Posted: Feb 12, 2012 9:18 am
by andrewk
The key reasons for criticising religion, in my view, are ethical. For instance if Susie is a utilitarian and she believes some aspects of some religions cause misery, then she is ethically obliged to criticise those aspects, in order to try to reduce the harm done. If Bert is a Kantian deontologist who believes that some claims by some religious people are false, maybe even dishonest, Bert is ethically obliged to refute those claims.

Personally, I criticise religion when I see it used as a means to oppress or otherwise harm others. I particularly dislike when it is used to justify prejudice, violence or brainwashing and terrifying children. I don't think that justifies indiscriminate criticism of religion though. If an individual gets comfort from a particular religious belief, and it harms nobody else, I think it would be mean and arrogant to do anything solely aimed at undermining that belief. That does not however mean that one should refrain from publicly criticising religion because some such people may be listening. In that case, undermining the person's belief is not the sole aim of engaging in public debate, in fact it is not even an aim at all but just an unfortunate side-effect.

To my knowledge, Richard Dawkins doesn't go visiting dying religious people in hospital to tell them that their hopes of heaven are vain. He engages in public debate and advocacy against healthy, vigorous, mostly highly successful representatives of powerful religious institutions. From what I have seen of such discussions and debates, his aim seems to be to reduce the power of religions to do harm, and to undermine some of the key arguments by which they do harm. He is human, so he sometimes misjudges and upsets people needlessly, but it seems to me that he does far more good than harm. A committed Christian or Muslim might take the opposite view.

Unfortunately your search for a 'rock' that cannot be doubted, upon which to rest your worldview, cannot be successful unless you intend to be a solipsist, as any other worldview, religious or not, involves adopting axioms that are open to doubt.