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04 December 2017

Religion : Atheism :: Government : Anarchy

I've noticed a couple new hashtags, #emptythepews and #churchtoo, popping up in my Twitter feed lately. I was given pause, not because I disagree with their purpose and the problems that they expose but instead because of the ends to which many of those who employed the hashtags took them. Explicitly, many using the hashtags were militantly arguing for atheism. It reminds me of a phenomenon that I've long noticed but haven't yet written about.

All institutions are imperfect because they are organized and peopled by individuals who are imperfect. It seems that people hold the institution of religion to a different standard than they hold other social institutions. For example, we have a long history of governments doing very, very bad things. Think wars, genocide, totalitarianism, etc. Almost no one, however, points to the institution of government and says, "We should do away with that and have anarchy!" Of course they don't. Instead, most say, "Yes, some governments have committed atrocities, but governments have also done a lot of good in the world, and even if government as an institution was a flawed endeavor, it is better than the alternative." What most can see is that government is necessary.

It's not just government. We can choose virtually any institution:

  • The family
    • Some families are dysfunctional and abusive, but no one argues that we should abolish all families. 
  • The law
    • Some laws are patently unjust, but no one argues that we should have no laws.
  • The economy
    • Capitalism is inherently unjust, but no one imagines that we could have a society without an economy of some kind.
  • Education
    • Some schools are better than others, but no one argues that we should shutter all of them.
  • etc.
Why is religion unique among other social institutions? It's an open theoretical question, I believe.

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