Kwame Anthony Appiah: Is religion good or bad? (This is a trick question)

The other day, I did a post asking what religion is.  This TED talk by Kwame Anthony Appiah seems to be in much the same theme, pointing out that making accurate generalizations about religion is difficult since there is no one definition of it.

I do think that perhaps Appiah may be hiding behind exceptions to the rule in order to dodge many of the criticisms of religion.  That said, critics of religion could often be a little more precise about who exactly they’re criticizing when they attack fundamentalism or other extreme cults and practices.

10 thoughts on “Kwame Anthony Appiah: Is religion good or bad? (This is a trick question)

  1. “Is religion good or bad?”

    It’s not a complicated question even though he said it was a trick question. If any practice in a religion denies people of their human rights — if it brings harm to others — and the planet, it’s bad.

    Appiah said:
    “So I want you to think about next time someone makes some vast generalization about religion, is that maybe there isn’t such a thing as a religion, and therefore what they say cannot possibly be true.”

    I really tried to be open-minded about this talk, but wasn’t impressed. I’ve yet to see any critics of religion who weren’t precise in who and what they were criticizing when they attack bring awareness about specific beliefs and behaviors of fundamentalism or other extreme cults and practices.


    1. “If any practice in a religion denies people of their human rights — if it brings harm to others — and the planet, it’s bad.”
      Well said. But if any practice in a culture does those things, isn’t it still bad? From that, should we make statements about “culture”?


        1. I’d say on the specific culture, religion, sect, or whatever, remembering that much of what is thought of as a religious practice is often more of a local cultural one. I’m not religious, and have no trouble pointing out when a particular sect, denomination, or whatever is behaving badly, but I think tarring too broadly can be counter-productive.


          1. I understand what you are saying — but bringing awareness about specific sects of religion is important. Take Nigeria, for example. Their traditional religions has all but been wiped out. Christianity and Islam became invasive and dominate now, changing the cultures.

            Other countries have been profoundly affected by American (Western) fundamentalism.

            “Fanned by Western evangelicals, homophobia has spread across the African continent voraciously in recent years, including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the point that the European Union’s highest court last week ruled that fear of imprisonment [and death] for homosexuality in African countries is grounds for asylum in the EU.”

            So, which do we put emphasis on? Cultures or invasive sects of religion that impact culture and whole nations?


  2. “And as evangelical Christianity and other conservative religious movements gain force in Europe, the American right is finding more allies on the Continent. Cumulatively, their victories may be changing the global climate on some of the biggest social issues of our time. “We have a conservative period now in history — a substantial movement to the right around the world,” says James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum in New York and a prominent thinker on the globalization of the Christian right.”


    1. Definitely agree that those are detestable developments. I think you do it right by centering the focus on conservative evangelicals. It’s the people who simply describe those situations and blame it on “religion” overall that I think are being too simplistic.

      I’m not religious, so I’m not interested in spending a lot of energy defending it. I’m just pointing out that blaming all religion for the acts of specific groups is roughly similar to people blaming atheists for what the communists did. Both are logically questionable.


      1. Well said. I see no issue with people using religion for community and a belief in god as a way of coping with uncertainty. We have evolved to delude itself as a coping mechanism. The placebo effect is effective. But it can have side-effects.

        It’s when these two (religion and belief in god) are abused that it becomes a problems, and the abuse isn’t just with fundamental religions. It occurs in most mainstream religions and has for centuries.

        Many if not most don’t see it because they’ve been conditioned. It’s taboo to question traditions within mainstream religions. It’s taboo to not believe in god.

        Liked by 1 person

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