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.
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.
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?