Criticizing Religion Is Difficult and Important

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is criticizing religion so difficult? Why do we respect religion and allow people to continue harmful practices?

Criticizing religion is often considered a taboo. Richard Dawkins argues that we need to criticize religion more in order to have a healthy and intellectually sound society.

Read more about why criticizing religion is important in a healthy society.

Why Criticizing Religion Matters

A final reason why religion is dangerous is that society grants it a level of respect and deference that it doesn’t grant to any other system of belief. To criticize any aspect of a religion’s liturgy, dogma, or practices is looked upon as prejudicial, bigoted, and mean-spirited.

Even those who profess to be atheists will unflinchingly chastise others for critiquing religion, claiming that doing so is hurtful and needlessly antagonistic toward people of faith. This unquestioned respect that one must pay towards religion is never applied to other fields, like politics.

There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to mock or critique religion just as we would a political ideology like communism or a discredited scientific theory like geocentrism (the belief that the sun and stars revolve around the Earth).

Society must end the practice of granting automatic respect or deference to religion. We would never defend something as barbarous and dehumanizing as female genital mutilation if it was being done in the name of some secular ideology like communism or democratic socialism. However, when cruelty wraps itself in the cloak of religion, secular society chooses to turn a blind eye. This is one of the reasons why criticizing religion is so important.

The Unfair Advantages of Belief

Religion’s privileged status provides real-world, material benefits for people of faith that are routinely denied to others. For example, it was nearly impossible to avoid military service if one was drafted into the Vietnam War. Even if you were a conscientious objector, with a deeply held moral objection to the war, you would likely face criminal punishment if you failed to report after you’d been drafted.

Criticizing Religion Is Difficult and Important

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The God Delusion summary:

  • Why Dawkins thinks religion has exerted a harmful influence on human society
  • How Dawkins concludes that the existence of God is unlikely
  • The 3 arguments that challenge the existence of God

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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