Why We Shouldn’t Blame Religion When Religious People Do Bad Things

Live debates about fascinating and contentious topics.
Nov. 10 2011 3:28 PM

Religion Doesn’t Make People Immoral, Being Human Does

An interview with Rabbi David Wolpe: Why he’ll argue against the motion,"The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion," at the Nov. 15 Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.

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 Slate: What would a world without religion be like?

DW: I once kiddingly said if you want to know what a world that was run without genuine faith and only with goods [would look like], you don't have to imagine it because there's Hollywood. A world without religion would be Nietzsche’s world. It would be a world in which ultimately the only value is power. If there isn't a transcendent value, then the strongest wins. The only thing that militates against power is the sense that there's something higher. Without religion, I don't know what the sense of that something higher could be. For me, it would be a very frightening world.

 Slate: Can you give us a sneak peek of what you’ll argue on Nov. 15?

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DW: The largest [international] aid organization in the world is a Christian evangelical organization out of Seattle. [But a lot] of the good that religion does in the world goes unreported—not because people are prejudiced against religion, but that’s just the nature of reporting the news. You don't say, “Once again today, a religious aid worker saved someone's life.” That just doesn't make the paper. Religion is more complex and does much more good than people assume. Every single study in America shows that people who are part of religious communities participate in civic life more, give more money not only to religious charities but to secular charities, are more likely to help someone  who's homeless, and more likely to help someone who's destitute. Religion does an enormous amount of good. Even though there are certainly egregious counterexamples, they are more flashy than persuasive.

Elizabeth Weingarten is the associate editor at New America and the associate director of its Global Gender Parity Initiative.