Don’t Read This Rant on Religion

Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Featured, Thoughts | 15 comments

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.

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15 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your well written and rationally sound essay. The only point in which you and I differ is that I consider the saddest element of religious indoctrination to be the effect it has on children. How many children are scarred by being told of a horrible painful eternal afterlife if they don’t choose the right invisible friend (which is inevitably the one that their parents subscribe to). How many young people are denied a proper education because their entire day is spent reading and discussing the koran or bible? How many children will grow up to perpetuate the preaching of hate for non-believers under the thin veil of “we hate the sin, not the sinner”?

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    • postle_thirteen I had the same thought. But the objection to indoctrination isn’t a question of “how many”.
      The indoctrinated live happy healthy lives. Those families support the religious leaders who’re using politics (and wealth) to undermine the sciences. Teaching creationism in the state’s science classes, convincing half the US that evolution ain’t true, etc.

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      • Impeding human progress.

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  2. The one thing you don’t really mention clearly is the way governments and “leaders” highjack religions that they themselves do not even really believe in but utilize purposefully as manipulation and propaganda tool to control the mass’s as well as justify abusing them and exploiting them.. ALL the government corruption and violence we see so out of control all around the world in near EVERY nation today has facades of religion to hide behind.. leaders that cry in church over the lost lives they had a hand in instigating as war criminals..Zionist using the jewish fear of persecution to help then join in the apartheid state they now run and subvert US policy with its operatives in the US government all hiding behind “faith” based psychopaths. OH and yes the precious Israel and the USA are at the CORE of most of it….. Who morphed the neoconservative into what it became today? go look at Adam Curtis BBC documentary Power of nightmares and take note of the architects…

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  3. Excellent post, as always. One thing to correct though–in the US, the separation of church and state is mandated in the First amendment, not in the Second.

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    • markjoseph125 Also church-state separation is Jefferson’s wall concept. The 1st amendment is limiting the government’s powers to enact laws that hinder her citizens’ right to religious freedom. The US constitution doesn’t insist on Jefferson’s wall.
      Imo, this is problematic for the US because to freely practise christendom includes teaching kids bible fictions about history.

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  4. I don’t expect to change a single belief you hold. Just as I fully realize you are very unlikely, very unlikely, to change mine. Yet I still feel compelled to comment. I realize that we all hold onto our beliefs as a man clings to driftwood stranded hopelessly in the ocean. We have no choice but cling to our beliefs to make sense of the world. But I realize that our beliefs can change, because I know it firsthand. I was raised Christian, attended parochial elementary school, and the short version is that I never got (I won’t say my denomination) the gospel, the true good news of the gospel of grace and God’s great love and plan in His creation, and/or if I did get the gospel message in the bible presented I definitely didn’t have ears to hear it. I drifted from God, which was exacerbated during my 4 years of undergrad and 3 years of grad schooling. Two years ago I didn’t have an answer when someone innocently asked what I believed about God. I’d say I was an agnostic leaning slightly towards a belief that someone or something transcendent existed. It was philosophical, but mainly scientific truth claims, that destroyed my Christian beliefs, which as I said weren’t truly Christian beliefs. Ironically, beginning 2 years ago, it was my extensive soul-searching investigation of philosophical and scientific claims that began and largely contributed to my “return” to Christianity. There is no need to go through the details of what and why, because as you said “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.” I acknowledge that my beliefs require faith, but my faith (i.e. trust) is based on my understanding of philosophical, scientific, historical, biblical, and experiential evidences and arguments. Yes it requires faith, because as I understand it God’s existence cannot be proven by means available to us (at least as we understand proof), but mine is not a faith is spite of the evidence, but a faith based on evidence and argument. I don’t know your position on this, but from your post I would assume that you also acknowledge your beliefs are also ultimately faith-based, but I’m also assuming you believe that your arguments and evidences (probably mainly scientific) are much stronger than mine. I get that. I struggled greatly with that. I’ve debated with enough atheists as well to realize, unfortunately, that many people don’t realize and acknowledge that their scientific claims can only get them so far. Science can only speak into certain areas, and I love science and the areas that it properly speaks into. It’s when science purports to answer the ultimate questions and makes metaphysical truth claims that it does not have the basis to answer that bothers me. To have an honest, meaningful debate I believe that theists and atheists need to acknowledge and work from this shared understanding. I was “presented with a solid and rational framework from which to build MY view of the universe.” My high school and college education did this for me, so it’s an unfair statement for you to broadly brush every religious believer with. At this point I’d would like to address my disagreements with some other points you have made, in as humble and gracious as a manner as I can. You stated that my Christian decrees are “designed and worded in a way which encourages believers to spread their own worldview and condemn those who don’t comply.” Yes, I am compelled to spread my worldview given the beliefs I hold, however, you have the gospel completely turned upside-down if you believe Christianity “condemns those who don’t comply.” I operate from a stance of love and compassion. Also, are you not also spreading your worldview? What is this post if not a spreading of your worldview. And I am fully in agreement that you should have the freedom, and the platform, to share your worldview, and by the same standard so should I. Sadly, I agree with your statement that 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.” Self-professed Christians unfortunately don’t always live out the teachings of Jesus. To this I would say don’t judge Christianity by some, a lot of, Christians. You make the point that 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.” Again, unfortunately, I agree. Religions are man-made. Religions are human constructed systems of beliefs, rituals, and practices. Jesus was despised, persecuted, and murdered by the religious peoples and priests during His time. Jesus came to establish a church, a community of believers, whose charge was to know and be in relationship with God, and to make known the love of God to all people by sharing the word and serving others in love. You state that 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.” First, you are again grouping all religions together. All religions in some way, shape or form teach it’s by our good works and actions that we earn our way to God, and only Christianity teaches that we can’t, that salvation has been secured for us, and it’s faith only in Jesus that restores our relationship with God. For this reason alone, without mentioning the numerous other reasons, you cannot lump religions together. True Christianity does not promote “intolerance, shame, and difference.” I used to think that it did as well. And I also used to think, and I really got hung up and stumbled on this one, that Christianity was so exclusive and narrow-minded. And now I accept that it is exclusive. I’ve come to realize that every set of truth claims, including yours, are exclusive. Truth by definition is exclusive. I’ve learned this mainly from Dr. Timothy Keller. And Dr. Keller also provides the solution to your concern, which I share, in addressing our numerous and significant shared adversities. You stated, honestly, that you were “under no illusion that an end to religion would fix anything.” And I agree, it would not. But Christianity, as articulated so well in this following quote by Dr. Keller, does: “If your fundamental is a man dying on the cross for his enemies, if the
    very heart of your self-image and your religion is a man praying for
    his enemies as he died for them, sacrificing for them, loving them – if
    that sinks into your heart of hearts, it’s going to produce the kind of
    life that the early Christians produced. The most inclusive possible
    life out of the most exclusive possible claim – and that is this is the
    truth. But what is the truth? The truth is a God become weak, loving and
    dying for the people who opposed him, dying forgiving them.” It bears repeating – the most inclusive possible life out of the most exclusive possible claim.

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    • @Shauns57 Sounds reasonable and is clearly written.
      Trust erodes as historians learn that bible stories aren’t historically accurate.
      Continuing to spread those fictions to children as if true seems ethically quite problematic.
      Discredited explanations of the past will keep conflicting with modern academia.
      Wikipedia is more deserving of trust than local clergymen when it comes to history and earthly matters. This includes ethics.
      Christendom is so confused about what’s a biblical fiction and what’s a fact, that its moralizers are even worse than mistaken. They mislead christians into thinking that the biblical view of morality (salvation) ISN’T conflicting with academic ethicists.
      Insisting jesus saves is as wrongheaded as insisting on Saddam’s WMDs after the intelligence learnt that there’s no such thing.

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      • blamer Well said Sir.  I would also point out that while it seems that Shaun is a decent enough person, he seems to be cherry-picking the NT if he does not acknowledge that there are numerous examples in that book for condemning non-believers, homosexuals, mistreatment of women, etc.  I am glad to see that he does not hold those beliefs, but we cannot pretend that his holy in fact does.

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    • @Shauns57 several things you state as givins i have a problem with..”faith” for one, when we use words we all have to have some agreement with the meaning of the word…what is the common idea of faith? what does it mean and is it the same as another’s meaning..I view this word as believing something you have no evidence for. faith is NOT theory to me..its hope its desire and its fear motivated…Having that “faith” you are correct in assessing a belief.. you base this “faith” on evidence circumstantial or empirical. BUT some of the evidence can be emotional or spiritual intuition to go that far…. I here this idea of faith used all the time when people that want to believe things they cant prove..Ok fine.. i get the idea..BUT the danger i see in that is faith can be a tool to brain wash yourself..there is a danger that what you are doing with this idea of abandonment of logic for “Faith” is self hypnosis..Putting yourself in a perpetual state of being hypnotized and altered state of reality.. there are psychologists working in Bethlehem for people that go to the “holly land” and have such powerful emotional experiences that they start to believe they ARE the second coming of Christ..

      The second thing you mention is Christ dying on the cross…if you step back for a second and try and view Jesus as just a man with strong faith ending up viscously nailed to a piece of wood but still in his belief of a god but that has forsaken him..you can imagine what it must have been like to plead for his Saveur at that time of need..
      If he was just a man it would have been excruciating to be put to death this way and have ben betrayed by people close to him as well as the religious and political power of the time putting him to death for his “Faith”.. Loving they enemy turning the other cheek wile you sit idly by and they murder you because they have no “faith” is so ignorant i can not begin to tell you what a sheep like mindless attitude that is to me (no offense).. there are people on this planet that will NEVER see it any other way then self serving and using religion to exploit the innocent and good faith based people..the “useful idiots” that can be maneuvered to die for them for the easy of exploiting their beliefs. their are people in our very governments that view people as cattle to be lead to slaughter and they do it every day by using “blind faith” to manipulate people for it. there is a real danger of loving an enemy hell bet on exploiting you stealing from you and killing you for their agenda and all the wile hiding behind your “faith”

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  5. Why believers dislike atheists
    Faith or belief from a religious perspective seems to me to be a form of cognitive dissonance. Other believers, even if their beliefs are in opposition, don’t expose the discomfort that comes from belief without evidence. Especially when “your beliefs are based on even crazier things than mine.”
    A non believer provides non of that comfort and as a consequence must be marginalized.

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    • San_Fran  one could say the reverse as well…..i suppose false feeling’s of comfort are exactly what the “believer” relies on especially if they “believe” them not to be false.. in any case they still can be false beliefs..i suppose its a matter of choice as to weather you can either lie to yourself that efficiently or decide you have no problem believing something false..to me that comes down to a sense of personal ethics and integrity that seems to have no place in the minds of the “believer”

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    • San_Franone could say the reverse as well…..i suppose false feeling’s of comfort are exactly what the “believer” relies on especially if they “believe” them not to be false.. in any case they still can be false beliefs..i suppose its a matter of choice as to wether you can either lie to yourself that efficiently or decide you have no problem believing something false..to me that comes down to a sense of personal ethics and integrity that seems to have no place in the minds of the “believer”

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  6. Well said Martin.  I think that people (like Shaun below) want to solely focus on the “good” things that a religion can bring to a society.  Unfortunately, we do not have that luxury and it is dishonest.  We must look at the full picture of what a religion states–both the “good” and the “bad”.  I would argue that there is far more in the “bad” category and that most, if not all, of what is in the “good” category can be achieved through secular means/organizations/charities.

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    • reasonbeingblog 
      Agreed. Anyone can (and all do) cherry-pick the bible or the koran and take only the good parts. And we who do not believe greatly prefer this type of believer to the “Left Behind” reading thug who picks out the violent parts, the misogynistic parts, and the parts that don’t have any effect on his lifestyle.
      Of course, none of this implies even a scintilla of evidence that the chosen religion is true, just that some people are better than others. It goes back yet again to Weinberg’s dictum, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.”

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