Newsletter: Is Religion a Force for Good?

Is Religion a Force for Good?


Shadi Hamid

Columnist and Editorial Board Member of The Washington Post; Assistant Research Professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller Seminary



Annie Laurie Gaylor

Co-Founder and Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation



John Donvan

Host and Moderator-in-Chief



This week:

  • New episode: Does religion hurt or help society?
  • A closer look at religion’s influence on American life
  • Your Sunday reading list



This Sunday, we offer a timely take on an age-old question about faith during a season of religious holidays, including Easter, Passover, and Ramadan and at a time when much is at stake. Antisemitism and Islamophobia have been on an alarming rise worldwide since October 7th. In the United States, studies show that religion will play a key role in the 2024 presidential election.

Religion By the Numbers:

  • The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that antisemitism rose in the U.S. by 388% in the four weeks after October 7, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported a 216% rise in Islamophobic incidents.
  • 94% of Americans say it is at least somewhat important to have a president who lives a moral and ethical life.
  • In-person church attendance has increased for the third year in a row to 67%, up from 38% in 2021.
  • Research from Harvard’s School of Public Health shows that women participating in religious services weekly are 68% less likely to die from drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, and suicide.

To help us answer whether religion is a force for good, this episode features esteemed thought leaders from opposite sides of the belief spectrum.

Shadi Hamid is an influential Islamic scholar and columnist for The Washington Post who often writes about religion and its influence on today’s culture. To him, religion makes people happier, more fulfilled, and willing to engage in acts that make society better.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-founder and co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, has spent her career advocating on behalf of people who don’t share religious beliefs and the separation of church and state. She sees religion as a force that creates division and polarization and as an excuse to justify the erosion of individual freedom and social progress.

So, is religion a force for good in a troubled world, or is it sometimes deployed to create more strife? Listen to this debate now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube and let us know what you think.


Are Americans moving toward being a secular society?



Is Religion a Force for Good?


YES: Shadi Hamid

“As human beings, we all have a religious impulse in the sense we’re all searching for transcendent meaning and purpose. If we’re not going to find it in religion, we’re going to find it in something else. We’ll find it in secular ideologies like communism and fascism… We are social animals, and it is absolutely vital for us to be connected to family, friends, and community. Religion facilitates that. Being part of a religious community helps you develop habits of participation and cooperation. You learn to be part of a collective, of prioritizing something larger than yourself… Religion is a force for good.”


NO: Annie Laurie Gaylor

“Religion’s biggest mistake is making dogma more important than people… Many religious people are good… but cruel people believe in a cruel God and use that belief to excuse their cruelty. If someone believes God is giving them marching orders, watch out. Religion encourages believers to spend their best time and energy in pleasing an unprovable God or achieving an unprovable afterlife instead of making this world the paradise that it could be.”




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