Difficult to distinguish creed from deed

In his writeup above Orange Julius makes a number of most eloquent arguments concerning the benefits of religion. His main defensive point seems to be that there exists a "true" religion (in some Platonic sense), which is independent of any misinterpretations by its followers (e.g. fundamentalism, heresy), and of their evil misdeeds (e.g. religious war, intolerance, suicide bombing). A religion should hence not be judged by the deeds of its followers, but by the tenets of the religion itself, which are for the most part benign and virtuous.

I would like to make a short argument for the position that a separation of religious (or even political) creed from deed is not possible.

Identifying characteristics

In order for a belief system to be called a religion, it must have at least two characteristics:

  • faith:
    a strong emotional belief in something that doesn't need to be substantiated by anything except by the inner convictions of the believer.
  • collectivity:
    individual faith may be private, but the articles of faith are shared by many.

Modicums of difference

Now we can see quite plainly that separating the religion from its followers is a contradiction in terms -- a religion without followers is by definition no religion. How do the followers identify their True Religion? How do the faithful obtain consensus about what, precisely, constitutes the True Religion? In scientific matters such a consensus is possible, because even if a scientific theory may also be seen as a belief, it is at least mainly based on external observation and evidence. But here we are exclusively dealing with my inner "blind faith", which in all likelihood is a modicum different from your inner "blind faith".

If faith were a completely private affair, there would be no problem. We would all coop up in our respective private closets of worship and do our strictly private thing. However, for a particular "blind faith" to be counted as a religion, it needs to be shared by others, preferably by many. So here we arrive at a familiar situation in the field of religion -- a conflict between different interpretations or ideas that can not be resolved. Because by definition, there is nothing objective that we can refer to in matters of faith.

Battles for dogma

This understandably leads to a battle among the faithful for a unique wall-to-wall dogma. Fights over matters that can not be resolved by objective means are in the end always resolved by coercion, psychological or physical. So the misdeeds of the combatants are clearly a direct result of the religion itself, not simple aberrations on the part of a few misguided souls.

Hence religions (and their close relatives, dogmatic political movements) are always potentially dangerous to society, no matter what wonderful things the creed promises. Keeping religion hermetically sealed away from society is one essential way of controlling the potential damage before it occurs.