Religion Does More Harm Than Good



Religion Does More Harm Than Good

1 November 2017 Hits:4164

The recently released IPSOS Global Poll [1] shows that a majority of Australians (63%) believe that religion does more harm than good. The Poll also indicates that we are comfortable, in our multicultural society, in being around people with different religious beliefs to our own; that is of course for those of us who have a religious affiliation.  The Poll also shows that we are a shrinking number, with almost 40% of Australians saying they have no religion or religious attachment.

The statistic that concerns me the most is the number of people in Australia who agree with the statement, “Religion does more harm in the world than good.”  It concerns me, but it doesn’t surprise me.  Religion, of course, includes all faiths and not just Christianity.  Uppermost in people’s minds, no doubt would be the increase in religion-inspired terrorism, as well as religious infighting (think Sunni/Shia; Protestant/Catholic).  Religious persecution and wars, evils committed against others by religious authorities and religions (or religious people) dictating to others how they should live also come into the equation. Some of these undoubtedly resonate with many Australians.

Over the past few years we’ve witnessed Islamist terrorism at home, and overseas; we regularly hear about religious wars; we see people of one religion’s brutal treatment of those whose faith is different (like the actions of the Buddhist Burmese toward the Muslim Rohingyas).  In Australia, we’ve had the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that has highlighted the awful treatment that thousands of children have suffered at the hands of priests and religious ministers.  Almost 2,000 Catholic Church figures were implicated in the child sex abuse report, where seven per cent of Australia’s Catholic priests were accused of abusing children in the six decades since 1950. In total, between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse relating to 93 Catholic Church authorities. The abuse allegedly took place in more than 1,000 institutions. [2] And that’s just one denomination in one religion.

On top of all this is the weariness I hear from many of my non-religious friends of being told how they should live – or not live – by people of faith.  Add all of these things up, and it’s no surprise that 63% of Australians believe religion does more harm than good.

The words “religion” and “religious” are used sparingly in the Bible.  Sometimes the Bible refers to religious people who are superstitious (as in Acts 17:22; 25:19).  Other times religion denotes self-imposed restrictions or human-made faith (Colossians 2:23).  But James, the half-brother of Jesus, gives the most interesting insight into what it means to be truly religious, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” [3] Notice the contrast between “worthless religion” and “pure and genuine religion.”  I dare say what Australians are referring to when they say “religion does more harm than good” is the incompetent, impure and spurious kind that even the Bible condemns.

Consider the three things that James says define religion that is pure and genuine: (1) people who control their tongue; (2) people who care for orphans and widows; and (3) people who are “free from censure, irreproachable, free from vice, unsullied.” [4] If you’re a religious person, does this describe you?  Does it define the religious people you know?  A principal reason why there are an increasing number of people in Australia who have no religion or religious affiliation is that they’ve seen way too much false faith rather than the real thing.  They’ve heard religious people argue & condemn. They’ve read the nasty blogs and heard about the abuse of orphans and widows. They watched on while people who professed a faith have been found incorrect, corrupt, perverted and disgraced.

What the world needs to see is a genuine religion where they hear kind words of inclusion, not exclusion; where they appreciate our good works directed to the poor, disenfranchised and marginalised people of society (you know, the ones Jesus hung out with). They’re not looking for us to be perfect but they are disappointed when we pretend to be but then don’t live up to the pretence.  As Andrew F. Dutney of Backyard Theology puts it, “Religious organisations need to get on with doing what they do – developing communities, practicing their faith, serving their own members and the wider community at real points of need. And they need to do what they do with integrity, fairness and transparency. That will be more than enough for Australians.”  [5] I agree!




[3] James 1:26-27 NLT

[4] Kenneth Samuel Wuest (1893 – 1962), a noted Christian New Testament Greek (Κοινή) scholar



Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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5 replies on “Religion Does More Harm Than Good”

Matthew Murphysays:

Right on Rob. Our actions (and sometimes inaction) speak louder than our words. In saying that our words need to build others up and not create division, disharmony or wreckage along the way.

Rod Masonsays:

Thank you, Ps. Rob, a very well written blog as usual and one that promotes self-examination. It is so easy to pretend to be what you hope to be, but honesty with oneself is paramount in all our behaviour. I am so grateful for the Grace and Mercy of our loving God and Saviour Jesus! I need His help every minute of every day! Blessings to you and yours!

Darren Breedensays:

Pastor Rob, you’re right in your later points in highlighting the scriptures that describe true religion as opposed to false because it’s false religion that does more harm than good. Even in institutionalised Christendom. However the problem is not primarily exclusion, but a failure of Christians to speak the truth in love. Remember, Jesus in His evangelism to the woman at the well says to her that “you worship what you do not know, for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22) and then pointed to His Father as the object of true worship.

When Religion Does More Harm Than Good | My Christian Dailysays:

[…] recently released IPSOS Global Poll [1] shows that a majority of Australians (63%) believe that religion does more harm than good. The Poll […]

Kelly Manningsays:

We are comfortable being around religious zealots these days because they no longer have the power to give their superstitions the force of law.

Religious zealots got Birth Control into the Criminal code of Canada in 1892 and kept it there until 1969. Forced prayer in schools didn’t end until the 1980s.

The zealot School Principle in the Supreme Court of Canada Decision about that was a sore loser, attaching a character assassination letter to every request for a marks transcript of the student who took the test case to court. That turned out to be expensive for the Principle and the Board of Education when the student finally got a copy of the libellous letter. The student’s parents saw their barn torched by christian zealots in the backwoods rural school district.

I remember the forced, choking, phony piety of the 1950s.

The concept that you should be left alone to live your life as you see fit, as long as you don’t harm anyone else, is relatively new in developed societies. Enjoy it while we have it.

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