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Proponents of religion, and especially of Christianity, insist that religion is essentially a good thing. It makes the world a better place, because it’s all about being good to people. For example, Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion begins:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
That’s a pretty paragraph – but the word ‘religious’ does not belong at the front of it. No religion has ever offered, or tried to offer, “justice, equity and respect” to “every single human being.” That is pure fantasy. To mention just one example out of millions, the Christian and Islamic scriptures require that women be given less respect than men. It’s right there in black and white. Apologists like Armstrong have been telling us since Day One that religion is a force for good – that it is the epitome of good – but this is simply and obviously and utterly false.
Armstrong’s proposal has a sinister side, because if you accept her version of “compassion” then you cannot accept secularism. If it were true that religion makes us better people, then to support secularism would be to push for a harsher, less compassionate world. But of course religion does not make us better people. This is a lie; yet it has been shouted so loudly, and repeated so faithfully, for so many centuries, that almost everyone believes it. Even many atheists do.