“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”Blaise Pascal
In 1973 Israeli psychologist George Tamarin presented a mind-blowing study on the effect of what’s “written in the Bible” on the way people uncritically perceive good or bad.
Tamarin presented to over a thousand Israeli schoolchildren (aged 8-14) the account of the battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua (the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible). In this battle Joshua and his soldiers destroyed the entire city of Jericho except for the “silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron [that were] sacred to the LORD [and would] go into the treasury of the LORD”. Other than that, Joshua and his people “utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword… And they burned the city with fire” (Joshua 6:20-21). Why did they do this horrendous act? Long story short: God told Joshua to do so.
After this story (or supposed fact) was told to all those children, they were asked to make a simple moral judgment. They were to answer this question: “Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not?” They could choose between three options: ‘A’ for total approval of the action, ‘B’ for partial approval or disapproval, and ‘C’ for total disapproval. 66% of the children completely approved destroying the city of Jericho and everyone in it on voting for ‘A’, 8% went with a neutral stance ‘B’, and 26% went with option ‘C’.
Some who went with ‘C’ were not necessarily guided by a contra-biblical or a non-discriminatory attitude. A ten-year-old girl disapproving the act gave the reason for her choosing so: “I think it (destroying Jericho) is not good, since the Arabs are impure and if one enters an impure land one will also become impure and share their curse.” Another reasoned, “I think Joshua did not act well as they could have spared the animals for themselves (for their own pleasure, instead of killing everyone in Jericho).”
Now now, what made the study mind-blowing was the control group. A group of 168 Israeli schoolchildren this time were given the exact same description of the event Joshua and his soldiers performed at Jericho but Joshua’s name was replaced by ‘General Lin’ and [‘Jericho’] replaced by a ‘Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago’. General Lin only got a 7% approval rating, with 18% partial approval or disapproval, and 75% disapproving totally.
Why did this happen?
We know why. Because it was God who told Joshua. But General Lin? Well, he was a blood-thirsty, genocidal, immorally apathetic, evilly driven, irrational General.
When their loyalty to Judaism (the children’s religion) was out of the picture, the children seemed to follow the common principles modern day humans would converge upon (totally disapproving genocide). But when it was Joshua, it wasn’t looked at from the same critical perspective.
After a while, this observation isn’t even quite surprising.
The conclusion is that chauvinism (the unreasonable belief in the dominance of one’s own group) influences moral judgment and that the uncritical teaching of certain ideas (in the Bible, for example) forms illogical prejudices.
Instantiating these infallible, not-to-be-questioned ideas into the curious minds of children thereby hindering their critical powers only helps in having more followers of an orthodox religion but does not add to the progress of our species, to the amazing potential of humanity and to straight up common sense.
Though this was just a test of ethical reasoning, we really see that religion in its dogmatic form can do much, much harm to society.
Question everything. Peace out.
(Also, before you come at me, please note: I don’t have anything against a particular religion. I have a thing against all religions that do not allow their ideas to be questioned or criticized and hence impede human progress.)
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins