Crusades, people who were burned at the stake, and wars fought in the name of a god. All these atrocities are well documented. People have indeed done some very bad things, and continue to do bad things, under the banner of religion.
But religion isn't unique in being misused in this way.
Bad things have also been done in the name of science. For just one example, let me quote from a report prepared by the Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce. The report, dated November 1986, is titled "American Nuclear Guinea Pigs: Three Decades of Radiation Experiments on U.S. Citizens." The following text is copied directly from the report's "Summary and Conclusions."
"Documents provided by the Department of Energy reveal the frequent and systematic use of human subjects as guinea pigs for radiation experiments. Some experiments were conducted in the 1940s at the dawn of the nuclear age, and might be attributed to an ignorance of the long term effects of radiation exposure, or to the atomic hubris that accompanied the making of the first nuclear bombs. But other experiments were conducted during the supposedly more enlightened 1960s and 1970s...
"These experiments were conducted under the sponsorship of the Manhattan Projects, the Atomic Energy Commission, or the Energy Research and Development Administration, all predecessor agencies of the Department of Energy. These experiments spanned roughly thirty years...
"...In some cases, the human subjects were captive audiences or populations that experimenters might frighteningly have considered 'expendable': the elderly, prisoners, hospital patients suffering from terminal diseases or who might not have retained their full faculties for informed consent. For some human subjects, informed consent was not obtained or there is no evidence that informed consent was granted.
"For a number of these same subjects, the government covered up the nature of the experiments and deceived the families of deceased victims as to what had transpired... "
Add to this the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, Nazi war crimes, and a host of other examples, and it becomes abundantly clear that bad things have been done in the name of science. Yet today, science marches boldly on.
Bad things have also been done in the name of patriotism. Bad things have been done in the name of business (sometimes with the caveat that "it's nothing personal"). Bad things have even been done in the name of love. The list of things that have stirred people to do evil is practically endless. Bad things have been done in virtually every field of human endeavor. Perhaps not intentionally, perhaps not with malice, but done nevertheless.
So, while it's true that bad things have been done in the name of religion, and although it is tragic that people who adhere to religious tenets so often fail to achieve the virtue they seek, it doesn't follow that religion itself is an evil. In fact, religion offers a host of good things: Peacemaking, feeding the hungry, supporting and comforting people in need, advocating for the marginalized, founding hospitals and healing the sick, educating populations, leading people toward self-improvement, practicing stewardship, inspiring artists, offering second chances... The list is practically endless.
History suggests that people of faith were often at the forefront of these types of endeavors, laying the groundwork so that others could follow in their footsteps. In facing the problems and challenges of today's world, religious people need to march boldly on and do even greater things.
The original version of this article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Observations: A Pier Press® Newsletter. If you're not already a subscriber, click here to sign up. It's free.