My son is going through the drug education program in his American elementary school called D.A.R.E. (wiki, govt). I dislike the way the class is taught and so I have recently supplemented my son’s education with this graph published in The Lancet from November 6th 2010. I like the graph because it broadens the overly simple dichotomy of Not Bad vs Bad. It describes each drug’s “harm” in terms of both harm to others and harm to self. Though an improvement on the naive “Drugs are All Bad!” rhetoric, this chart is still missing an important component–”benefit”. For my son to really understand drugs, it is also necessary for him to understand not only the harm but also the “benefits” a person gets from using a given drug. I won’t explore the “benefits” of drugs in this post but instead use these thoughts to discuss religion.
I think we can fruitfully analyze religions similar to the way the Lancet authors analyzed drugs. The chart below describes not only the social vs. individual harm caused by religion but also adds a critical “benefit” column. The first four religions are all Christian sects (“X” for greek first letter in “Christ”). Each religion is then subjectively evaluated by yours truly for both its harms (blue) and benefits (green) to both self (light colors) and others (dark colors).
This chart could upset a lot of people. For instance, in their exaggerating moments, religion-hating atheists may feel that religions, like drugs, are never beneficial and instead nothing but harmful. Lots of folks won’t like the drug-religion analogy. Additionally, the chart will anger anyone who thinks their religion is harmless. Finally, people will rightfully debate the quantitative choices and the relative comparisons.
But let me head off the major criticisms by admitting that the chart is loaded with problems:
- The numbers are completely subjective and arbitrary
- One can not generalize about religion or even a given sect: they all vary tremendously
- The qualitative choices on this graph tell more about my biases than the religions themselves.