An open letter to a religious planet

Posted by on June 28, 2010 in Thoughts | 15 comments

Dear religious planet,

I know you are probably not reading this if you are a theist, as you are probably put off by the title. However if you do decide to read, let me tell you now. While you may not like what I write in this letter, this is not intended to be merely a chance for me to offend you and your beliefs or sensibilities. Nor is it a chance for me to ridicule anyone, or say “I am right and you are wrong.”

What I intend to do here is put forward a reasoned and rational argument from an atheistic point of the issues we face as a society, why the ways of thinking that were once seen as acceptable are now harmful, and what are the obstacles we have before us all if we wish to continue to exist on this planet.

Religion is good for you

Religion has been a banner under which people can gather and can foster a great sense of community. People can feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie with others in their faith, and together can make for changes in society under the banners of shared belief. Religions preach peace, love and fellowship, charity and good-will to all mankind. Religion can give individuals some hope for the future when things are dire, and can give individuals strength to carry on in the face of adversity. It gives people the strength of conviction to fight for their beliefs, and to die for their God. And religions promise you a better life after this one, one without pain and suffering, where all you’ve ever wanted in your corporeal life is there for you.

Religious people have started charities and these charities make the lives of million people better by giving their time and money toward food and shelter, education and clean water. This is really a very good thing, and we could all learn a thing or two from those who are willing to give up their time and skills to help those who are in need.

And it is true that for some people, their religion can give a solid basis upon which to base the fabric of their lives.

The problem with religion

While religion can offer a certain sense of belonging for people, and can will people forward to have the strength to help others, and to help themselves, it does so under a series of false pretenses and at the expense of reasonable and rational thought.

Religion and the belief in a particular God divides people. It creates false boundaries between people and understanding based on the fact that one book says one thing, and the other says something different. It sets nation against nation, and can be used as an excuse to wage war and kill. It sets one man higher than the other on a scale of value, sets man against woman and causes turmoil in political circles.

It is also counter-intuitive. While we as a species have managed to sweep aside most superstitious and paranormal beliefs over the course of human history, we still cling to these fanciful notions of higher-power and Gods, even against our own better judgments. An intelligent person can be a molecular biologist or an astrophysicist, and counter to all they know, still cling to a grim hope that there is a God looking over them, protecting them and guiding them toward a better afterlife, despite any evidence to back it up. The main premise of religion is “If you believe, you are saved.”

Religion is so deeply ingrained in some societies and cultures as to become inseparable from daily life. For some it is indistinguishable from daily routine, and holds for some what they consider their core beliefs. And with this brings its own problems, such as judging people who hold different things sacred, or who have values that don’t match their own.

Religious beliefs separate mankind from the rest of the world. We are already separated by intelligence, reason, rational thought, informed choice, manual dexterity, foresight, hindsight, and a powerful sense of self, from the rest of animals on earth, but to step it up one further and make claims that the earth was placed here solely for the use of mankind is folly. Once we place mankind above all else, then the individual above that, we have effectively placed ourselves in the world as godlike creatures, the once reason for life on earth. This makes no sense from a scientific OR a moral perspective, once we look at the universe around us, for the life of a single human means little and has little consequence on the rest of the universe. We are already unique on this planet, why then claim that we are the most important thing on it?

Religion is self referential. “The Book Of God”, whichever one you choose, is considered the true word of God because it says so in the book. How trustworthy can the word of God be if it’s written by men? The defence of this point is that these people were privy to God’s words, and were special among mankind. But if I were to write a book that claimed it was the meaning of life, then backed it up by simply stating “This is the meaning of life” do you think anyone would take it seriously?

Religion is a perpetuation of the false father-child dichotomy, where God is the father of mankind, we are his children, and get rewarded or punished depending on how we act. It perpetually keeps the believer in a state of familial reverence of the God figure, making them believe that what they do, if they believe in it, is what is being directed upon them by their God. It’s an infantile state, where we depend on this God to make our decisions for us. We give up our personal freedoms for  this father-figure, and trust that He will make the right decision for us based on what he wants for us to do. If we make our God happy, we go to heaven, if we don’t we go to hell.

The belief in God or gods in this day and age is particularly harmful. The reason I say this is that we stand at a time where the planet itself is in peril, and we need to all be thinking about the future of ourselves and the earth in order for us to continue to exist here. At this time it is crucial that we examine where we are, and how we are to move forward as a species to best meet the greater challenges being faced by humanity.

Religion takes away blame for the individual. To simplify it horribly, one can do pretty much anything they want in this life, ask for forgiveness, and be granted an afterlife. Or as long as someone is faithful to their God and preys, no matter what they do, they will be forgiven and be granted a place in heaven. No need to look after the earth or its people, life is just a precursor for the “real show” up in heaven. And all you have to do is jump through a few hoops and God will be so impressed that he will give you a seat in the sky with everyone you’ve ever loved and known. There is really no justification to look after the environment, because some people believe that God himself will destroy the earth, and all the faithful will be swept away to paradise, leaving behind the wicked and the sinful to fight it out with the Devil on the accursed earth.

So by all this baggage that religion brings with it, we become divided, disenfranchised and demoralised because of the belief of other and by our own beliefs. The counter-productive and counter-intuitive nature of religious beliefs hold us back, makes us make bad decisions based in our belief-system. It divides people, it’s archaic and counter intuitive, it’s self-aggrandising, it causes conflict and sits at the core of so may societies who believe they are chosen over their neighbours. And being written by men, who are fallible, don’t you think it’s possible that they had their own agendas, wanted to move their culture in a certain direction, or just plain got it all wrong?

And it gets worse

Irrational beliefs give rise to irrational action. Because people of religious beliefs feel so strongly about their faith, and it is ingrained in their psyches, it can cause people to make decisions to defend their beliefs and faith with rigour, and go so far as to defend them with violence.

There are plenty of examples historically where people have gone to war against others in the name of their religion. People who kill one another in the name of their God do so with the assumed backing of their chosen superior being. The problems in the middle-east are testament to this, where political problems about borders take the guise of a religious conflict, because the lands themselves are held sacred by the religions themselves.

But it’s not just war people wage against each other. Honour killings, stonings, being burned alive, riots and lootings, rape, domestic violence, kidnapping, torture, infanticide,  and any number of other reprehensible acts have been enacted invoking the name of a god.

Civil wars have raged for years between peoples of the same religion, where the conflict arises because of a slightly different interpretation of the same book. Sunni and Shia muslims fight each other because of political difference, which over time have taken on religious significance for the parties involved. Also, Protestants fight Catholics, whose religious difference stem from an age-old disagreement between the people about how to best interpret the “true word of God”, which then became a territorial and political fight.

But it’s not all violence either. Far more ingrained in our societies are prejudices and injustices served up in the name of God. Misogyny and sexism, homophobia, racism et al. While religion may not be the cause of these problems, religious doctrine is often served up as the excuse for them to happen.

People can justify these misdeeds by simply stating “In God’s name” or “It’s the will of God”.

People misuse religion by using these very strong feelings people have to justify their own political agendas. George W Bush while in power used his God-given directives to justify so much killing in the middle-east as to become a caricature of himself, and here in Australia political parties are using the pre-established strength of the church to see their belief systems pushed out into education, and their values pushed onto society at large. People always harp on about the separation of church and state, but that is rarely the case.

The bottom line

So there are plenty of reasons why religion and religious belief poses problems for us in society today, but the main problem is one of rationality. Our world is in turmoil, and we must do something to overcome the massive problems we face today, and fast, before it is too late to recover. Unless we can find a way to all get along without things such as religious values, doctrine and dogma getting in the way, we are all in for one hell of a bumpy ride. The longer we as a species hold on to outdated and outmoded societal models, the more difficult it will be to develop ways to fix the turmoil in the world. We need to be rational and reasonable with our decisions of for the world and its people, and unfortunately religious beliefs stand in the way of this for so many people, because so many of the tenets of religion are based upon fallacious foundations, and the tentacles of religious dogma reach far into our cultures and societies.

I do not say these things because I dislike religious people. In fact, most people of most beliefs I have ever met are just like me; they want to be happy, they want to be healthy, they want to get on with their lives in peace, and they want to have a future for this planet and the people on it. I say these things because I see no way for us all to be able to make reasoned decisions if our minds are clouded with stories of afterlife and whispers from above. We all have to see religion for what it is. Shielding humanity from the truth and potentially denying us a future.

Signed

Martin S Pribble

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

15 Comments

  1. *applause*

    Beautifully put. I agree with every word.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  2. A very well written and succinct piece as usual. I wish we could both be around for the day when mankind can look back upon religion as a bygone part of our history.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  3. I’m not religious at all, but I still respect the rights of others to believe what they like, including your right to believe what you’ve written here is true.

    Though personally I find it to be an unfounded pile of generalizations, exagerations, and not rationality but simply rationalisations.

    ;)

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    • Yes it is, I agree, at least about the generalisations. UNfortunately this is a blog and not a novel, so brevity is important, even if it comes at the cost of referencing everything, If I were to expand upon each point it would be at least ten times longer. It’s already 2000 words + so I think I did well to get that much content into it.

      Thank you for your comment.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  4. Wow. I loved your piece, found it to be well thought through with a whole host of very accurate observations about the world around us.

    Unfortunately, sad as it seems, I can’t help but agree with so much of what you have said about violence, short sightedness and tunnel vision of the blind believers of their faith.

    The Catholic religion has not done anyone any favours by being an archaic remant of a by-gone age (seeming endorsing tragic behaviour from those we supposed to trust).

    It is always however the sqeeky wheel that gets the grease! The news is always quick to jump on bad news, hypocrissy and criminal activity and tends to avoid the encouraging and positive aspoects. Therefore the sections of religious society that are not ‘bad’ do not get attention and therefore go unseen.

    I must confess however, that most of the comments you have made, certainly from a Christian perspective are examples where people have abused sections of the bible for their own selfish ambitions. Sad, but it happens.

    I hope you haven’t been hurt by someone abusing it in this way, please, if you have, I’m sorry.

    http://www.jamesgalloway.wordpress.com is a very worth while a read.

    Kind regards,

    Baz

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  5. Very balanced and very true. Great article AC! Your tone throughout the article is a friendly one, and usually that’s what works best when trying to engage with believers.

    I intend to have all my Christian friends read this.

    Once again, GREAT ARTICLE!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  6. Excellent piece Marty! Very good.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  7. Very well put, but perhaps rife with personal preference, and hence, objective error. Why should we subscribe to your preferences, as opposed to, say, Newton’s, or Maxwell’s, Galileo’s, Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed, Ghandi?

    The problem of subjectivity is a real one.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  8. AS an example, “the life of a single human means little and has little consequence on the rest of the universe” is especially silly form the atheist POV, because — honestly — the single human is supremely important to the self and is, in fact (from the atheist POV) the *only* thing in the whole 10-billion-year-old expanse of the cosmos that matters.

    Nothing else matters. No one. Not any history, outside of one’s own lifespan. The atheist must necessarily be cut off not only from “the rest of the world” but the rest of humanity.

    This is one of the great difficulties I have with adopting atheism as a viable philosophy. I don’t claim to have invented religion, or any new way of thinking about my life, but I admit many religions have described pretty compelling reasons — reasons, mind you — for our individual existences.

    Just because something is old, or popular, does not invalidate it from the get-go.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    • Like I said above, the generalisations and subjectivity come because I am writing a blog, not a book. I can back up each and every claim with examples, but I would end up with 200,000 words instead of 2000. I do take your point, really, and tend to agree.

      With your second point, I disagree completely. It is the selfishness of the theist who believes that they are so special as to deserve an afterlife. I feel that, yes my life is supremely important to me, but to the universe, it is COMPLETELY inconsequential. I know that after I die, I will be forgotten, as will you. My life will not change the world, nor will it influence the universe. It is far from silly, it is the way things are.

      Maybe have a look at some of my other articles which talk about this at more length:

      http://atheistclimber.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/a-universe-without-meaning/

      http://atheistclimber.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/the_search_for_hollow_unicorns/

      http://atheistclimber.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/home-is-where-i-want-to-be-but-i-guess-im-already-there-2/

      Thanks for your input. :)

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    • People like to take “atheism” as a philosophy. It is not. Atheism is simply lack of faith, not believing in superstitious beliefs such as god, gods, spirits and the like.

      People who are atheists can have many different philosopies such as:

      Kantian: These are more about duties rather than feelings and goals. According to Kant, lying is bad, even if telling the truth might lead to your son’s death…

      Epicurean: Epicurus believed in modest pleasures to achieve ultimate happines, and rejecting all types of religion and superstitions.

      Utilitarian: Morality of actions are determined by a person’s or each individuals happines. Or actions determined by outcomes

      There is an excellent course on Harvard (Free, online) http://justiceharvard.org/ it is very good and gives a great idea of different moral philosophies.

      My main point is, Atheism is not a philosophy. A better classification, if you must, would be “Secular Humanists”. You can believe what you like, but remember that believing “just because you feel it” is not a valid reason for actions.

      Regarding your Individual existence, the only one that can answer that is you. You may ask a preacher and he’ll say “God will let you know” or some other mumbo-jumbo… it’s not god. It’s you, your conscience.
      Example… Your a doctor, and see people suffering w/o any money for medical aid, and you decide to help; you do this because YOU want to and you believe it’s the right thing.

      Regarding the Cosmos, the Universe, we as humans are insignificant. When we go extinct… the universe will go on.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    • @Wry Mouth: I don’t speak for all Atheists, just myself, but I can assure you that in stark contradistinction to your wrongful characterization of me, I feel deeply embedded in the history of mankind, and connected to all life forms on this planet more so than I suggest most Theists can ever hope to be.

      Theists believe that the Gods made everything for them, and that they are separate and apart from other life forms on the planet. Theists owe their allegiance and fealty to the Gods, and not to mankind, whereas I and perhaps other Atheists fully accept that I am one of the animals inhabiting this planet along with the rest of my human, and inhuman kin, the mammals, the fish, trees, birds, plants, bacteria and others, all of whom we share genetic code with, so I have an affinity and bond with all life, not just my own. Like yourself, I have an instinct for survival, so yes I do value myself, but not as you suggest to the exclusion, or at the expense of everything, and everyone else on the planet.

      Instead of the Atheist being cut off from “the rest of the world” and humanity, we know that we are deeply connected to the rest of the world and humanity at a genetic level. Atheists understand that Humanity, this one life, and each other is all we have. We can only look to human beings for comfort, and to make or break the world, so this knowledge binds us together more so than it does the Theist who looks to the gods to make or break all things. The Theist will turn upon his fellow man, and kill and slaughter, and burn, and behead, and explode his fellow man in service to the gods he believes in, and yes even do all of those and more to his own child if he believes the Gods wish him to sacrifice or punish the child.

      In contrast the Atheist, upon hearing anyone either professing to be a God or a mere human being issuing such a command to kill our child, would respond not in the religious coward’s way by meekly obeying, but in a loving human way by kicking that inhuman, unfeeling terrible beast in the groin accompanied by a stern FUCK YOU!

      We suffer no delusion that there are Gods to turn to who will, when given the right bribes and propitiations, save us from our mistakes, and forgive us our crimes against each other, so we must act with more caution lest we do irreparable harm, than the Theist who knows he can do any crime, or inhuman atrocity, and feel just fine after being forgiven by the gods.

      We do not expect to be fast-tracked to a heaven if we destroy the world in a series of atomic mushroom clouds in support of the supremacy of this deity or that, but many Theists would herald such a global death as their opportunity to get into heaven, and too many would giggle like schoolgirls at the thought that they were getting into heaven, but all the low-life Atheists, and sinners would be forever burning in hell.

      We cherish this life, our families, our friends and neighbours, the sun in the sky which fuels this planet’s life, the birds in the trees, the fish in the stream, and our relationships with each other and nature. We do not suffer under the foolish hope that we can do whatever we like here and now because all will be well when upon our deathbeds a magical God lowers some silky rope ladder for us to ascend into paradise on.

      Atheists can be good without the donkey like carrot of heaven impelling them, and the stick of hell threatening them to be so, and this begs the question of why don’t Theists think they can be good without believing in gods! The theist who goes to bed a believer, and wakes the next morning with the realization that gods do not exist, does not suddenly begin murdering, raping, stealing, and stomping on kittens, but he goes on being as good as he ever was, and you would too.

      You were born atheist, and have only become otherwise perhaps due to outside pressure from well-meaning but ignorant parents who merely did to you what was done to them when they themselves were small children. They passed on erroneous religious fairy-tales to you in a cycle of mental abuse which has been repeated in your family like it has in too many others, but which you, as a modern human being do not have to repeat with your children, as your primitive forbears did with you.

      As you well know most life on the planet is now, and has always been, atheist so it must have something going for it. All the animals of the forest, the fish in the ponds, the blades of grass, the lilies of the field, trees, bugs, birds, on the wing, and innumerable species of bacteria, and many human beings live out their lives just fine without any demonstrable belief in the gods so don’t reject atheism out of hand just because you are a narrow minded bigot.

      You know what they say, just because something is old or popular, does not invalidate it from the get-go, so I suggest you think it over and when you do disabuse yourself of your implanted prejudices against your fellow free-thinking human beings, and finally do put away your childish fantasies of siding with magical inhuman Gods instead of siding with your own flesh and blood human beings in the here and now, that you return to your unpolluted natural Atheist state. You will be a better human being for it.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  9. I’ve intended to write about Zen Buddhism kept away
    from the manbo-jumbo. Though, as a matter of fact I
    have been surrounded, almost pested by the strange
    coincidences. Which is not my choice nor my imagination
    but just a sheer Facts. ——- But, they could be the
    factual evidence of the ” Somebody is there”.
    With your solid Atheist’s eyes, could you sclutinize this.
    ( It’s written in my blog —— if you search with a key word
    8150, you will see all the related posts ——- and if you want
    to see the original Exhibit you may look at them )

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  10. Great post you have here, I am an atheist too, and I agree with you completely. Religion brings about irrational thought, which in turn brings about irrational actions. Then people make statements like it is the “will of God”, as if they can decide such a thing. What is worse is that religion has divided everyone, so many terrible instances from the past had religion as the root cause behind them. In fact even now, you can see how religion can warp the mind into doing terrible deeds. I can only wish that people wake up and realize there is only science, and no religion.

    There was a reason that religion came into being, at a time when people didn’t understand science and how things work, they attributed them to a “Godly” being. As science progressed, they found valid explanations for all that happens. Sadly, though now we live in a world where we don’t need a supernatural being to explain the fascination phenomenon happening around us, most of the human race still looks up to this “God”. In today’s world, “God” is redundant, as is religion.

    And to say that without religion, one cannot be a moral being (many people have argued with me, making this statement), all I can say is that if religion is the only reason one has morals, then he/she is no real moral being. The concept of right and wrong doesn’t need a religious backing. I am an atheist, but I think I have a very clear concept of what is morally right and wrong. More than anything, there are people who even misuse religion as a basis to do terrible things.

    I am very glad I came across your blog. It is always good to find atheists.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  11. I’m going to post provocatively, so please understand that a) I’m slightly drunk and b) I like you Marty, and your writing.
    If you publish, you’ll only get worse criticism, so might as well get critiqued by sympathetic friends now.

    I found this kinda long, and preachy, and I fell asleep before the end. Much like some church services. I did appreciate your gracious beginning.

    “Religious beliefs separate mankind from the rest”

    I prefer “humankind”, but maybe I am being a fanatical feminist :P

    “How trustworthy can the word of God be if it’s written by men? ”

    Do I need to add anything here, MAN? Sadly, a lot of the religious loonies use “men” in the same way, so I understand, it’s easy to echo them.

    “Religion is a perpetuation of the false father-child dichotomy, where God is the father of mankind,”

    Oh dear. Have you been reading Freud lately? He’s SO last century Daahling.

    “I say these things because I see no way for us all to be able to make reasoned decisions ”

    Hmm… and why is reason better than any other approach? I’m working through my feelings about strong rationalism as we speak.
    Check my blog in upcoming weeks…

    Warmly,

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. An open letter to a religious planet – A follow up « Atheist Climber - [...] follow up This comment below was left by J. Ratzinger in reply to a comment by Wry Mouth …

Have your say

%d bloggers like this: