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Why I Would Wish Religion Away

Many folks seemed to think I was being a bit naive, thinking religion to be at the root of many of our problems. Problems would remain, they protested. Religion doesn’t cause them all.

I’m completely aware of that. I’d hoped this sentence would prevent misunderstandings:

When we go chasing after invisible gods, all of our worst human tendencies remain, but are given God’s stamp of approval.

I obviously should have done a better job at clarifying that I didn’t think our problems would magically vanish once religion was gone. Let me do so now:

Humans are shits. We can be right arseholes to each other. Excise religion, and humans would still be shits.  Atheists are right arseholes to each other all the time.

But.

But.

They can’t claim divine sanction for their arseholery. They can’t shut down criticism and condemnation by saying, “God says I’m not a shit. Look, he says to do this arsehole thing. Right here! It says, ‘Do this arsehole thing or you will go to hell.’ So this shitty arsehole thing I’m doing is good and just because God told me to do it, and no one can argue with that, because God.”

They can’t get society to accept their arsehole behavior as being sacrosanct, their religious right, and they can’t terrify people into going along by threatening them with hellfire and damnation if they don’t.

Look, without religion, shit parents would still abuse their kids. But they wouldn’t write books about beating kids into submission because God says to beat ‘em with a stick or else. They wouldn’t have the power to convince non-abusing, loving parents they must beat even their babies if they want their kids to avoid hell.

Image is a black background. A cross, a crescent moon and star, and a Star of David are all within crossed-out circles at top. Caption says, "Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right."

Without religion, I doubt very much we’d have these lingering hangups about homosexuality. Certain types of men might still try to impose patriarchal authority, but without a holy book saying obey or burn, that this is what God wants, I doubt very much that many people would be eager to go along.

Without the promise of a reward in the afterlife, I’ll bet you cash money that more people would make this life better. They’d realize this is all we’ve got: this world, this life, and each other. No God is going to protect us here and give us glory once we’re dead.

We wouldn’t have people trying to cripple science education for religious reasons. The bizarre alternate universe we’ve been exploring in our Christianist textbooks certainly wouldn’t exist. People wouldn’t have to discount the overwhelming evidence of an old Earth with life evolving via natural processes with no divine intervention. They wouldn’t have Ken Ham’s biblical glasses or his stubborn belief that a bit of ancient poetry is scientific truth, evidence be damned.

I think we’d be much more flexible, better able to weigh evidence, explore reality, and change our minds when warranted. We wouldn’t go centuries or millennia kicking and screaming against good ideas, because there wouldn’t be this god-belief standing in the way.

I’m not saying we’d suddenly be perfect. Just better. I think there would be less strife, and fewer people easy to con. Doubtless, we’d find ways to do stupid shit and make bad choices. Sometimes (often), we’d let our thinking get lazy and end up doing some spectacularly wrong stuff. We’re human. We’re the result of evolutionary tinkering, and we know evolution doesn’t have any way of ensuring high-quality results. We have brains that come up with ridiculous notions and silly ideas and get duped and dizzy and frequently misfire. Removing religion won’t fix that.

But without religion, we wouldn’t make our worst ideas, impulses, and mistakes sacred.

We’d have no authority higher than humanity to rely on to shore up our worst traits. We couldn’t shut down debate by pointing to heaven.

Does anyone want to make the argument that a world without religion would be worse than what we’ve got?

Don’t you think we could do better without?

Image shows a twilight sky with stars, a silhouette of a person holding out hands and looking like they're holding two very bright stars. Caption says, "Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left only with art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That'll do for me. -Lynne Kelly"

Lynne Kelly via Science Memebase.

Comments

  1. Ex Patriot says

    I agree with the fact that I am only left with the things Lynne Kerlly describes. Religion will be the down fall of the human race and should just disapear for ever, it is a curse on mankind

  2. Lithified Detritus says

    I’m heading out the door to a science teachers conference, and don’t have time to think about a detailed comment, so I’ll just say that I agree with what you are saying here. I would not be one to defend religion. I’ll be out of touch for a couple of days, but I’m looking forward to seeing the comments when I have time to look.

  3. machintelligence says

    The other bone I have to pick with religion is that it elevates faith to a virtue, instead of treating it like the character flaw that it is.
    Faith is just gullibility dressed up in its Sunday best.

  4. rq says

    I wouldn’t say that religion is the root of all human problems, as you say, Dana – we humans are terrible enough as it is. But it does do a fair job of amplifying problems. God’s Stamp of Approval is, unfortunately, pretty indelible to some people.

    machinintelligence
    I don’t think faith as such is a character flaw… I still have faith in the goodness of the human race, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m not sure what else to call it, though, since there’s a heck of a lot of evidence to the contrary, but I insist on believing that we’re not always so bad. I consider this to be a virtue, because it keeps me optimistic (even though most people around me would label me a cynic), and seriously gets me through the day sometimes. Does that make me gullible? Or is this not faith? (No snark, just questions, curious.)
    Personally, I think it’s the blind kind of faith, the kind that doesn’t allow questions or differences, that is the problem. The kind that demands to be followed and proclaimed as right but is too rigid for any actual thought or analysis about that rightness. So, I would say, there’s faith and there’s faith.

    • hexidecima says

      I think you are mistaking faith for trust. You have reason to trust in the goodness of the human race, not faith, belief in things that aren’t evident. You can see people being decent all of the time, donating funds to various good non-profits, rescuing animals, etc. Faith says “believe without all of that”.

      • rq says

        Dunno, I think of trust in slightly different terms. But it would be hard to explain. *shrug* I’m not going to lose much sleep over this, though.

  5. Forrest Phelps says

    Nicely done, Dana. But it makes me ask the question:

    Why do so many people follow religion? Especially if one well-written essay by a rock expert (plus) show the obvious problem.

    • Al Dente says

      One major reason why people follow religion is they’ve been indoctrinated in it from babyhood. Some years ago I was at a Mormon service and heard a three year old child lisp “I know tha’ the church is troo.” The best indicator of what religion a person professes is the religion their parents professed.

      • Forrest Phelps says

        I agree, Al, that the “born into it” is probably the major reason why people start out as religious. Same reason most people love their country, too.

        I would also suggest that “fear of death (or unknown)” is another major spur to be religious, especially as one ages and starts wishing for more “life”.

      • nathanaelnerode says

        And of course, if you think of religions as memeplexes, like germs,…

        … the ones which order their followers/infected to indoctrinate/infect the children before the age of reason will spread faster. So will the ones which order their followers to have lots of children.

        Nothing to do with whether they’re true, it’s just evolution in action.

        This is a rather tricky problem to overcome. Childhood inoculations seem sensible…

  6. Shatterface says

    Certain types of men might still try to impose patriarchal authority, but without a holy book saying obey or burn, that this is what God wants, I doubt very much that many people would be eager to go along.

    Without religion there’d still be patriarchal men – but there wouldn’t be women willing to go along with it.

    There’d still be violence against gays – but there would be less depression and self-harm among gays ashamed of their desires.

    Any political totalitarianism can make people punish each other but only religion makes us punish ourselves.

  7. hexidecima says

    I think that all that needs to be said about religion is that if religion didn’t exist, then we wouldn’t have religion’s claim that their gods will heal people. If we didn’t have that, then we wouldn’t have so many kids murdered by their parents in their delusions that their religion’s promises are true.

  8. tuibguy says

    We wouldn’t have so many people denying themselves of good things now in promise of ecstasy in an afterlife. We wouldn’t have people denying themselves of bacon (in moderation,) and we wouldn’t have animals suffering the cruelty of hallal and kosher butchery. We wouldn’t have people denying their sexual desires, choosing celibacy when they want to have sex. We wouldn’t have that stupid “Madonna-Whore” complex.

    We would have a better morality, a morality based on human betterment rather than self-sacrifice.

    As an atheist, I have long since gotten bored with debates over whether or not god(s) exist or whether or not there can be any proof. Far more important to me is the bad effect that religion has on society and individuals.

  9. nathanaelnerode says

    The counterexample which comes to mind right now is the group of so-called economists who worship the “free market”, claim that any idea which is objectionable to “free markets” is heretical, that anyone who objects should be exiled, and so on and so on… regardless of the actual effects of said “free markets”.

    …it seems like it’s very easy to generate insane doctrinaire cults even *without* gods, and many of these cults claim that they aren’t religions.

    I’ve become extremely hostile to “faith” (faith without proof), since faith denies experiment and faith denies evidence.

    I’m OK with “religion”, which I define as social ritual (I watch Doctor Who religiously! Some people watch Monday Night Football religiously.) I think that seems to be fundamental to humans and occasionally useful. It’s best if you don’t BELIEVE, though.

  10. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Wow, this is fantastic and so, so true. While religion doesn’t necessarily create the assholes, it does shelter them. So it’s definitely part of the problem.