Reducing the effect of religion via harm reduction

Harm reduction is the idea that while people will always engage in certain risky behaviors, the dangers of these behaviors may be mitigated by being aware of this. Rather than prohibition, more enlightened means of dealing with the behaviors are used. Drug use is a common example.

Can harm reduction be of assistance in reducing the effects of religion on society? Crikey’s Michael Gordon-Smith wrote so during the week. Link is here for Crikey subscribers but I’ll post some excerpts below.

A harm reduction approach would, for example:

  • Understand religion as a multi-faceted phenomenon, and acknowledge that some ways of using religion are safer than others.
  • See a person’s religion use as of secondary importance to the risk of harms consequent to use.
  • Put first priority on decreasing the negative consequences of religion use to the user and to others, as opposed to focusing on the religion use itself.
  • Accept that religion is part of our world and work to minimise its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
  • and…

    We need immediately to remove tax anomalies encouraging the spread of religion and urgently to develop a new response. The work done for drug policy provides an easily adaptable model:

    * Do not trivialise or ignore the real and tragic danger associated with licit and illicit use of religion.
    * Recognise that containment and reduction of religion-related harms is more feasible than eliminating religion use entirely.
    * Recognise that some religions are less harmful than others. Intervene based on the relative harmfulness of the religion.
    * Lessen the harms of religions through education, prevention, and treatment.
    * Protect youth from the dangers of religions by offering factual, science-based religion education and eliminating black market exposure to religions.

    Even though Gordon-Smith is being a little cheeky some great ideas. There could be atheists that want religion totally eliminated from society but that is a caricature of atheism rather than a concrete aim. I have no issue with religion being a part of a healthy, vibrant society but I don’t see why it needs to be pandered to and held sacrosanct.

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    Australia says “Do as we say, not as we do” on abortion and contraception

    I was surprised to find out during that week that Australia has restrictions on Australian funded foreign aid programs that ban giving advice on abortions and contraceptions. This is perplexing as Australia has no such restrictions on its own citizens. People can freely seek out advice on contraception and abortions, the limitations only likely to be found in religious based programs.

    The imposition of such restrictions is worrying from a political perspective. The politicians know that such a ban would be political suicide in Australia. Unable to enforce their morality on Australians, they force it on those who need it the least. From a humanitarian perspective it is a disastrous policy. The conviction of the anti-abortion politicians may be strong but their intentions most certainly cause more misery than they would care to admit.

    Women in less developed nations have very little options when it comes to reproductive health. Abstinence (which is what this policy seems to encourage) is not an option in patriarchal cultures women have little power or find the sex trade as one of the few ways to survive.

    In East Timor, these aid restrictions kill women. It firms my belief that there is a element of misogyny that informs anti-abortion politics.

    It is very easily to take the high moral ground when you are immune from having to deal with the deadly consequences of such policies.