Why is it that religious people so often lean on the tired, old "other things are worse than religion" argument in defense of their faith? "You think religion's bad? What about nationalism?"
A variation of this defense has just been posted by a friend on her Facebook wall. D.C. Jefferies states that just because religion has brought bad things, this doesn't mean it should be dispensed with. He draws specious comparisons with politics, science and business, arguing that they've also led to evil. This is a flawed analogy, worthy of disassembling and discussing.
"To the cynics who say, 'Look at what religion has given us!' there is only one answer. Look at what politicians have given us! Should all politicians be eliminated? Look at what business has created with its thirst for wealth at any cost! Should all those involved with businesses be eliminated? Because science has given us weapons of destruction, should all scientists be eliminated? "The prophets did not get it wrong. It was those who use religion for their own gain or for fanatical satisfaction who should take the blame." - D.C Jefferies, "Secrets of the Mind"
I should state that the quote was provided to me by a friend. I could find neither the author nor book on Amazon, Google Books, Goodreads or Shelfari. Perhaps it wasn't a book.
But whatever its source, the first problem of the argument is its logical structure. Imagine if OJ Simpson's defense attorney argued, "Ladies and gentleman of the jury, you might think my client is evil, but just look at Charles Manson!" If this were a valid argument, any criminal would go free simply by presenting an example of a third-party who did something worse than the defendant. (On the plus-side, the world would no longer need lawyers ...)
No, claiming that other subjects and industries are also bad, even if such a claim is true, does nothing to excuse the religious of their behaviour, nor religion of the behaviour it motivates.
Looking beyond the logical non sequitur, Jefferies then seems to suggest that eliminating the concept of religion is akin to eliminating individuals involved in politics, business and science. No non-religious person I've met is of the view that killing an idea (a phrase I don't ordinarily use) involves killing people. In fact, it is the non-religious, such as myself, who are keen to discuss and debate and present ideas to those who would listen. Conversely, most religious people have walked away, changed the subject or gotten downright angry when I've offered difficult questions about their (usually unexamined) faith.
There's also a stark difference between religious concepts and the fields Jefferies lists. Religious books never, ever change. Muslims carry around a book whose contents are 1,300 years old. Christians 1,900+ and Jews 2,500+. Though the foundations of politics and science do reach back that far, both have undergone substantial change, through experimentation, research and acknowledgement of mistakes. Name a religion that has done that?
When people make assertions -- and this is all scripture is -- and then refuses to back up the assertions with evidence, test them with experiments or change them as new information is uncovered, that's religion. No other industry, school of thought or field of enquiry shares such a trait, and any politician, scientist or businessperson who tried it would soon need to seek out a new profession.
A special word about science and the destructive capacity it has brought: Indeed, we humans can now kill vast numbers with surprising ease. But the scientific method didn't tell us we should, nor even if we could. We primates, half a chromosome away from a chimpanzee, have desired to kill, so we set about seeing how to do it most efficiently.
In contrast, religious books explicitly enjoin readers to kill for multitudinous reasons: leaving the faith, cheating on a spouse, being born in the wrong country, doing gay stuff, gathering sticks and so on. And because they're religious books, nobody seems to want to remove the violent parts.
The result is that a man will kill his church-buddy because Leviticus told him to. A woman will kill her own children because Abraham is a shining example of unconditional fealty to the Lord. To liken science to religion is as ludicrous as comparing a bible to the works of Richard Dawkins.
As for the prophets not getting it wrong: Yeah, they did. In the case of Judaic scripture, they got very nearly everything wrong. But more on that later.