Atheists, Believers Debate: 'Would the World Be Better off Without Religion?'

As the world witnesses a growing amount of persecution, terror and religious violence, one question persists: Would the world be better off without religion?

On Nov. 15, atheists and believers will wrestle over and attempt to answer that controversial question in an upcoming live debate in New York hosted by Slate magazine and Intelligence Squared.

The types of motions that will be discussed, according to Slate, include: “Does religion lead to more evil or more good? Does religion breed intolerance and violence? Or has it primarily been a source for good, imbuing followers with purpose and encouraging moral behavior?”

The public will be given the opportunity to submit their own questions as well, with the most interesting ones to be addressed at the debate. John Donvan, correspondent for ABC News Nightline, is set to moderate.

British philosopher and professor A.C. Grayling, who has written more than 20 books on philosophy, religion and reason, will team up with Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, to argue against religion.

David Wolpe, Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, and Dinesh D’Souza, president of the King’s College in NYC, is set to oppose.

In a recent interview with D’Souza, Slate asked the New York Times bestselling author why the debate was currently unfolding.

“Atheists are getting restless,” he stated. “They thought they were winning.”

“If you went to college between 1968 and 1985, the basic idea was that the world was automatically becoming more secular. Why? Because as people become more affluent, modern, and scientific they automatically turn away from God.”

Though that might have been the case for Europe, it was not the case for America or the rest of the world, D’Souza shared.

“It turns out that the European experience is a peculiarity ... nowhere in the rest of the world is anything like this happening at all. Religiosity in the rest of the world has nothing to do with modernization.”

“Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world, Islam is the second. It’s spreading in Asia, Africa and South America. So the world is in a kind of religious revival, and the atheists are totally flummoxed. They thought they were winning, and now they see that they aren’t. Now they are becoming more aggressive in those precincts where they are powerful,” the former policy analyst in the Reagan White House said.

D’Souza has participated in many religious debates but mostly before a student audience on a Christian college campus or secular campus.

The upcoming debate in New York he believes will be different from his previous ones because of the setting – a largely adult audience.

But the arguments against religion may perhaps overlap with what he has repeatedly heard before.

“The most common argument against religion is the idea that it is responsible for much of the division, conflict, violence, war, persecution, and bloodshed of history. Probably the second most common argument is that it is irrational, oppressive, and imposes all kinds of arbitrary rules and laws – particularly against premarital sex and homosexuality.”

Potential questions for Tuesday’s debate have already begun flooding the magazine.

Dan Riley from Portland, Ore., posed a potential question for D’Souza and Wolpe: “Would a world in which Hinduism, or Islam, or Norse paganism were the only religion still be preferable to a world without religion? How committed are they to the proposition that religion in general, regardless of the specific form it takes, is preferable to atheism, if that religion happens to differ from their own?”

Andrew Heggem from Minnesota, Minn., also asked, “Do you regard Ireland’s decision to sever its diplomatic relations with the Vatican as a possible catalyst for religious people worldwide (especially Catholics) to seriously question whether their own ties to religion are healthy?”

And Nicholas S le Stroud from Toronto, Canada, wondered what else was there if not belief in something?

The “Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion” debate will take place at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. The evening will begin at 5:45 p.m. with a reception for panelists and audience members while the actual live debate will start at 6:45 p.m. and last until 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are currently sold out for the event.

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