Most religions do encourage charity and good-will towards others, and donate food and medical supplies to the needy. I'm enough of an optimist, though, that I feel humans would follow these practices with or without a religion actively encouraging them.
Unfortunately it's measurably far less than you think.
AIDS crisis in Africa would have been contained if not for the Catholic church's problems with condoms. So millions of people die from AIDS because we refused to spend our money sending Africa protection, all due to religious misgivings about contraception.
As stated before, they don't have that much say in the matter, and even if they did, you are aware that some 90%
of the Catholic Church up to and including a huge portion of its clergy is in favor of contraception? Hell, most of the current Pope's opposition to it right now is because some idiot said Humanae Vitae
was infallible, JPII supported it because it was a pet peeve for him, and that means nobody can go back on it directly without killing infallibility dogma*
. Which we should have done ages ago anyway.
Furthermore, Africa's got some mind-breakingly nasty issues about that. Blue Ninja named several. Another particularly depressing one is that certain high-paying clients of prostitution often pay more when allowed to have sex unprotected, and an impoverished prostitute doesn't really have any say in the matter if she wants to have food.
The general progress of science is often held up by religious groups, even in such cases where the research in question has obvious benefits to society at large. Case in point, Perry's recent denials of global warming, motivated by appealing to the anti-science platform of the religious right, has cast doubt on legitimate scientific concerns at a time when the opportunity to stave off the worst consequences of global warming is fast reaching a critical point of no return. Then there's the opposition to famine-ending genetic engineering, the denial of evolution by religious groups which undermines efforts to stop bacteria from evolving antibiotic resistances, opposition to euthanasia when quality of life in the patient is unbearable...I could go on, but I think you see what I mean.
Eeeenope. Historically, religious institutions have been strongholds of knowledge, and any inhibition of things was usually political pissing matches or social elite trying to keep people in check by any means possible. Climate change issues today are stymied by people who have business interests against fixing the problem. In fact, there are several religious movements springing up that see conservation of God's creation as a sacred duty (just met a nice grassroots group in Idaho). Genetic engineering isn't even likely to be the tipping point for anything anyhow — farmland can be conserved far more effectively by just not eating ruminant meat and shooting down ethanol fuel. Opposition to euthanasia has jack all to do with science.
Most conflicts on Earth are caused by religious differences. Pakistan vs. India, the USSR vs. USA, the mess in the Middle East (Shiite vs. Sunni vs. Jews vs. Christians vs. Zoroastrianism vs. etc.), conflicts all over Africa (such as Sudan), unrest in Southern Mexico, Southeast Asia, and to some extent Russia vs. its former Soviet satellites (atheism/Orthodoxy vs. Islam).
...have you actually read a history book before? Pakistan vs. India is a cornucopia of cultural issues, scarcity of resources, and political backstabbing, of which religion is only one factor — pretty soon it'll be as much about water shortage in Kashmir river sources as everything else combined (thanks glacial retreat!). Saying Communism vs. the world was about religion is like saying Lord of the Rings is about Boromir. Mexico and SE Asia have problems mostly relating to being run by hideously exploitative hierarchies, in the former case a goddamn drug cartel.
And finally, all those cases where an otherwise intelligent and pro-active person decides that a problem is "in god's hands" and fails to act when they could have prevented a coming disaster. You see this kind of talk a lot concerning our failures to protect the environment for ourselves, but I believe it permeates through all levels of society and basically accumulates to the point that it obstructs and hinders the progress of human society towards a technological utopia.
Funny. Most of the religions I know of emphasize hard work, doing God's will instead of just talking about it, and condemn...you know...sloth
Also lol technological utopia.
I have been to Africa, and I have seen how missionaries have misled the natives into thinking that condoms are cursed and will cause your genitals to wither away because they are against God's wishes, and how the church deludes Africans into believing that the first step towards modernity and the wealth it brings is to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.
And meanwhile, my church's missions specifically train missionaries not to so much as mention God unless first asked. Also, overwhelming internal dissent on the matter in the first place.
Over time as medical advances increase our age and we learn not only how to coexist with the rest of nature but to promote its growth on other planets, we slowly come to realize that the REAL gods are ourselves.
Oh, narcissism. Awesome. Totally a good substitute for an introspective system of ethical standards.
And even that is apart from countries like Japan, known for both a high atheist population and a strong work ethic.
And...suicide rate :|
It is now. For a while it was not
Local bishops were a crapshoot like they are on pretty much everything ever, but the Vatican on the whole has never once been opposed to evolution. At worst, it was no comment on the topic, and a warning against taking scientific findings in general to conclusions of materialism.
Most of said large cities were thriving due to parasitism from richer terrains.
...that has to be the most spectacular understatement I've ever seen concerning the impact of a backbone for a major trade route to the Orient at a time when everyone had to navigate some of the most perilous deserts in the world on foot.
Look, I'll be the first to admit religions have some serious problems. But to point at all these issues and say "religion did it!" is more often than not very, very intellectually lazy and a massive oversimplification of complex interplay and power struggles. It's been used as a means by political leaders simply because it's supposed to be an obligation that supersedes that to country — they had to twist things to line those up before they could go a-conquering much of anywhere.
edited 5th Dec '11 8:11:32 PM by Pykrete