Religious Truth

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Religious criticism has a long history. It goes at least as far back as the 5th century BCE in ancient Greece with Diagoras “the atheist” of Melos, and the 1st century BCE in ancient Rome with Titus Lucretius Carus’ De Rerum Natura. It continues to the present day with the advent of New Atheism, represented by authors and journalists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Victor J. Stenger, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Alternatively, “religious criticism” has been used by the literary critic Harold Bloom to describe a mode of religious discussion that is secular but not inherently anti-religion. Criticism of religion is complicated by the fact that there exist multiple definitions and concepts of religion in different cultures and languages. With the existence of diverse categories of religion such as monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, nontheism and diverse specific religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and many others; it is not always clear to whom the criticisms are aimed at or to what extent they are applicable to other religions.

Critics often consider religion to be outdated, harmful to the individual, harmful to society, an impediment to the progress of science, a source of immoral acts or customs, and a political tool for social control.

The 1st century BCE Roman poet, Titus Lucretius Carus, in his work De Rerum Natura, wrote: “But ’tis that same religion oftener far / Hath bred the foul impieties of men:” A philosopher of the Epicurean school, Lucretius believed the world was composed solely of matter and void, and that all phenomena could be understood as resulting from purely natural causes. Lucretius, like Epicurus, felt that religion was born of fear and ignorance, and that understanding the natural world would free people of its shackles; however, he did believe in gods. He was not against religion in and of itself, but against traditional religion which he saw as superstition for teaching that gods interfered with the world.

Niccolò Machiavelli, at the beginning of the 16th century said: “We Italians are irreligious and corrupt above others… because the church and her representatives have set us the worst example.” To Machiavelli, religion was merely a tool, useful for a ruler wishing to manipulate public opinion.

In the 18th century Voltaire was a deist and was strongly critical of religious intolerance. Voltaire complained about Jews killed by other Jews for worshiping a golden calf and similar actions, he also condemned how Christians killed other Christians over religious differences and how Christians killed Native Americans for not being baptised. Voltaire claimed the real reason for these killings was that Christians wanted to plunder the wealth of those killed. Voltaire was also critical of Muslim intolerance.[8]

Also in the 18th century David Hume criticised teleological arguments for religion. Hume claimed that natural explanations for the order in the universe were reasonable, see Design argument. Demonstrating the unsoundness of the philosophical basis for religion was an important aim of Hume’s writings.

In the early 21st century the New Atheists, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, were prominent as critics of religion.

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