This evening, I was watching a short interview on channel 4 news with Stephen Hawking. One of the questions asked whether religion was a force for good or for evil. I can’t recall the precise wordings of the question & answer, though I hope I am faithful to the gist. If anyone has a transcript, that would be most helpful.
The answer he gave was very scathing. He rightly cited a number of wrongs that have been committed in the names of various religions. Yet he overlooked all the good that has been done in the names of the sane religions.
Aside from the difficulty in defining what one means by “religion”, which makes the question at once simplistic and possibly misleading, a thought came to my mind.
To ask such a binary question about a myriad of complex beliefs and practices might be likened to asking whether water is a force for good or evil. If one has a particularly prejudiced view, one could point to the millions (billions?) of human deaths caused by water. Countless floods have led to the loss of life and diseases that have been transmitted by drinking dirty water continue to claim lives every day. You could similarly look at the erosion that water causes, with landslides also claiming lives and causing many to lose their homes.
All this, though overlooks the good of water, as a sustainer of life, a source of energy and all sorts of other things.
If I may extend the analogy, without extending it too far, one might say that one of the big killers is, effectively, “poisoned” water. I.e. it is not the water itself that kills but the chemicals, viruses and bacteria that live within it (and often thrive in that environment) which do the damage. So, with various different religions, the elements that do the damage are carried the religion, but are ultimately poisons. They may do little damage to the religion itself (except for reputational) but they will hurt the unwary who drunk the dirty water, unable to distinguish the pure from the impure.
I don’t know if anyone has come up with a similar analogy; I’m just thinking on the hoof here. Is that a wholly unfair analogy? I don’t ask ‘does the analogy fall down at some point?’ – every analogy does at some point. I hope that makes some sort of sense.
What do you think?