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When religious beliefs become evil: 4 signs
The Branch Davidians, a religious sect led by David Koresh, clashed with federal agents in 1993 in Waco, Texas.
April 28th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

When religious beliefs become evil: 4 signs

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - An angry outburst at a mosque. The posting of a suspicious YouTube video. A friendship with a shadowy imam.

Those were just some of the signs that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, accused of masterminding the Boston Marathon bombings, had adopted a virulent strain of Islam that led to the deaths of four people and injury of more than 260.

But how else can you tell that someone’s religious beliefs have crossed the line? The answer may not be as simple you think, according to scholars who study all brands of religious extremism. The line between good and evil religion is thin, they say, and it’s easy to make self-righteous assumptions.

“When it’s something we like, we say it’s commitment to an idea; when it’s something we don’t like, we say it’s blind obedience,” said Douglas Jacobsen, a theology professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Yet there are ways to tell that a person’s faith has drifted into fanaticism if you know what to look and listen for, say scholars who have studied some of history’s most horrific cases of religious violence.

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“There are a lot of warning signs all around us, but we usually learn about them after a Jim Jones or a David Koresh,” said Charles Kimball, author of “When Religion Becomes Evil.”

Here are four warning signs:

1. I know the truth, and you don’t.

On the morning of July 29, 1994, the Rev. Paul Hill walked up to John Britton outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida, and shot the doctor to death. Hill was part of a Christian extremist group called the Army of God, which taught that abortion was legalized murder.

Hill’s actions were motivated by a claim that virtually all religions espouse: We have the truth that others lack.

Those claims can turn deadly when they become absolute and there is no room for interpretation, Kimball says.

“Absolute claims can quickly move into a justification of violence against someone who rejects that claim,” Kimball said. “It’s often a short step.”

Healthy religions acknowledge that sincere people can disagree about even basic truths, Kimball says.

The history of religion is filled with examples of truths that were once considered beyond questioning but are no longer accepted by all followers: inerrancy of sacred scripture, for example, or the subjugation of women and sanctioning of slavery.

If someone like Hall believes that they know God’s truth and they cannot be wrong, watch out, Kimball says.

“Authentic religious truth claims are never as inflexible as zealous adherents insist,” he writes in “When Religion Becomes Evil.”

Yet there’s a flip side to warnings about claiming absolute truth: Much of religion couldn’t exist without them, scholars say.

Many of history’s greatest religious figures – Moses, Jesus, the Prophet Mohammed – all believed that they had discovered some truth, scholars say.

Ordinary people inflamed with a sense of self-righteousness have made the same claim and done good throughout history, says Carl Raschke, a theology professor at the University of Denver in Colorado.

The Protestant Reformation was sparked by an angry German monk who thought he had the truth, Raschke says.

“Martin Luther’s disgust at the worldliness of the papacy in the early 1500s inspired him to become a radical revolutionary whose ideas overturned the entire political structure in Europe,” Raschke said.

So how do you tell the difference between the healthy claims of absolute truth and the deadly? Scholars say to look at the results: When people start hurting others in the name of their religious truth, they’ve crossed the line.

2. Beware the charismatic leader.

It was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Japanese history. In March 1995, a religious sect called Aum Shinrikyo released a deadly nerve gas in a Tokyo subway station, leaving 12 people dead and 5,000 injured.

Two months later, Japanese police found Shoko Asahara, the sect’s founder, hiding in a room filled with cash and gold bars. Kimball, who tells the story of the sect in “When Religion Becomes Evil,” says Asahara had poisoned the minds of his followers years before.

Asahara demanded unquestioned devotion from members of his sect and isolated followers in communities where they were told that they no longer needed to think for themselves, Kimball says.

Any religion that limits the intellectual freedom of its followers, he says, has become dangerous. “When you start to get individuals who are the sole interpreters of truth, you get people who follow them blindly."

Charismatic leaders, though, often don’t start off being cruel. Jim Jones, who led the mass suicide of his followers in South America, was a gifted speaker who built an interracial church in San Francisco that did much good in the community. Few people at the beginning of his ministry could predict what he would become.

As time went on, though, his charisma turned cruel as he tolerated no questions to his authority and became delusional.

“Charismatic leadership is important, but in healthy religions, there’s always a process where questions are encouraged,” Kimball said.

Weaning followers away from corrupt charismatic leaders and bad religion can take years, but it can be done if one knows how to speak their language, says Ed Husain, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt will often deploy imams to reach out to young men in prison who have adopted “Islamism,” or extreme forms of Islam sanctioning violence against civilians, says Husain, who has written about Muslim extremism.

These Muslim clerics know the Quran better than the extremists and can use their knowledge to reach extremists in a place that logic and outsiders cannot penetrate, Husain said.

“The antidote to extremism is religion itself,” Husain said. “The problem is not to take Islam out of the debate but to use Islam to counter Islamism.”

3. The end is near.

In 1970, an unknown pastor from Texas wrote a book called “The Late, Great Planet Earth.” The book, which linked biblical prophecy with political events like Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, predicted the imminent return of an antichrist and the end of the world.

Author Hal Lindsey’s book has sold an estimated 15 million copies and spawned a genre of books like the “Left Behind” series. Many people are fascinated by the idea that the heavens will open soon because the end is near.

That end-times theology can turn lethal, though, when a follower decides that he or she will speed up that end-time by conducting some dramatic or violent act, says John Alverson, chairman of the theology department at Carlow University in Pittsburgh.

“A religious terrorist mistakenly believes that God has ordained or called him or her to establish the will of God on Earth now, not gradually and not according to the slow and finicky free will of other humans,” Alverson said.

Yet this impulse to see God’s intervention in human affairs now and not in some distant future can also be good, he says.

There are vibrant religious communities that teach that political and economic injustice must be addressed now. Liberation theology, for example, was a movement among pastors and theologians in Latin America that called for justice for the poor now, not in some future apocalyptic event, Alverson says.

“Hope is a good breakfast but not much of a supper,” Alverson said. “We can’t just live on the hope that justice will happen; we have to actually experience justice from time to time so that our hope can continue.”

4. The end justifies the means.

It was one of the biggest scandals the Roman Catholic Church ever faced, and the repercussions are still being felt today.

In January 2002, the Boston Globe published a story about Father John Geoghan, a priest who had been moved around various parishes after Catholic leaders learned that he had abused children. It was later revealed that Catholic officials had quietly paid at least $10 million to settle lawsuits against Geoghan.

Kimball says the Catholic scandal revealed another sign that a faith has turned toxic: Religious figures start justifying doing something wrong for a higher good.

 “The common theme was trying to protect the integrity of the church,” Kimball said of some Catholic leaders who covered up the crimes. “You get all of these rationalizations that we can’t let this scandal bring the whole church down, so we have to pay off this family and send the priests off to rehab.”

Religion is supposed to be a force for good. Still, it’s common that everyone from suicide bombers to venal church figures finds ways to justify their behavior in the name of some higher good.

Those rationalizations are so pervasive that religious movements that avoid them stand out, scholars say.

Jacobsen, the theology professor from Messiah College, cited the civil rights movement. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow activists renounced violence, even as they were attacked and sometimes murdered.

“They were willing to lay down their lives for what they believed in, but what’s incredible is, they practiced not retaliating when they suffered violence,” he said. “Those people really believed that God created everyone equal, and they were committed to the point of death.”

In some ways, it’s easy to say we would never adopt a form of religion that’s evil. But when we use the word “evil” to describe those who kill in the name of their faith, we’re already mimicking what we condemn, Jacobsen says.

In his new book, “No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education,” Jacobson writes that calling a religion evil is dangerous because “bad or wrong actions can be corrected, but typically evil needs to be destroyed.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

“To label someone or something as evil is to demonize it, putting it in a category of otherness where the rules of normal life do not apply, where the end often justifies almost any means,” Jacobson writes.

And when we do that, we don’t have to read about radical imams or look at angry YouTube videos to see how easy it is for someone to drift toward religious extremism, he says.

We need only look at ourselves.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Catholic Church • Christianity • Courts • Culture wars • Egypt • Fundamentalism • History • Islam • Jesus • Leaders • Moses • Muslim • Quran

soundoff (3,810 Responses)
  1. Teacher

    True ignorance is discounting all the possibilities without good reason. People that conclude with certainty God does not exist are illogical.

    April 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      Well said.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Atheists don't conclude until they die. They usually tend to follow science which , unlike religion, doesn't consider itself infallible and contains within itself the means to discover and correct for inaccuracies. Also atheism doesn't deny anything since no proof for a gods existence, exists. So in actuality it is quite ironic that you bash atheists for what you are and what they are not.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Teacher

      Godoflunaticscreation, How come the most significant scientific accomplishments tends be achieved by non-atheists?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • tony

      True ignorance is treating all possibilities as equally likely.

      They aren't and that's why our lotteries have different prizes for different possibilities.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      There are numerous reasons why. but none of them have anything to do with what we are discussing. I see your "god" is protected by people who grasp at straws. Not so powerful, huh?

      April 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Atheists are also huge liars who will never admit the truth until they see hell for themselves. They shall get their wish. Not to mention they're dumb as a rock...

      April 28, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • The real Tom

      I haven't concluded any such thing. I simply don't see evidence for the existence of a god. If there is one, and you can show me something substantive that proves it, do so.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Teacher

      Tony, I agree. Life forming on earth randomly should not be treated the same way as more plausible theories like intelligent design. How might you naturally select from no genetic information to get the process started? It is illogical to say you can select from nothing to start the process. That means that natural selection does not explain the first cause of life on earth. We also know that random events do not create encoded and decoded information. It is a probability less than 10^-50.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Teacher: I don't know any Atheist who will say with certainty that a god doesn't exist but I do know a great many who will say that until they see the evidence for one, there simply is no reason to believe.
      What scientists are you referring to? Any one that could be from prior to the 20th century can be understood as to why they held a belief or didn't speak of their disbelief...the risks to them on a personal level was too high. We've developed our world greatly and they no longer have to hide their disbelief.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      JustTheFacts: If by a VERY slim chance you're right and we're wrong, I'll be thankful to be anywhere people like you aren't. Would you really want us in your face all day? So what do you care if we fall for the scam or not?

      April 28, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Science

      To a pretty sad ........Teacher

      Dover Trial Transcripts............................................. FACTS.

      Below are the complete transcripts from the Dover Trial. Thanks to our friends at the National Center for Science Education for helping us fill in the missing transcripts.

      http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/intelligentdesigncase/dovertrialtranscripts.htm

      April 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • Teacher

      I intentionally did not use the word "atheists" referring to people that conclude with certainty that God does not exist. We need a new word that describes 99.999% of people that currently call themselves atheists that talk as though they strongly believe that God does not exist and sound very very certain about it. .

      There are three primary categories:
      1) People that think God exists. <-- theists
      2) People that do not know if God exists. <--- Atheist and Agnostic
      3) People that think God does not exist with and feel certain about it. <--– no name for this very popular category.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • oOo

      How many people in the world are you ruling out by only defining theists in relation to the Abrahamic God? (I do presume that is what you mean as your #1 category, Teacher.)

      April 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  2. JMEF

    Science
    It will be difficult, but let the Chad play with him/herself (Rachel). See the banana and monkey in next page and imagine if you will that it is Chad.

    April 28, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Science

      Evening JMEF ...................well he does remind me of that talking donkey ......from the bible !

      But the banana............well chad koow where it is stuck !

      peace

      April 28, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • Science

      Oops........... knows

      April 28, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  3. tony

    Atheists believe in the truth.

    And the truth doesn't need collection plates.

    April 28, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      A truth for an atheists is a pure lie. Atheists are using lies dressed up as being a truth.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Chad

      @tony "Atheists believe in the truth."

      =>glad to hear that you are committed to "follow the evidence wherever it leads"

      I'm reading , "There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind - Antony Flew. Excellent book.
      As I trust you are as good as your word and pursue truth wherever it leads, I have no doubt you'll be reading it as well!!

      April 28, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Observer

      AtheistsMorons,

      "A truth for an atheists is a pure lie."

      Your ignorance in constantly calling people "liars" show that you don't have clue what the word means. Please get a dictionary and better education.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • tony

      Have you followed where the evidence of collection plate cash leads then Chad? Your bible says it should all be burnt, so the smoke can rise to heaven.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Chad

      @Observer "Your ignorance in constantly calling people "liars" show that you don't have clue what the word means. Please get a dictionary and better education."

      =>I hope you dont mind if I save that one and use it at a later time..

      April 28, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Chad

      @tony "Have you followed where the evidence of collection plate cash leads then Chad? Your bible says it should all be burnt, so the smoke can rise to heaven."

      =>where does it say that?

      April 28, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      You are a bunch of liars atheists, i caught you red handed many times over and over. but of course you will deny this.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Observer

      Chad,

      Go right ahead. I stand by any statement I make.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Tickled

      AtheistsMorons = HeavenSent (upset for being caught last night on Boy Scout article – lol).

      April 28, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  4. Aliiloa

    Many of history’s greatest religious figures – Moses, Jesus, the Prophet Mohammed – all believed that they had discovered some truth, scholars say.

    Ordinary people inflamed with a sense of self-righteousness have made the same claim and done good throughout history, says Carl Raschke, a theology professor at the University of Denver in Colorado.

    How can you say that Jesus made claims to have discovered the truth when he is the word of the way, truth and the life. He is Gods son. He never claimed anything of himself but by his father whom had sent him to earth. The Jesus that I know would never force anyone to follow him. Or to do good. It is up to the individual. It is time to give up on Religion and give into a relationship with the LORD.

    April 28, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • tony

      Does swimming out to one of his Tsunamis count?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • Teacher

      April 28, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  5. Observer

    Most Factless Ignorant Lie of the Day:

    "Atheists don't give money or else to any causes but to their own"

    – AtheistMorons

    April 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Akira

      Should we really take the opinion of someone who pluralized both words in his handle seriously?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Observer

      Akira,

      Good point. I actually gave him more credit by unintentionally spelling his name correctly.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      You couldn't give me a single association or individuals who are giving money or any other kind of supports to a crisis or disaster when it happens. Simply because there isn't an atheists association or individuals that give money or any kind of helps to support the people in needs. Atheists are liars.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Observer

      AtheistsMorons,

      Are you actually DELUSIONALLY IGNORANT enough to claim that atheists never contribute to charities like the Red Cross?

      Yes or no?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • The Non Believer

      @AM

      How about all the doctors whose education is basec in science? Or would you rather form a prayer group. OOPS, that Pennsylvania couple already tried that on their baby. The baby died.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  6. Emma

    I pray to Gods everyday and she always listens! Proof? My sports team won and I have a date tomorrow night with a skinny man!!

    April 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      my god has bigger tatas than yours.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Nothing wrong with tatas, big or sall.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      Atheists losers at their best.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • The real Tom

      If they're so lame, AMoron, why are you following them around and reading their posts?

      Did mommy take away the car keys again?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • oOo

      @AM – is that supposed to prove something?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • The real Tom

      O, I think he's just jealous. He's fond of you and annoyed that he isn't in on your jokes.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      LOL Atheists, is this all you can do? You were caught red handed by me you nasty little liars and you just don't like it.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Charles

    If there is a god, he's probably an atheist

    April 28, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  8. Charles

    Odin will beat the son worshipers when they arrive in Valhalla

    April 28, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  9. pat

    Fear + Ignorance = Religion

    April 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      ignorance=religion
      fear+ignorance=violent religion

      April 28, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  10. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    Daddy of believers of hindu Evolution by hindu atheism self center ism of hindu secularist, self centered by faith.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTNm5BA6QwE&w=640&h=360]

    children of evolution by faith in hindu atheism, self center ism of hindus.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEpJdHS1pV0&w=640&h=360]

    April 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      You prove the atheists right with every post you make. Thank you.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Only in hindu secular ism, self center ism of hindu atheist, self centered by faith.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I stand by my previous comment.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  11. DC

    LEROY JENKIIIIIINNNNNNNSSSSSSS!!!

    April 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  12. JACKIE

    When is CNN going to report on the genocide of Christians in the Middle East? THAT is when religon goes wrong!
    Why have you not reported on today's news that the Coptic Christian Cathedral was attacked in Egypt and police allowed it to happen. Why have you not mentioned anything about the Christian American pastor being held and tortured in Iran for preaching the Christian faith? (Pastor Saeed).

    April 28, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      If there is not one., just make one up to hind propagate by hindu secular ism, self center ism, hindu atheist, self centered by faith.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      They have – several times, but perhaps not with the bias you might like. Clearly you are letting your dead jew zombie death cult aka christian persecution complex get in the way of reading for comprehension. You can read and comprehend, can't you?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  13. lolwut

    So is this the part where they try to build some kind of flimsy politically correct moral equivalence and suggest that all religions are equally prone to violence, even though everyone can plainly see that virtually all of the problems are caused by Islam?

    April 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Not if you ask an islamist. Just like you deny your own sickness. Atheists are divorced enough from the subject to realize that you are both delusional and just as dangerous to humanity.

      April 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • lolwut

      My own sickness? And what would that be, exactly? Or are you just making wild assumptions about what I believe based on zero information?

      I can't help noticing that you seem awfully reactionary for someone who endlessly congratulates himself on his superior intellectual detachment.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Only a sick minded individual would give the atrocities of Christianity's bloody reign a pass. So my "assumption" is unchanged.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      It's just islam's "day in the sun. With rare exception all cults (as in, all religions) have the capacity to do unspeakable harm to anyone else and themselves.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • lolwut

      I don't know about you, but last time I checked I was living in the year 2013, so I'm really a lot more concerned with what's happening now than what happened 1000 years ago; and now, in the year 2013, you would be hard pressed to find many Christian atrocities to plant your flag on, whereas Islamic violence is a daily occurrence. Clearly your biases have compromised your objectivity.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I was unaware that christian crusades have ended. Maybe you should inform Bush or any of the numerous generals, politician and others who seem to be under the impression that we are still waging religious wars.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • lolwut

      If you're honestly still wailing about "crusades" with a straight face in an age when the West has never been more secular and Christianity has never wielded less state power, then I'm sorry to tell you, but you sound far more hysterical, irrational, and generally unmoored from reality than the average theist to whom you feel so superior.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • Teacher

      Godoflunaticscreation, so what you are saying is that "I know the truth, and you don’t."

      April 28, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • The Non Believer

      Westboro Baptist Church. Ya, there's an understanding Christian church. saracsm off

      April 28, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I never said that.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Roger that

      lolwut,

      You don't think "W" felt as though he was doiing God's work when he invaded Iraq? Really? Many people talked to themselves daily hoping it would keep their loved ones safe in Iraq. For some it worked; and therefore, God was given credit. For others it didn't work and they were left asking why. Why were we there? Because we had a Bible beating moron calling the shots.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
  14. lionlylamb

    The roadway of salvation's clemencies is lain strewn and will soon lay wasted with the people's unworthiness. Global warfare is again to be an inevitability in order to lessen mankind's herds. When you dare ask? Tomorrow? Next year? Next decade? Only God knows and I'm not telling!

    April 28, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Sounds like one hell of a comic book.

      April 28, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Floccinaucinihilipilification! In spades!

      April 28, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • The Non Believer

      Failing to inform mankind of it's destruction is evil.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  15. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQorzOS-F6w&w=640&h=360]

    April 28, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  16. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TasoRGeDHCc&w=640&h=360]

    April 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  17. Truth

    Luke 22:10 – When will you be ready for the age of Aquarius comes when Jesus (Pisces) is long gone? MATT 28:20 – Afterall, Jesus (Pisces) will be with you until the end of the "aeon" (age!).

    April 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  18. Godoflunaticscreation

    You fail again. Atheism is the default position. There is nothing to deny. You have provided no evidence. You shouldn't have dropped out of the 4th grade.

    April 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Edwin

      Why is it you assume that your belief system is the default?

      We are not born atheists – instead, we are born blank slates, prepped for learning. There is no initial belief in atheism; it might be more accurate to say we strt out believing the unquestioned word of our parents and caregivers. That is, in methodology, more like most religions than it is like atheism.

      Once our caregivers tell us the"truth" – whatever it happens to be for the caregivers, THAT becomes the default. Not atheism (unless the caregivers are atheists).

      Just for reference, I am an atheist like you.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Atheism is not a belief system. And I am unaware of any infants who pop out of their mothers womb professing to be christian.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      A blank slate would not have any gods hence no gods is the default position. Gods did not become a factor until someone somehow claimed that some god existed. Unfortunately, the "god did it" crowd holds the position of power, despite not a shred of evidence for any god, so they get to define "normal" no matter how silly and unfounded their normal is.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • Edwin

      How many babies "pop out of their mothers womb" professing that there is no God?

      Last time I checked, the idea that ANY child could be born capable of speech was an idea that atheists ridiculed.

      And atheism IS a belief system, or at least a collection of belief ideas. Inherent in the word is a belief that there is no God. Since that cannot actually b proven, it is a belief.

      You may claim it is the default position, but that is not any more true than the claim that belief in God is. Children do not start out atheists. They start out asking questions of all sorts. My daughter still actively believes in certain kinds of fairies – which very few atheists actually believe. Earlier in her life she believed in all sorts of other things we as adults consider silly.

      She did not believe in a Man who lives in the clouds, watching over us all... but that is because her parents do not believe in that deity. If we did, I have no doubt at all she would believe whatever theology we believe in, as her initial (default) position.

      Atheism is not belief in nothing. It is belief that there is no God. That IS a belief.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Oh, nonsense. If it's a "belief system", what are its tenets, Eddie?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Edwin: By definition when it comes to belief or disbelief it can really only comes to two things-theism and atheism. No child is born with a belief-you basically said this yourself by stating they are born with a clean slate (or however you put it), so therefore they can't be theists due to not having a belief in any god and thus they are atheist by definition.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      edwin, there is no such thing as a belief system in atheism...the "blank slate" you refer to is atheism: a lack of belief in anything for which there is no evidence, specifically a creator being. Belief (faith, religion) is what is written on that slate by someone with an agenda.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Edwin

      HotAirAce: field biologists have noted that many non-human primates exhibit behaviors that could accurately be called rituals or ceremonies. Inherent in our own biology is a desire for such events filled with spiritual meaning. Anthropologists show that every early society that was studied had some form of belief system involving Beings that transcended mortality. Some called them Gods, some called them other things.

      Maybe the first genetic humans did not have a religion. But the first societies did. None of them believed in science – since science is a very new concept and had not been invented yet (ironically, science as a discipline owes its existence to theology – the belief in one truth).

      Your idea that the default , blank slate position should be purely rational is very much at odds with biology and anthropology – and oddly in line with Genesis, which also proclaimed that man started perfect and was later corrupted (though you clearly differ on what caused the corruption). Scientifically, we know there was no initial rational state – humans started out with wacky beliefs that were nothing like atheism.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Yes, Edwin, they made up stories to explain the world around them and keep the members of society in line.

      Now, what are the tenets of atheism?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • oOo

      Edwin: "None of them believed in science"

      ??

      What about applied science even though it may have not been termed at the time they were using it?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Edwin

      Atheism is NOT a blank slate. A blank slate would be open to any beliefs at all, and atheists reject the notion that Gods exist. That is not being open.

      I defy you to prove. Not that atheism is correct. But prove that it is actually a logical default position. Do not use philosophical arguments – we are not philosophical creatures. Use biology. Explain how the default position for a human brain is atheism. Or explain how the default position for a society is atheism.

      You can't... because it isn't. Our brains are actually 'wired' to recognize spiritual events. Neuroscientists have found regions of our brain that 'light up' during spiritual events. The results further suggest that feelings of divinity actually coincide with a suppression of self and an acceptance of community. In other words, there is evidence that spirituality may in fact be integral to the functioning of a successful society.

      That is not to say that belief in God is necessary – nothing of the sort. Nor is it true that every member of a society must possess spirituality, or that they must all adhere to the same belief system. Some, for example, may worship Daytime Television, while others might get enlightenment from movies about teenage vampires. But the evidence is quite strong that we as animals, and as civilizations, need spirituality.

      Therefore the default position cannot logically be lack of spirituality.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Edwin you called yourself an atheist but you don't even know the meaning of the word. Atheism holds just one position, which is the default position (you have failed to prove otherwise) that there is no evidence for a being known as god to exist. Your daughter is not an infant. By using your daughter as an excuse you only show that you fail to even grasp what was said to you. Also the reasoning you use to call atheism a religion and then belief system can be used to proclaim the religions of non santa claus, non easter bunny.....I think you know where this is going. I am amazed at the ignorance of your posts and even more so that you think you are an atheist.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Edwin

      oOo: you can as easily say they believed in God but did not call it that. They made offerings to bring the harvest. They performed rituals to heal the sick. Why did they do that? Truthfully, the successful rituals probably involved the use of fertilizer for crops and pharmaceuticals potent herbs for healing, but they did not think that way. If asked, they would have pro ably called it magic.

      That is different from science in many important ways, but primarily it is because they made no attempt to make a hypothesis, test it, and draw conclusions.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Science

      For Edwin

      An Awesome Message from P.W. Swivel

      People are People

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbD3Hlbvafo&w=640&h=360]

      Thanks for watching.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Edwin: Atheism is the default position, it only means disbelief...I don't reject the possibility of any god but until I see evidence for a god, I simply see no reason to believe.
      Theism infers that a god exists and most theists claim to know what their god's wishes are. Theism is taught to children...they have no knowledge of this until after birth. So once again, they are atheist.
      You can argue this all day and you'll still be wrong.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Edwin: Spirituality points to supernatural and you're not going to find an Atheist who will agree that being spiritual is logical. We have no way of determining if a spirit even exists, so the default once again is Atheism.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Edwin, clearly if you are studying a developed society, human or otherwise, you are not studying a blank slate. Why are you carving out an exception for religion? Rituals do not require a supernatural being. Atheists do allow that there may be gods, we just want to see a little better evidence than the unfounded claims of The Babble, or other books of that ilk.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • Edwin

      Science: I had to stop when I got to the part where the video implied that atheists are rational. I know many rational people and many irrational ones. As a college professor, I try hard to develop the ability to think logically in my students. Some are successful, and some fail at it. Some do not even try.

      Atheists are sometimes very rational, but some are amazingly irrational. Take this whole thread, for example. The people posting disagreement with me cannot understand that atheists – by definition of the word – actively reject the notion that there is a God. Atheists are not neutral on this issue – that position is taken by Agnostics (though the word used to have another meaning). Atheists do not have no opinion – they truly think a belief in God is false. That is not a blank slate.

      Critical thinking requires the ability to step outside of your own beliefs – and the BELIEF that there is no God is as much a belief that there is one (or fifteen) – and I have seen little evidence that any of these posters have a the ability or desire to attempt to do that. One even said I am not *really* an atheist, because I do not agree with him.

      If your video were right, that atheists do not believe anything at all, then how can another poster think that?

      As for the video itself, I have to be honest: it was creepy. Not the use of monster imagery, but the whole approach to the video... though the use of fake mouth moves was especially disturbing. If I were to make a video showing off atheists, I would use real people. Have a nurse working, then turn to the camera and say "I am an atheist" – followed by a store owner, then a factory worker, etc.. Why make a video using monster images if you want to dispel that notion? Maybe start with it, but then have them change into real people living and working in communities.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • Edwin

      Well, posts are flying by pretty fast so I cannot address every comment. I will try to get to the highlights, though.

      HotAirAce: the original discussion of a blank slate was, I believe, about the child coming out of the womb, not an early society. It is an unsupported position that early societies spontaneously came into being, rather than being extensions of large family units, and we have no way at all to examine such early transitional states anyway... so it is at best a moot point to wonder what such a blank slate society might believe or not believe. What evidence we have comes from slightly later, often from the rituals performed during burials. If these early people held no belief in an afterlife, why did they bury their dead with items of value?

      Did they believe in Gods? I have no idea. But a belief in an afterlife is as unsupported as a belief in a God, and there is evidence they believed that... so they demonstrate spiritual beliefs that are unsupported by evidence.

      Truth Prevails: I am a scientist, and I believe in science. Most scientists I know accept neuroscience as a valid field and respect the results found scientifically. Those results, as I explained, lead to the conclusion that our brains are hard-wired for spirituality.

      That is NOT the same as arguing that spirituality is logical. But it IS the same as arguing that the biologically default position for the human brain IS spirituality. The belief in rationality is not the default; it must be developed and trained. The original poster argued that rationality is the default starting point of a human brain, and I was showing scientific evidence to show he was wrong.

      I also find it odd that some on this board believe being an atheist merely means that the person is unconvinced by evidence. Virtually every atheist I know really believes, deep down, that there is no God. If compelling evidence came along many (not all) would be willing to change that opinion, but they believe God is a myth, a fairy tale. They do not merely think it is unsupported.

      April 28, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  19. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF .............

    We are global based humanitarian organizations, our organizations have been working hard day and night to bring peace in many parts of the world. If we may list few of our active groups:

    Abu Sayyaf, Philippines
    Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, Egypt
    Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Gaza Strip and West Bank
    Al-Shabaab, Somalia
    Al-Qaeda, worldwide
    Ansar al-Islam, Iraq
    Armed Islamic Group (GIA), Algeria
    Caucasus Emirate (IK), Russia
    East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), China
    Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Egypt
    Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front (IBDA-C), Turkey
    Hamas, Gaza Strip and West Bank
    Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami, Pakistan
    Hezbollah, Lebanon
    Islamic Movement of Central Asia, Central Asia
    Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan
    Jaish-e-Mohammed, Pakistan and Kashmir
    Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna, Iraq
    Jemaah Islamiyah, Indonesia
    Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan and Kashmir
    Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Pakistan
    Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Philippines
    Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, Morocco and Europe
    Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Gaza Strip and West Bank
    Tawhid and Jihad, Iraq

    April 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Edwin

      Maybe you addressed this in an earlier post, but what sort of peace work do your organizations do? I ask because I would genuinely like to know.

      ... or is this a sarcastic post, attempting to ridicule people who ACTUALLY work to help others? I did not read the group names at first, so I thought you were sincere, but now I think you are merely a hater of Islam – which means YOU have no interest in peace at all – just using words to attack your enemy.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Akira

      I think this was posted as sarcasm, Edwin.
      Words hurt and kill no one, either.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Edwin

      Akira: if words were truly innocent, why would the original poster be so upset at Islam? It is merely a belief system, a collection of words. The Qu'ran is merely words – words that "hurt and kill no one".

      Of course, we all know that words are far more deadly than you suggest. Timothy McVeigh would not have blown up 168 people if he had not read charged articles about how terrible the U.S. government was. In a real sense, words INCITE and CREATE violence.

      I was criticizing the original poster for inciting anger and hostility in the guise of peace – something he hypocritically opposed in others.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  20. JMEF

    The real Tom
    I admire your will power to be able to not respond to the lying and deceptive posts of the Chad. I will try but am weak. I will ask the FSM to touch me with a noodly appendage and of course have another beer to give me strength. I also believe that even if everyone ignores the Chad it will not stop his drivel. Chad's motto, I know the truth and you don't.

    RAmen

    April 28, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • The real Tom

      It's a pact. Pinky swear?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • JMEF

      The real Tom
      Pinky swear. of course.

      April 28, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • Science

      What can't poke CHAD anymore ?

      April 28, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.