4 Secular Myths About Religion … (And Why They’re Potentially Dangerous) – Part 1
An increasing number of overtly secular people believe in myths: myths about religion – and about how religion works.
Unfortunately, many of these secular people are vocal in the public square, driving important discussions around the role of religion in society. As far as they’re concerned, religion’s place in society – including freedom of religion – must be wound back.
But many of their views are based on myths – myths that are potentially dangerous. Here are 4 of those myths:
1) All Religions Are Essentially the Same
The ‘nice’ form of this secular myth says that all religions teach the same (nice) ethics.
The strident ‘New Atheist’ version of this myth says that all religions are just as bad as each other – they’re abusive, and ‘poison everything‘.
Now, to be fair, there are some similarities between various religions: many of them ask similar questions. However, they often come up with different answers. And it’s the answers that matter.
Poet Steve Turner nailed this in his sarcastic poem Creed, writing:
We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.
Why this view is dangerous:
Thinking that all religions are essentially the same blinds us to reality. They’re clearly not the same, and the differing impact they have on society and individuals is not he same either – both in this life, and (I would argue) in the life to come.
2) Religion is Merely a Private Belief, that Doesn’t Impact a Person’s Outward Behaviour.
According to this myth, religion is nothing more than private internal beliefs, which don’t impact a person’s outward behaviour. These religious beliefs might affect what worshippers do in a church/synagogue/mosque/temple one hour a week. But outside the four walls of their worship gathering, there are no significant behaviour changes.
In this narrative, Islamic terrorists (for example) are not motivated by their particular religious views, but by cultural, economic, and political reasons (e.g. perceived western oppression).
But again, this secular view is a myth.
As many a Psychologist will tell you, our beliefs – including religious beliefs – drive our behaviour.
As I write this, I’m in a small 30 passenger aircraft 17,000 feet above the east coast of Australia, and my belief in the reliability of this particular aircraft has driven my outward action of getting on board. That’s no small feat for me, considering I occasionally have overwhelming beliefs about the danger of flying – not a good belief to have when you’re stuck in a small aircraft at 17,000 feet!
Our deeply held beliefs about morality, meaning, and purpose – the issues religions deal with – also drive behaviour. An Islamic terrorist might believe that Allah calls upon him to bring death to infidels via the sword or suicide vest.
Other religious people – such as Christian pastor Martin Luther King Jr – were also driven by religion – although their religious beliefs led them to very different behaviour:
Either way, religious belief often leads to outward behaviour.
Why this myth is dangerous:
A society/government that believes religion is merely a private affair will misdiagnose religiously inspired violence – and not respond effectively.
Such a society/government will also misunderstand how religious belief is a key inspiration to good works. This misunderstanding may lead to a reduction in religious freedom, with no attempt being made to accommodate religious behaviour wherever possible. Because (the myth goes) religion is only internal, and doesn’t drive outward belief.
This article is written by Akos Balough. He is a Christ-follower, husband, father, blogger. And the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Australia.
He has also worked as a campus Chaplain, helping broken people get to know Jesus, and as a military Aerospace Engineer, fixing broken aeroplanes.