Religion to the Rescue?

I’ve always had a problem with religious organizations and their humanitarian efforts.  While it’s easy to applaud the well-publicized “relief” efforts, the volunteers are often far from completely altruistic.  The motives are often thinly veiled attempts at gaining new converts.  ABC News reports that Scientologists Descend on Minneapolis Collapse Site.  An excerpt:

The church says that its yellow-shirted 95,000 ministers around the world perform good deeds out of a sense of charity.

Sometimes they hand out “The Way to Happiness,” a pamphlet written by the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and offer a forms of therapy called “touch assists” and “nerve assists.”

Supposedly, these efforts are designed to help people, and if they coincidentally add a few people to their flock, all the better.

In general, Missionary-type work tends to destroy local cultures and converts people to the religion of the group that is providing the “help”.  Often, these people live in impoverished areas and have little education to help combat the seductiveness of religion.  In the worst cases, assistance comes with implicit strings attached.  Who wouldn’t claim to believe in fairies, the Easter Bunny, or Jesus in exchange for life-saving food and mediations?  Even if you do believe in a particular version of a particular religion, you should see the importance of letting people make an informed decision about their faith (and all the strings attached with it). 

Missionaries and rescue workers tend to present only their view – usually a very narrow and specific one – to an unsuspecting population.  Should people choose to convert, they’re hardly doing it based on their own free will.  And, the shadows of religion can damage a culture.  Mother Theresa, for example, was adamant about opposing abortion.  That’s hardly a “progressive” view that’s appropriate to populations with scarce resources and high infant mortality.

In that respect, I think the cost of these “rescue” efforts is far too high.  We’re better off without this form of “charity”.

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