“Organized religion” isn’t the problem, religion is


Many religious believers, and even some atheists,
have occasionally claimed that religion itself is not inherently harmful. Instead, they contend
that the problems caused by religion are actually the result of organized and institutional
religious bodies. And while a significant portion of these issues may be due to the
organized aspects of religion, organized religion is not the only source of harm. It is part
of the problem, and it is *a* problem, but it is not *the* problem exclusively. While
not all religious belief is necessarily harmful, the damage that does arise from religious
belief would not be wholly eliminated with the end of organized religion. It is, of course,
unavoidable that religious organizations have many problems that are specific to their nature
as institutions. If they have a leadership hierarchy, it’s possible for that leadership
to become corrupted in various ways. For instance, a religious institution could potentially
have a problem with rampant child abuse, and be directed by its leaders to avoid reporting
this to law enforcement. Organized religions can also establish their own doctrines and
dogma which their clergy and members are required to abide by. Depending on the content of their
beliefs, this can be used for good or bad purposes, but it is nevertheless a blunt instrument.
Simply being among a great number of people who appear to share your beliefs can discourage
critical examination and doubt. A religious body can be capable of exerting social pressure
on individuals in a very focused way. A person’s social network, possibly including their own
family, may be based largely in a certain religious community. This organization then
has the power to influence that person and discourage any dissent by instructing their
fellow adherents to shun and exclude them until they do what’s demanded of them. This
can also be accomplished less explicitly by promoting the idea that a certain religious
group is the only way to salvation, and the rest are terribly mistaken. This doesn’t leave
much room for disagreement. Religious organizations are especially well-positioned to mobilize
their followers for political purposes, as demonstrated by the efforts of the Catholic
Church to encourage parishioners to fight against gay marriage in California, Maine,
Minnesota and Washington. While this could potentially be directed to more positive goals,
it still presents one group’s religious beliefs as a basis for public policies that affect
everyone. All things considered, it isn’t looking very good for organized religion.
But religion, whether it’s organized or not, comes with a variety of problems that its
organizational aspects are not solely responsible for. For example, polls show that people who
attend church more frequently are less likely to support gay marriage, and vice versa. This
pattern has also emerged in polls of Catholics specifically, whose official religious doctrine
opposes gay marriage. But what is the nature of the relationship between church attendance
and personal religious fervor? Do people become more religious as a result of attending church?
Or do they attend church because of the strength of their belief? Could both of these attributes
be linked to an unidentified third factor? None of this is ruled out by the data, and
neither is any of it singled out. While it makes sense that exposure to organized religion
in its various forms would have an influence on one’s religious views – especially among
youth who didn’t get to choose whether to participate – it makes just as much sense
that religiously inclined people would tend to gravitate toward religious bodies. Although
it can be appealing to imagine that religious organizations originated as a conspiracy of
social control – an impression that the actions of many religions have done nothing to dispel
– it seems more likely that religious groups developed organically. Religious people, like
anyone else with a certain interest, will try to seek out like-minded individuals. They
find others who share their views, and they embark on a common enterprise. It might be
nice to think that ending religious organizations would suffice to end religion entirely, but
many people have religious impulses that would persist in the absence of their favored religious
group. Even if it were possible to “disorganize” organized religion and scatter it to the ends
of the earth, religious people would once again discover that there are others like
them, and they would regroup. Without religious institutions to channel and coordinate believers,
many of them would still be disposed to certain patterns of thought and behavior which can
be hazardous. You don’t need to attend religious services to think that spirits are conversing
with you and giving you their personal attention. You don’t need the affirmation of a religion
to believe that deities are handing you the only correct answers and anyone else who says
the same must be wrong. You don’t need hymns and homilies to attribute natural occurrences
to divine intervention. You don’t need a pope or an imam to think it’s okay for you to believe
something for no reason beyond simply wanting it to be true or feeling that it’s true. You
don’t need official dogma to act like your ideas about God are a sufficient basis for
depriving your fellow citizens of their equal rights – or killing them for insulting someone
you call a prophet. All this requires is an incomplete understanding of secularism, liberty,
ethics, reason, and the natural world. Organized religion may facilitate such manifestations
of ignorance, but make no mistake: they can and do flourish without it. People are born
this ignorant. Religious belief provides a focal point for that, and organized religion
offers an especially elaborate template for people to subscribe to wholesale. But this
ignorance is the default state of the untrained human mind, and it’s a breeding ground for
superstition. Organized religions are often subjected to criticism simply because they’re
such a convenient target. They’re so visible, powerful and active that it’s very easy to
point out when they do something wrong – especially when they do a lot of things wrong all the
time. When individuals are singled out, it’s typically because they’re a representative
of a given religious group, whereas it would seem unnecessary and petty to point out that
John Q. Unaffiliated God-Believer is being epistemically irresponsible. But he is, and
on a large enough scale, this snowballs into a significant issue. There’s a tendency to
miss the trees for the forest and treat religion as a separate entity from the individuals
it’s composed of. In truth, the problem of organized religion wouldn’t and couldn’t exist
if it weren’t for religious people.


100 Responses

  1. deltaxcd

    February 2, 2012 8:15 pm

    "• a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme"
    I think this is exactly what I described.

  2. deltaxcd

    February 2, 2012 8:25 pm

    Not sure what you want to prove with that, but I hope you do not claim that simple animals like cats or rats are actively thinking about results of their copulation and seriously evaluate optimal procreation routes, like humans do.

  3. Adrian Lee Magill

    February 2, 2012 8:36 pm

    "Simply being among a number of people who share your beliefs can discourage critical examination.." Does this not apply to atheism as well? I am not trying to detract from atheism, as I see it as a perfectly valid belief structure. However, I have seen atheists do exactly what you claim religions, even those without structure, are guilty of.

    For example: People are coming to your videos (like going to church) to hear you preach anti religious belief, but this is still religious practice.

  4. deltaxcd

    February 2, 2012 8:41 pm

    This is relevant because it is not about usage of abstract thing, it is about belief that some abstract thing has value by itself.
    If abstract thing is just tool to achieve something real and user knows that it has nothing to do with religion.
    your examples can be described as attempt to simulate some feelings just like stroking yourself to feel better.
    It is not easy to tell if specific abstract object is goals or just intermediate to real goal.

  5. deltaxcd

    February 2, 2012 8:54 pm

    Since animals mostly cannot understand self existence or results of copulation's, they definitely do not plan outcomes. So they must feel pleasure.
    Humans are capable to understand that, butmost do not care about such things at all, procreation happens as unwanted result on sex, or as attempt to fulfill some desires. It is rarely done for sake to preserve family name. However some parents take that seriously. They plan everything and even kill their kids if they are not suitable.

  6. deltaxcd

    February 2, 2012 9:15 pm

    I claim that personal religion is nothing wrong since religion can be any kind of belief. and we all usually believe in something, so it is wrong to say that all religions are bad.

    However if I believe that something like procreation is supreme goal, I gather many people who think same then create system which actively multiplies amount of believers and clears disbelievers, that is really bad. because it least lo loss of liberty and diversity.

  7. Ghutom

    February 2, 2012 9:16 pm

    Organized crime isn't the problem crime is.
    Organized crime is just a greater more sinister problem.
    I don't think anyone has a problem with organisations (well maybe some crackpot conservatives do shouting leftwing-commie-socialists), but when bad ideas get organized the get worse. One lunatic is bad, a bunch of lunatics with weapons are worse.

  8. Tethloach1

    February 2, 2012 9:32 pm

    Dogma- Holding a world view as fact (Christian, Muslim, Libertarian, Liberal, conservative, democrat, republican. If you hold any world view as fact and are willing to fight and defend that view at all cost then your dogmatic, atheist can be dogmatic as well as religious people.

  9. deltaxcd

    February 2, 2012 9:38 pm

    I did not noticed anything about mythological beliefs in this video.

    However if someone believes in fairies or aliens I don't see anything wrong with that until they do not start killing people to sacrifice them to fairies.
    this is exactly same as belief in some more practical thing like procreation or money.

    If people who believe in procreation or freedom superiority discriminate people who believe in fairies that is stupid.

  10. Patrick Festa

    February 2, 2012 10:16 pm

    I just want to say; It's good to have you back ZJ. You have been sort of quiet on the issues for a while. So, Welcome back!

  11. ZeonicGundam

    February 3, 2012 3:08 am

    Pretty much all I've thought regarding the whole "it's only the organized part" argument is stated in this video but far better articulated than I can muster. I think a good starting point though would be to stop giving these organizations such a free ride. I.e. stop letting churches be tax free.
    Which reminds me of a time someone said to me that would cut off a lot of helpful charities… To which I essentially facepalmed – though from what I recall I didn't handle the situation so well.

  12. 1982mockingbird1982

    February 3, 2012 5:27 am

    @imN0Ttheone When I used the word 'unsubstantiated' I was referring to your assertion that heterosexuality was the 'life blood' of society. The purpose behind population control is to reduce suffering. Disease, famine and war cause suffering and therefore defeat the purpose, and all these problems are only aggravated by unsustainable population growth. So if you think all those things are bad why dont you go gay (sarcastically)?….

  13. 1982mockingbird1982

    February 3, 2012 6:13 am

    @milnoid I also find their religion a little bit strange but regardless they are entitled to their beliefs (however bizzare they may be) and the persecution and injustice they have had to endure is just deplorable. I have seen photos of women who were sexually mutilated just for practicing Falun Gong and have heard the CCP harvests Falun Gong practitioners organs for sale on the black market. Hong Kong has done a wonderful thing by giving them refuge

  14. Phillip Lightweis-Goff

    February 3, 2012 3:36 pm


    So basically, a bullshit term invented by some quitzo-masculine self-help guru… or alternatively by some sad sack trying to hoist his version on manhood on the the rest of us. 'Dominant'? Pffft.

  15. FattyMcFox

    February 3, 2012 4:59 pm

    h geez more " blame an individual who may or may not be affiliated with x group because they share a single trait in common" Here lets use that same logic in another case. I am white so i could potentially join the KKK, therefore all they do can be blamed on me. Um no. It would be nice to be held responsible for crimes i actually commited not for crimes commited by someone only resembling me in the loosest sense possible.

  16. Dorian Gray Clampitt

    February 3, 2012 7:45 pm

    Believing in a god is not inherently harmful (besides, of course to seeking truth) its the social stigma people add to their belief that become dangerous. If believing in a divine that created the world is all that there is, vanilla, but safe. However, when you start adding your own particular values to said god, it becomes dangerous. Simple as adding "God says be kind to your brethren" can be dangerous. I never question that you believe in god, its what your god says to you i will question.

  17. FreethinkingSecularist

    February 4, 2012 2:51 am

    @ItZzTaZ "weird ass faggot bitch" is very mean. Why are you so upset at this vlogger dressing and decorating like a stereotypical woman? Is a message's value dictated by the quality of a speaker? If you began watching this because of sexual attraction, and after realizing that ZJ wasn't what you intended to fantasize about, rather than taking it out on the vlogger, in the future you should leave and keep your own observatory weaknesses to yourself.

  18. 1982mockingbird1982

    February 4, 2012 3:00 am

    @imN0Ttheone You said something about homosexuals consuming x% of Canada's healthcare. Did you get this from the Statistics Canada? Its a simple question which I asked a few times and if you cant answer it then that doesnt constitute a failure on my part

  19. 1982mockingbird1982

    February 4, 2012 4:52 am

    @moopism LOL I suspected as much! 😀 I couldnt find any health statistic at Statistics Canada that were broken down based on orientation.

  20. 1982mockingbird1982

    February 4, 2012 6:38 am

    @imN0Ttheone Your right that is a little over my head and I wouldnt read the whole book just to find the one statistic. Perhaps you can tell me which studies the authors cite to support their statistics?

  21. jagmarz

    February 4, 2012 2:41 pm

    The real, larger danger posed by religion is the encouragement and dependence on confirmation bias. Adherents systematically look for confirmation of their religious beliefs, and that behavior pattern then flows over into other areas – political, environmental, etc.

  22. Globlsplod

    February 4, 2012 2:55 pm

    This epitomises the sort of athiesm I hate. Not that I shall extend this notion of one arrogant girl onto all athiests I meet and thus dismiss them all, reasonable ones included; that would be silly, wouldn't it? That would be dismissing a lot of good for no reason.

    I could say I believe in gay marriage, liberalism and socialism, and have an understanding of physics all while being religious. But how could my "untrained mind" cope with such concepts, if I can't even grasp reason and ethics?

  23. FreethinkingSecularist

    February 5, 2012 4:47 pm

    @moopism I like your response to this nudnik ItZzTaZ better than mine…I was about one beer away from being as succinct as you. haha thanks.

  24. realigiousrayne

    February 5, 2012 6:53 pm

    As long as the religious believe atheists are a threat to their religion there will always be conflict. When in reality it is the other religions that are the biggest threat to them because they believe in another deity. It's like hating a flower because it doesn't believe in a god. We have enough problems in this world, and religion just adds more to it.

  25. ApplyUrBrain

    February 6, 2012 5:28 am

    @Paintball111223. We can see that you're a troll, because of how you contradict yourself. On the one hand, you seem to believe hell is real, given that you wish people who are obviously better than you to go there. On the other hand, if you believed hell was real, you would try to contain your evil nature. So which is it? You can't have it both ways.

  26. ApplyUrBrain

    February 6, 2012 5:31 am

    When Christians try to shrug off the evils and misdeeds of Christianity and Christians by disavowing them as not being REAL Christians (or whatever the lame excuse), I just reply "Christianity is as Christianity does." Even the KKK would be living up to its declared Christian principles if they could get by with disavowing every member who acted hatefully.

  27. SatchmoSings

    February 6, 2012 5:01 pm

    The best thing that ever happened to religion is that it has had to exist in not only republics but republics that are also legally secular.


    February 7, 2012 3:54 am

    @xConstaBoy What a question … "Is he gay", well, obviously, if he's dressed as a girl and has makeup, do you think he's gay ? DUUHH

  29. redgirlinbluedresses

    February 8, 2012 5:58 am

    @xConstaBoy Either she is a transgendered woman or he is a transvestite. Either way, I couldn't tell you what his/her sexual orientation is.

  30. ItZzTaZ

    February 8, 2012 9:15 pm

    @moopism Don't lie… If i wasn't bothering you or annoying you then you wouldn't have the need to answer back.. right?

  31. Zinnia Jones

    February 9, 2012 12:26 pm

    @miket1m Nidoking’s most prominent feature is its large, pointed, venomous horn which it uses extensively for battling purposes. Nidoking’s ears have small pointed extensions on the tips, and the insides of its round ears are green-colored. Nidoking have five teeth on each side of their lower jaw, the fifth protruding out of the jaw and thus visible when its mouth is closed. Nidoking’s eyes are shaped like scalene triangles, and there is fur growing off the bottom of its jaw.

  32. brad mayeux

    February 9, 2012 3:36 pm

    all that with a cross over her head? / religion is a HUGE problem . it was 1000s of years ago, they killed each other over it, and it is now. i like SANTA better !

  33. Kailoa Pulupēikamele

    February 9, 2012 6:17 pm

    @redgirlinbluedresses Why is ZJemptv's gender identity at all relevant? I seriously doubt you'll ever need to, or be in a position to know the answer.

  34. redgirlinbluedresses

    February 9, 2012 6:28 pm

    @Kailoa36 Calm down. It's not relevant and I honestly don't care. I was just answering that guy's question. Don't get touchy about it.

  35. TheDispatcherator

    February 10, 2012 9:01 am

    Your hair is gorgeous! But your brain is even more sexy! Keep posting your videos; we enjoy hearing what you have to say.

    Personally, I don't really know exactly where I stand on the issue of "organized religion" being the problem, and not just "religion." In a lot of people's minds (and particularly in the East), words like "religion" and "philosophy" or "worldview" are interchangeable. We have to be precise and define exactly what we mean by the words we use.

  36. TheDispatcherator

    February 10, 2012 9:04 am

    @TheDispatcherator So, in case you are addressing someone to whom the token "religion" means simply "philosophy", it may be useful to say that the problem isn't "religion" but a certain kind of religion, such as "authoritarian religion." To us atheists, saying "authoritarian religion" is a redundancy, since we define something as a religion only when it reaches a certain level of authoritarianism and demands unreason from its subscribers. But we have to realize that this isn't obvious to all

  37. aaron sorto

    February 11, 2012 4:18 am

    @miket1m shes aithiest i understand im sure me and him dont have same point of view but y spend 2 hours of a day at church that would suck and has anyone seen this *god* i havent not once he has never gave me a well what u would call *sighn* and wttf is hell i am not gonna belive that i can go to hell my watching porn marying another dude socking that dick who hurt my gf no i am not gonna stoop to that bull crap i understand u need a belif i dont please dont hate just chill out

  38. RASVW

    February 13, 2012 11:59 pm

    Your understanding of why people attend church is rather narrow, and is spoken like someone who never believed, or hasn't gone in quite some time. I certainly didn't start going to be "like minded" with anybody. Had I not, I'd still be the type of person to subscribe to stuff like this.

  39. RatherCynical

    February 16, 2012 6:21 pm

    @miket1m The problem of religion: It's an oppressive, irrational way of thinking that damages the human psyche. It's often the direct cause of social harm, and individual harm. It's a rampant, infectious virus of the mind. Tell me, why did you reject the other religious scriptures, such as the Koran?

    Everything else you've said has been a non-sequitur, and therefore doesn't deserve responding to.

  40. RatherCynical

    February 16, 2012 6:23 pm

    @RASVW Tell us, why do you attend church? Your argument are currently unsubstantiated, acting as mere assertions thus far.

  41. colourfulwithaU

    February 17, 2012 6:23 am


    One could have a problem with 'God' and religion for many reasons. Among them, the fact that if not for religion, people would not be burning witches, hanging gays, stoning adulterers, or pushing for the teaching of creationism in classrooms. But, no, Zinnia's disdain for religion is totally irrational and not based in reality.

  42. colourfulwithaU

    February 17, 2012 6:25 am


    Also, if not for 'God', people would not be going to places in Africa, which is overpopulated/underresourced, and where HIV is rampant, to threaten people with Hell, should they use condoms – which is as close to genocide as you can get.

    No, religion isn't a problem in the world at all.

  43. Moldred T. Malcontent

    February 20, 2012 11:15 am

    non Judeo/Christian/Islamic religions tend to be less suppressive and more tolerant. the less organized the better HAIL ERIS!

  44. Moldred T. Malcontent

    February 22, 2012 4:31 pm

    @miket1m I meant Wiccan, OTO, THE PARATHEO-ANAMETAMYSTIKHOOD OF ERIS ESOTERIC (POEE), church of sub-genius, and even Scientology (though they have a different set of problems) What do you mean by Islamic? They're as bad as bible followers on the average.

  45. Moldred T. Malcontent

    February 22, 2012 4:39 pm

    Numbers 31:17-18
    17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man
    Proverbs 23: 13
    13 Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.
    Deut 21:18-21
    18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him — 21 Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.

  46. eldencolt123

    April 1, 2012 3:48 am

    My long standing oppinion. I have nothing against spirituality and faith. I just have a problem with religions horde of radical followers.

  47. Colonel Wizard

    May 1, 2012 6:37 am

    MY GOD THE SQUEAKING IN THE BACKGROUND. Also, he has many interesting points. I'm actually quite glad I subscribed. Gives me something interesting to talk about with my girlfriend.

  48. AWBrawler

    June 29, 2012 11:05 am

    why does that matter? and who doesn't know that by now? something tells me you came to this video just to bash

  49. Connor McMullen

    December 2, 2012 10:54 pm

    If I closed my eyes and watched this I would think you were a man. When I open them I'm still not sure

  50. Broken Archetype

    December 29, 2012 12:42 am

    Your statement "while not all religious belief is necesarily harmful" is a direct contradiction not only the title of this video but also to your overall claim that all religion is inherently bad

  51. Jack Stanley

    February 5, 2013 10:14 pm

    You are great! I am really enjoying your videos and you are teaching an old dog some new tricks. Keep up the wonderful work you do.

  52. Anita Bonghit

    October 1, 2014 1:48 am

    No, religion is a product of erronious logic. Erronious logic is the problem…..'freethought'blog im looking at you

  53. Robert Zeurunkl

    July 4, 2017 7:45 am

    Well, at least you are finally honest about your "condition". You hate God. Why didn't you just say that from the beginning? You could have saved us all a lot of wasted time listening to your other blather.


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