“Good Religion” is a Bad Idea

The last blog post on this site discussed some of the initial Roman Catholic reactions to the horrific murder of Fr Hamel by Islamists in France. Since then I’ve noticed some further comments on this awful event, most noticeably from the editor of The Irish Catholic newspaper, Michael Kelly.

Writing in the Irish Independent about the murder of Fr Hamel, Michael Kelly stated that:

“The antidote to bad religion is good religion and we must strive to ensure that the clash of civilisations between Islam and the West, which blasphemous death cults like ISIL long for, does not happen.”

The irony of criticising French Islamists as being “blasphemous” will not be lost on too many advocates of free expression. However, the characterisation of a Jihadist organisation as a “death cult” is difficult to argue with, given their preoccupation with martyrdom (although this is not a disposition that Catholicism is immune from).

When asked on Irish national radio about the Pope’s reaction to the murder of Fr Hamel (available here at 7:58) Michael Kelly also stated that:

“One of the things that Pope Francis has always been at pains to point out, is that the only antidote to bad religion is good religion … He prayed especially for an end to terrorism …”

"Dear Jesus ... protect us from the weird Muslim death cult."
“Dear Jesus … protect us from the weird Muslim death cult.”

This insistence that a different religion represents “the only antidote” to religious murders, will come as a shock to those who have been working for decades to create a human rights framework across many societies. These rights describe a set of moral principles, which are inalienable and inherent in all human beings. The foundations of human rights conventions are derived from ideas associated with natural rights, which first became popular during The Enlightenment. That is, these are ethical precepts defined using reason and rationality, in direct opposition to those ordained by Church authority and supposed “divine revelation”. For anyone to instruct human rights lawyers that they will be unable to find any way to oppose the torture and murder of a defenceless octogenarian, without first praying to an invisible deity about the matter, seems asinine at best.

What interested me most though was not this transparently mistaken prescription of the only possible “antidote” for the problem. Rather, the very idea that Roman Catholics can measure “bad religion” as compared to “good religion” is a curious suggestion. Initially, we might wonder what objective criteria would be used in order to make such a measurement?

If a female adherent of any denomination professed a vocation to devote their lives to priesthood, would a “good religion” follow the Roman Catholic example and explain to all women that the creator of the universe wishes to discriminate against them? Does this mean that those Christian Churches currently ordaining women into their priesthood are therefore exemplars of “bad religions”?

If two gay men are devout and pious Christians who are very much in love and wish to get married, would any Church that recognises their love be another exemplar of a “bad religion”? Is the only possible response of a “good religion” to such a couple, to admonish them that they are “objectively disordered” (as the Roman Catholic Church does in Catechism 2358)?

It seems clear that the Roman Catholic definition of a “good religion” involves discriminating against women and gay people. This implies that the list of “bad religions” must include any denomination which would grant equality to all people. In this regard, Catholicism has more in common with the most conservative flavours of Islam than it does with natural rights and human rights, which is something worth considering when the Pope instructs us on “the only antidote” to Islamism.


John Hamill

National Committee, Atheist Ireland

Secretary, Atheist Alliance International

One thought on ““Good Religion” is a Bad Idea

  1. The only antidote is a full acceptance that fantasy is fantasy and real is real, in other words religion is a fantasy the belongs only in story books as tales of non-existent lands

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