Don’t Read This Rant on Religion
Please excuse me while I get something off my chest.
I spend a lot of time here on my blog, on Facebook and on Twitter, refuting the baseless claims of religious people, mostly on the topic of whether god exists or not. But this conversation can only go so far before a stalemate of disagreements are met; Either the theist tells the atheist that they can’t prove their position (which of course is not the point of atheism anyway), or they start quoting scriptures which “prove” god exists or damns non-believers to hell. I can count on my hand the amount of theists who actually want to engage in a proper debate where facts and histories are used as evidence instead of faith or belief. Both faith and belief are personal positions; Unbackable, untestable, and and different for each individual.
To me, a somewhat veteran online atheist, these debates get boring quite quickly, because the conversations themselves have been had many times over, by myself and others, and always end up the same. Stalemate.
The questions about the existence of god, and whether this book is better than that book, are completely pointless. Those questions don’t matter, not one iota, beyond the head of the individual; Your beliefs are personal, so why would I care what you believe? And in the end, they only affect you, right?
So what are the real dangers of religion?
Many would argue that the only harm caused by religion is to the believer, that the beliefs and tenets of any given religion only directly affect the person who follows them. The believers may or may not be delusional (I can’t account for every person), but they are most certainly mistaken. Given that many of them were never presented with a solid and rational framework from which to build their view of the universe, this is completely understandable. In this case, the only harm caused is to the individual and what they are missing out on because of the doctrinal decrees of their religion. The problem is that these decrees are not designed or worded in a way which affects the only the believer. They are designed and worded in a way which encourages believers to spread their own worldview and condemn those who don’t comply. This works it’s way into families, politics and society so that the beliefs of an individual or group of individuals have an affect on the lives of others.
An example of this, and possibly the strongest example, is that of the Islamic Sharia law. Islam has instated itself as the state religion in many Middle Eastern countries. The religion is tied in strongly with the politics of these regions, and Sharia is the enactment of the religion in law. These laws, which are acted upon in varying degrees of severity, include practices around who can be married, what people can wear, what people can eat, and the kinds of punishments that can be dealt upon individuals who disobey these laws. It’s not very different from most judicial systems in that sense, except that the severity of the laws and the punishments dealt are far more severe than what we see in secular societies; These laws and punishments come straight from the religious decrees of the religious leaders, who can bend and shape the words of their book to back their own positions. Sharia, in it’s most extreme form, gives rise to groups like The Taliban, who oppress women and girls routinely, control the reproductive rights of women, control the access to healthcare and education, and encourage dealing corporal and capital punishments to them for even the slightest indiscretion. These punishments are always dealt by the hands of men, and range from beatings to being buried up to the neck and pummeled with stones until the victim dies from their wounds.
As to what sorts of crimes can call for these punishments, it can be something as small as an unmarried woman talking to a man in public. “Crimes” like premarital sex, adultery, and even down to being raped, all can be seen as crimes perpetrated by the woman. During Taliban rule of Afghanistan it was considered a crime for a woman to show even an inch of skin at the ankles or wrists, and women were beaten on the streets for this. Of course this system of “justice” is not completely due to the doctrines of Islam, but Islam is used as the reason for it. It’s not Sharia law, the law of Islam, that is to blame for this per se, however it is the way the societies enact it that is the problem. The misogyny in Afghanistan and Pakistan comes from a deeply rooted culture which bases itself upon the religion, and the religion encourages this.
In western societies we see a rise of oppression to women, gays, atheists, and other religions and races, all backed by their own disparate religions. Using the excuse “By God’s will”, just about any human rights issue can be flouted, and those who impinge upon the beliefs of the individual are condemned. What is most astounding is that the USA is one of few countries that state a constitutional need for a separation of church and state in the First Amendment, and yet are one of the nations having the biggest problems with religious influx into politics. The way this religious influx becomes apparent is, again, in areas of reproduction, sex and women’s rights, always backed by their own version of God. The recent US election race was the best example of the level to which the American obsession with god, and the apparent decrees god sends from on high, presents itself in politics. Romney, a Mormon, siding with religious fundamentalist like Paul Ryan came forward as the best the opposition could give, and the rest of the party weren’t much different. On the side of the Democrats, regardless of whether Obama and his camp are strongly religious people, they felt they had to play the religion card to win over the American people. To Americans (in general), it is better to believe in the wrong god than to not believe at all (unless that god happens to be Allah).
This brings up one of the largest problems caused by religions; The idea of “us vs them”. Religions historically have bent, changed, morphed, splintered and adapted to the political wants and whims of individuals. The Church of England was formed so a king could divorce, the Protestants because of a disagreement with the politics of the Catholic Church, and the Mormon church formed so a known scam-artist could perpetrate that largest fraud of his lifetime. Christianity splintered from Judaism, as did Islam. Scientology (of you can call that a religion instead of a pyramid scheme) came from the mind of a science fiction author. In every case there was a political thrust behind this shift, sometimes subtle, sometimes major, but always due to a disagreement on what god wanted (not surprisingly, always what the people who splintered wanted also).
The shifts in religious doctrines which have led to the formation of many sects and splinter groups within all religions have been the purported basis for many of the world’s longest ongoing battles, for instance the Catholic and Protestant battles in Ireland, and the Shia and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East. Just as enduring are the wars between different religious groups, such as Israel’s constant land-grabbing war against the Palestinians, based on their difference in prophecies. What may have historically been a civil struggle of displacement and colonising has now become a full-blown war, all because of a religious claim over a “holy-land”.
Religious preachers and priests often harp on about the evils of the non-believer, the apostate and the heathen. Psychologically this brings about a fear and distrust of anyone not affiliated with any given religious group. It is tribalism at its core, but one built upon a baseless presupposition that those who don’t believe the same as you are somehow lesser, lower or even worthless. Yet each religion claims that if their doctrine is adopted, the person somehow magically transforms into a better person, and now worthy of trust. In the USA this phenomenon is so strong that most will not vote for a non-religious president, and would rather see a Mormon as president than an atheist, even if they don’t agree with the tenets of Mormonism. This attitude is the delusion that many of the world’s religious hold, that it’s impossible to be a good and trustworthy person without a god to guide your morals. And this is a demonstrably false claim.
Possibly the saddest element of religious indoctrination is the promotion of willful ignorance: Each religion claims to have the answers, and anything outside this knowledge (if it doesn’t follow the tenets of the religion) is false. The bible admits that knowledge outside of Christianity is dangerous to the religion (possibly the only prophecy of the book that is actually coming true). Children are taught from a young age to stop questioning, for the religion holds all the answers you need. They are told lies about afterlife and torture, having their imaginations sucked out by false claims of redemption and sin, are told to feel guilty and ashamed of themselves and their bodies, are told that they are worthless, and that they must admit to this if ever they wish to become whole people.
Religions promote intolerance, shame, and difference, and in a time where the world needs to pool its resources in order to overcome the adversity we are facing and will face in the future, this is possibly the worst thing we could be doing right now. The throngs of religious zealots, banging their shields and yelling “apocalypse” can only speed us toward our own demise. I don’t wish to see an end to religion; I wish to see an end to the damage religions do to people, to societies and to the world. I’m under no illusion that an end to religion would fix anything, but it would just be one less useless distraction to have to have to worry about.