Criticisms of religious beliefs and concepts have been in existence since religion started. However, several philosophers trace the roots of religious criticisms to the 5th century In Greece while others claim criticisms to religious beliefs were in existence during the 1st century in ancient Rome (Beckford, 2003).
Often, these criticisms have been developed as philosophies which question or attack the concepts, validity and practices taught in religious circles. To affirm their arguments, critics who challenge the dominance of religion say that, religion is misleading because it seeks to brainwash children; cheats people that they can be healed, just by having faith, among other events.
Some critics do not also shy away from attributing the source of certain ills in the society to religious dominance. For example, the increase of religious wars (such as jihad), discrimination against certain individuals (like women and gays), have been attributed to the dominance of religion in the society (Beckford, 2003, p. 2).
Among the pioneers of anti-religious views are personalities such as Dennet Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins (and the likes) who note that religious doctrines were not divinely inspired, as is believed, but rather, the authors of religious scripts were ordinary people who sought to fulfill a religious, social or political void that existed in the society (Dennett, 2006).
More works developed by anti-religious crusaders have often bombarded the public and they have so far managed to influence our morality and knowledge on the subject. This study seeks to further explain this point, but to do so, we will analyze how antireligious doctrines are effected and reflected in a major historic event – September 11th attacks in New York.
The September 11th attack in New York City is largely seen as an extreme religious attack orchestrated by the Al-Qaida terrorist group (Muslims) against America, which is largely a Christian country (Buzzle, 2011). The event has been perceived to be an example of the effects of extreme religious activities, especially on the side of the Muslim terrorist group, Al Qaida.
Some philosophers who have criticized the dominance of religion in the society have equated the September 11th attacks to similar religious wars such as the Middle East conflict between Israel and its Muslim neighbors, the Sudan civil war, the 2008 London terrorist attacks among others (Buzzle, 2011).
One major ground identified in the argument against religious dominance is that religious leaders normally use war and violence to uphold or propel their religious ambitions and goals (Hitchens, 2007, p. 4). An example is Osama bin Laden who has been termed the leader of Al-Qaida terrorist group and a typical example of a religious leader who has successes at using violence to promote religious goals.
From this analysis, we can see that religious leaders are capable of promoting secular wars through their support of religious doctrines (such as jihad in Islam).
Morality is a controversial issue, not only in religious circles but also in social circles. Philosophies that challenge religious dominance have often been directed at this very basic concept of humanity because they have been developed to show that religion has no place in morality (Dennett, 2006, p. 5).
Instead, such philosophies suggest that morality should be based on a man’s education, sympathy and social ties. The reason behind this argument is based on the fact that, many philosophers who have criticized religion have studied man’s behavior and determined that they are usually affected by fear, the hope to be rewarded and death (Dawkins, 1991).
All these factors are attributed to faith because religion teaches that man is bound to be punished or rewarded for the wrong or good deeds that he or she has done while on earth. This fear of punishment or hope for reward influences the behaviors of people and ultimately affects their morals.
The September 11th attacks in America provide the best ground for the understanding of this fact because the violence can be largely perceived as an act by an extremist religious group which recruits and undertakes its activities, based on religious teachings which assure its followers of rewards if they carry out extreme religious pursuits.
In other words, the participation of these offenders in religious conflict is motivated by the goal of achieving eternal peace if they take part in these wars. From this understanding, we are able to see how religion redefines morality because what is a wrong act is justified under the doctrines of religion.
When analyzed in the context of the September 11th attacks, we can see that the Al-Qaida terrorist group justified their terrorist activities on religious principles because it is in their belief that they are fighting a religious war (Buzzle, 2011, p. 3).
The same can also be said of America because after the attack, it launched a revenge war in several Muslim states such as Afghanistan and Pakistan where it believed was the home to such terrorist groups. The attack eventually led to a lot of civilian casualties in the affected regions, but the action by the US was largely seen as justifiable because they were victims to religious extremism.
Both scenarios (attacks on America and Muslim states) therefore redefine the concept of morality because without the inclusion of religious doctrines, both attacks would obviously be immoral because they lead to death and violence which is morally wrong.
Religion has therefore been widely used in the society to draw the line on what is moral and what is not. This is the same case depicted in the painting, done by Michael Angelo titled: the last judgment.
In the painting, the open inclusion of naked human bodies caused a lot of controversy because when analyzed from a religious point of view, it was immoral to show human genitalia in public. More condemnation was observed from the painting because it was housed in the Vatican, which is considered one of the holiest Christian places on earth.
The controversy took a different twist when the “holy painting” was later to be compared to Angelo’s nude paintings. This controversy later forced the then pontiff to extricate himself in light of such an argument, saying that in his defense, he was in no place to judge hell’s artifacts. As a result, critics were concerned over the fact that immorality was being condoned in a holy place (the Vatican).
In close relation to the moral lines drawn by Christianity, the Islamic faith has also been criticized by philosophers who teach against religious domination because it has over the years taught dogmatic principles which were only meant to promote matters like hygiene, political stability or other ancient issues which do not apply today (Dennett, 2006).
From this analysis, we can see that the society has been conditioned by the teachings of religion to perceive what is moral and what is not. An example could be the fact that Islam teaches that, women who fail to entirely cover themselves in religious clothing, are immoral and are subject to sexual assault.
Religion has therefore been known to trample over human compassion and morality because it advocates for a strict adherence to the scriptures’ teachings, at the expense of one’s individuality.
This can also be seen from the painting, the last judgment because the painting was a representation of the artist’s ideas (nudity), but he was not allowed to express himself because of the teachings of Christianity. In other words, his depiction of the naked human form as a part of his creative work could not be accepted because of what was morally perceived in the eyes of Christianity.
This critical analysis of morality from a religious point of view definitely tramples over human individuality and what an individual perceives as moral or not.
This prevents the growth of human personality because everyone has to conform to certain principles articulated in the scriptures and therefore one cannot be true to him or herself in the process. Religion therefore twists humanity to be a systematic relationship between man and God; beating the whole sense of being human in the first place.
This is the ground which religious institutions command power over the people because they assume they are bestowed with special knowledge of interpreting or redefining what is moral and what is not. From the same grounds, they have also successfully managed to curtail further debate on real issues that affect humanity today, such as same sex marriages, stem cell research and other morally sensitive issues.
The September 11th attacks in America show just how much acts of terrorism are perceived as a small battle which is consumed in a larger global religious pursuit (Buzzle, 2011, p. 3).
Though terrorism may be largely perceived as a sophisticated art, it is apparently clear that most of the offensive is undertaken under the surety of religious doctrines which affirm to its subjects that God is with them, and they would be heavily rewarded for their acts (because they are justified to do what they do under the religious doctrines they believe in).
Often, it is usually difficult to convince either side of the religious divide that they are doing a wrong thing, especially if they believe that they are undertaking a religious pursuit, or fighting a religious cause.
Probably, an example of a misguided religious fanaticism is the Siege of the Beziers in 1209, where it was affirmed by one leader on the offensive that: “Kill them all, God will recognize his” (Locks, 2011, p. 13).
From this understanding, the September 11th attacks in the US significantly changes the knowledge assumed to constitute religion because to a large extent, religion seeks to unite the people under a major cause of humanity and the love for God.
However, the attacks significantly change the knowledge that makes up Christianity and Islam because both religions speak of peace and the love for every human being. More importantly, religion speaks against revenge because it assures its believers that revenge should only rest in the hands of God.
All these teachings are breached by the protagonists because the US launched an offensive against several Islamic nations, under a conglomerate of other Christian allies such as Britain and Canada while Islamic unity became more apparent, across the globe, as a victimized religious group out on revenge.
This is a true departure from the teachings of religion and its aim of upholding social cohesion and peace across the world. To a large extent, the September 11th attacks reinforce criticism against religion that its doctrines are based on irrational actions, unscientific fallacies and unreasonable actions which are clearly portrayed by the actions of the US and extreme terrorist groups.
The knowledge believed to encompass Christianity and Islam are therefore completely tarnished by the actions that followed the September 11th attacks
The movie, the deep impact, also represents a departure from the usual beliefs associated with religion, based on how the world ends.
This is true because the movie proposes a scientific way of how the world would end but on the contrary, it is firmly rooted in the beliefs of Christianity that Christ will come back to take his people and separate evil from good. This manner of representation of how the world will end is written in the book of revelations and it is in sharp contrast to what the movie, deep impact, represents.
In religion, there is no inclusion of scientific concepts regarding how the world would end. In fact, most of the events preceding the end of the world are largely religious and have nothing to do with science, or that a comet will come crashing into earth and virtually mark the end of humanity.
The biggest distinction in the movie is that, there is no separation of evil or good in the deep impact, because a large part of the film suggests that the comet would indiscriminately kill all humanity. This is a departure from religious doctrines because the separation of evil and good is at the centre of the end of the world belief.
It is also important to note that religion provides no manner of redemption for humanity against God’s wrath but deep impact assumes that humanity could redeem itself in the wake of destruction by simply digging a deep hole underneath the earth’s surface and accommodate a million people who will survive the disaster.
The redemption of humanity is also skewed along the lines of wealth and power where the people to be redeemed are largely sourced from the United States and Russia, representing the wealth divide that exists in the world today.
Religion actually preaches the contrary because it is believed that the poor, weak and the humble will be redeemed by God during the last day.
The September 11 attacks also seek to reaffirm the argument proposed by certain critics of religion that religion is delusional and causes normal human beings to act in an irrational manner (Dawkins, 1991). In other words, such critics note that religion causes normal human beings to do “mad” acts and still consider them holy in the eyes of God. One such act is killing fellow human beings and expecting rewards from God.
These claims have set forth a series of studies done under research on mysticism and its possible connection to child abuse which set forth a series of other studies investigating the effects of religious possession and its effects on humanity (such as epilepsy).
As a result, literatures such as Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark have developed and suggested that extreme religious beliefs may have a possible connection with mental disorders (Dawkins, 1991, p. 11).
From this point of view, it is firmly believed by proponents of this school of thought that, what many religious believers perceive as vision, episodes and other mystical experiences may be nothing more than the stimulation of temporal lobe seizures.
From this argument, it is not exceptional to assume that the September 11 attacks on American soil may have been caused by a delusional motive among the offenders because their actions cannot be possibly justifiable under normal human state of mind. In other words, their actions and mindsets were obviously poisoned by religious doctrines, such as that affirmed by Bradshaw (2006) who suggests that:
“Some forms of temporal lobe tumors or epilepsy are associated with extreme religiosity. Recent brain imaging of devotees engaging in prayer or transcendental meditation has more precisely identified activation in such sites — God-spots, as Vilayanur Ramachandran calls them.
Psilocybin from mushrooms contacts the serotonergic system, with terminals in these and other brain regions, generating a sense of cosmic unity, transcendental meaning and religious ecstasy. Certain physical rituals can generate both these feelings and corresponding serotonergic activity” (p. 8).
In other words, it can be said that religion makes one conform to the beliefs and values of an unusual culture (which ordinary people would perceive as outrageous) because not even the actions pursued under these pretexts can be perceived justifiable under ordinary religious beliefs. When analyzed in the context of the September 11th attacks, it therefore becomes apparently clear that these acts of terrorism depict delusional behavior among believers, which only seek to reinforce the idea among critics of religion that religion encompasses irrational beliefs and possibly, delusional acts.
From this analysis, there is a clear drift of the actions of believers and the teachings of religion. This belief has been depicted in several works of art such as the musical rock opera titled: Jesus Christ the superstar. In the rock opera, the composers omitted certain basic beliefs which are at the core of Christianity such as the resurrection of Christ.
This move by the musical composers was motivated by the fact that Christian believers normally held irrational beliefs about religion and particularly Jesus Christ. In other words, they tried to tone down the “supernatural” element attributed to Jesus Christ and rather focused on his human side.
To affirm their controversial stance on religion, the musical piece tore down on some of the most basic beliefs about the scriptures of Christianity by stating that some of the books in the New testament, like Mathew, Luke, Mark and John had several inconsistencies because they were in the first place not originally written in English, but rather, interpreted from Greek.
Moreover, because the musical piece focused less on the Jesus’ supernatural nature, it also focused on Judas, which was largely perceived by Christian fundamentalists as an abomination to Christianity. This work only seeks to reinforce the arguments purported in increasing volumes of philosophical works developed by several authors, concerning the negative dominance of religion in the society.
This study identifies that the September 11 attacks significantly change the manner we perceive morality and the knowledge associated with religion in the first place. The precursor events and the actions that followed the attacks seek to redefine the concept of morality in the society and seem a departure from the basic teachings of religion.
These events are perceived as irrational and not in conformance to the teachings of Christianity by any means possible. This is the ground pursued by philosophers criticizing the role of religion in the society because as evidenced from the September 11 attacks, religion seems to play a harmful role in the society.
Beckford, J. A. (2003). Social Theory and Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bradshaw, J. (2006). Ockham’s Razor, June 18, 2006, A God of the Gaps? Retrieved 13th April 2011, from: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ockhamsrazor/stories/2006/1664571.htm
Buzzle. (2011). Full text: bin Laden’s ‘letter to America. Retrieved 24 May 2011, from:
Dawkins, R. (1991). Viruses of the Mind. Retrieved 13th April 2011, from:
Dennett, D. (2006). Breaking the Spell. New York: Allen Lane.
Hitchens, C. (2007). God is not Great. New York: Twelve.
Locks, S. (2011). Kill Them All; For The Lord Knoweth Them That Are His Steve Locks.
Retrieved 24 May, 2011, from: http://www.positiveatheism.org/mail/eml9442.htm