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The Armor of God, or, The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful

This is the full-length version of the piece I wrote for AlterNet. I had to edit that piece somewhat for length; so I’m posting the full version here.

No religion So what is it about religion — exactly — that’s so harmful?

I’ve argued many times that religion is not only mistaken, but does more harm than good. But why do I think that is?

Sure, I can make a list of specific harms religion has done, from here to Texas. I’ve done exactly that. But that’s not enough to make my case. I could make long lists of harms done by plenty of human institutions: medicine, education, democracy. That doesn’t make them inherently malevolent.

Why is religion special — and specially troubling? What makes religion different from any other ideology, community, system of morality, hypothesis about how the world works? And why does that difference makes it uniquely prone to cause damage?

The debates about religion usually come in two types: “is religion accurate or mistaken,” and “is religion helpful or harmful.” And ever since I put together my best “mistaken” arguments, my Top Ten Reasons I Don’t Believe in God, I’ve been trying to wrap up my “harmful” arguments in a similar nutshell.

But I’m realizing that I don’t have ten arguments for why religion is harmful. I don’t even have 57,842 arguments.

I have one.

I’m realizing that everything I’ve ever written about religion’s harm boils down to one thing.

It’s this:

Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.

It therefore has no reality check.

Armet And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality… and extreme, grotesque immorality.

(I can hear the chorus already. “But not all religion is like that! Not all believers are crazy extremists! Some religions adapt to new evidence and changing social mores! It’s not fair to criticize all religion just because some believers do bad things!” I hear you. I’ll get to that at the end, after I make my case.)

The Proof Is Not in the Pudding

Rafael_angel The thing that uniquely defines religion, the thing that sets it apart from every other ideology or hypothesis or social network, is the belief in unverifiable supernatural entities. Of course it has other elements — community, charity, philosophy, inspiration for art, etc. But those things exist in the secular world, too. They’re not specific to religion. The thing that uniquely defines religion is belief in supernatural entities. Without that belief, it’s not religion.

And with that belief, the capacity for religion to do harm gets cranked up to an alarmingly high level — because there’s no reality check.

Any other ideology or philosophy or hypothesis about the world is eventually expected to pony up. It’s expected to prove itself true and/or useful, or else correct itself, or else fall by the wayside. With religion, that is emphatically not the case. Because religion is a belief in the invisible and unknowable — and it’s therefore never expected to prove that it’s right, or even show good evidence for why it’s right — its capacity to do harm can spin into the stratosphere.

Against all enemies Richard Clarke Let me make a comparison to show my point. Let’s compare religious belief with political ideology. After all, religion isn’t the only belief that’s armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. Religion isn’t the only belief that leads people to ignore evidence in favor of their settled opinion. And contrary to the popular atheist saying, religion is not the only belief that inspires good people to do evil things. Political ideology can do all that quite nicely. People have committed horrors to perpetuate Communism: an ideology many of those people sincerely believed was best. And horrors were committed by Americans in the last Bush administration… in the name of democracy and freedom.

But even the most stubborn political ideology will eventually crumble in the face of it, you know, not working. People can only be told for so long that under Communism everyone will eat strawberries and cream, or that in an unrestricted free market the rising tide will lift all boats. A political ideology makes promises about this life, this world. If the strawberries and cream and rising boats aren’t forthcoming, eventually people notice. (The 2008 election was evidence of that.) People can excuse and rationalize a political ideology for a long time… but ultimately, the proof is in the pudding.

Religion is different.

Zacharias_(Michelangelo) With religion, the proof is emphatically not in the pudding. With religion, the proof comes from invisible beings, inaudible voices. The proof comes from prophets and religious leaders, who supposedly hear these voices and are happy to tell the rest of us what they say. It comes from religious texts, written ages ago by prophets and religious leaders, ditto. It comes from feelings in people’s hearts that, conveniently, tell them what they already believe or want to believe. And the proof comes in the afterlife, after people die and can’t come back to tell us about it. Every single claim made by religion comes from people: not from sources out in the world that other people can verify, but from the insides of people’s heads.

So with religion, even if God’s rules and promises aren’t working out, followers still follow them… because the ultimate judge and judgment are invisible. There is no pudding, no proof — and no expectation that there should be any. And there is therefore no reality check, no self-correction, when religion starts to go to the bad place.

In fact, with many religions, that idea that you should expect to eat the pudding is blasphemy. A major part of many religious doctrines is that trusting the tenets of your faith without evidence is not only acceptable, but a positive virtue. (“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” -John 20:29)

Armor In other words: The belief in invisible beings, undetectable forces, and events that happen after we die, provides a uniquely effective armor against the valid criticism, questioning, and deflation of ideas and institutions that do serious harm.

And religion builds on this armor with layer after layer. Among these insulating layers: The idea that letting go of religious doubts is a liberating act of love. The idea that skepticism and questioning are the same as cynicism, nihilism, and despair. The idea that religion operates in a different realm from the everyday world, and it’s unfair to hold it to normal standards of evidence. The idea that criticizing religion is inherently rude and intolerant. The “Shut up, that’s why” arguments so commonly marshaled against atheists: arguments meant not to address questions about religion, but to silence them. When coupled with the fact that the core belief is by definition unverifiable, these layers armor religion even more effectively against valid questions… thus undermining our ability to see when it’s become comically absurd, or wildly implausible, or grotesquely immoral. Or all three.

I want to give some specific examples of how this armor works. I want to talk about some of the most common — and most harmful — ways that religion causes harm. And I want to show how the invisible, unprovable, “don’t show me the money” nature of religion either causes that harm or makes it worse.

The Armor of God

Inspiring political oppression.

American fascists Religious extremists — whether the Taliban in the Islamic world or the Christian Right here in the States — don’t care about separation of church and state. They don’t care about democracy. They don’t care about respecting other people’s right to live differently from them. In very extreme cases, they don’t care about law, or basic principles of morality, or even human life.

None of this matters to them. What matters is making God’s will happen. In their mind, God created everything that exists… and therefore, God’s will trumps everything.

And since God’s will is invisible, inaudible, and entirely unverifiable, there’s no reality check on this dreadful path. There’s no reality check saying that their actions are having a terrible effect in the world around them. The world around them is, quite literally, irrelevant. The next world is what matters. And since there’s no way to conclusively demonstrate what will and won’t get you a good place in that world, or whether that world even exists… the sky’s the limit. There’s no way to test the assertion that God wants women to wear burqas and have clitoridectomies… or that God wants us to ban same-sex marriage and teach children dangerous lies about sex. The reality check is absent. The brake lines of morality have been cut.

Perpetuating political oppression.

Jerry_Falwell The unverifiability of religion leads to political oppression in another way. It makes religious leaders and organizations uniquely powerful in the political arena — because their followers are typically taught from a young age to implicitly believe whatever their religious leaders say. They are taught that their religious leaders have superior virtue, with a hotline to God and his all-perfect morality. Indeed, they’ve been taught that trusting their religious leaders is a great virtue, and that asking them to support their claims with evidence is a grave insult: not only to the leaders, but to the entire faith, and even to God himself.

I want to give a specific example of this one. I want to talk about same-sex marriage.

In the United States, when same-sex marriage has been up for popular vote, it has, as of this writing, never, ever won. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box, even when a well-organized, well-funded campaign has been behind it. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box — largely because the full force of several organized religions, especially the Catholic and Mormon churches, have been marshaled against it. It has been defeated because these churches have been willing to tell grotesque, shameless lies about the effects of same-sex marriage — from “churches will be forced to perform weddings they oppose” to “kids will be taught explicit gay sex in public school.”

And it has been defeated because the followers of these churches implicitly trust their leaders. When faced with a newspaper editorial saying, “Same-sex marriage won’t affect public education” — and their beloved priest saying, “Same-sex marriage means your children will be taught about gay oral sex in third grade” — they believe their priest.

Even though their priest is lying through his teeth.

And because religion has no reality check, it is extraordinarily difficult to counter its flat-out lies… because ultimately, its claims rest on an unverifiable belief in an invisible God, who has yet to appear on CNN stating his political views. And when you combine this lack of reality check with the unquestioning trust in religious leaders, you have a recipe for religion to have grossly disproportionate power in the political arena. A power that is uniquely armored against questions about what really works to improve life and alleviate suffering and create justice in this world — the questions that politics are supposed to be about.

Succumbing to political oppression.

Age of feudalism In the same way that religion’s unverifiability means there’s no check on oppressing other people, it means there’s no check on people accepting their oppression. At the hands of religion, or anything else.

If people believe they’ll be rewarded with infinite bliss in the afterlife — and there’s no way to prove whether or not that’s true — people will let themselves be martyrs to their faith, to an appalling degree. More commonly, if people believe in infinite bliss in the afterlife, they’ll be more willing to accept an appalling degree of oppression and injustice in this life. From anybody. Oddly, this is often framed as a plus — “Religion gives people hope in hardship” — but I fail to see how encouraging oppressed people to suck it up until they get pie in the sky is a good thing. For the oppressed, anyway. Why it’s good for the oppressors is crystal clear.

Again: Because it’s a belief in invisible beings and events and judgments that happen after people die, religion short-circuits our reality checks. Including the reality check that looks at how we’re being treated and says, “This is bullshit.”

Individual abuses by religious leaders.

In the shadow of the cross This one should be obvious. But it’s important, and I want to spell it out.

The same forces that give religious leaders disproportionate power in politics also give them disproportionate power in personal lives. When people are taught that religious leaders have a unique hotline to God’s morality, they’re more inclined to trust them without question. And that can lead to disaster.

Sexual abuse of children is the most obvious example. Children’s natural tendency to trust and obey adults, a tendency that can be abused by any authority figure, is multiplied a hundredfold when that authority seems to come from God himself.

But it’s not the only example. When the promise of infinite bliss in the next life is held out like a carrot dangled before a donkey’s nose — and there’s no way to know if the carrot is even there — people will let themselves be taken advantage of by religious leaders to an appalling degree.

And even if an individual believer decides, ‘Hey, wait a minute! It isn’t okay that the leader bilked me out of my savings/ used the hospital fund to buy a Bentley/ molested me at age seven”… who’s going to believe them? Religion’s armor against criticism means that even when someone begins to doubt, others in their belief community keep believing. And those others will reject any accusations made against the leader… no matter how credible or supported by evidence. The armor of God doesn’t just make believers vulnerable to religious leaders’ fraud and abuse. It ensures that even if they wise up to that fraud and abuse, their accusations won’t be believed.

Justification for bigotry.

White America Clearly, human beings don’t need religious justification for bigotry. We can be bigoted just fine on our own. But as powerful as bigotry is, it ultimately has a natural, if painfully slow, reality check. When people see that in reality, not all women are ditzy idiots, and not all black people are lazy criminals, and not all gay people are miserable and crazy… eventually, over years and decades, they can change their minds. (And if they don’t, their kids do. The strongest determining factor in whether Americans support same-sex marriage is youth.) Bigotry is strong… but reality, plus time, is stronger.

But when bigotry is justified by religion, this reality check gets shot in the foot. When bigotry is justified by the inaudible voice of God — and the very audible voices of people claiming to speak for God — the reality check saying that bigotry isn’t right gets easily drowned out.

Again, because the voice of God is inaudible, and the proof of the pudding is in the afterlife where nobody can see it… well, if it’s God telling you that blacks were condemned by God to serve whites, or that women were designed by God to defer to men, or that homosexuals have abandoned morality and defied God’s will, who are you to say it isn’t true? Sure, you have the reality of good gays and independent women and brilliant black people with outstanding leadership skills… but balance that against the word of the creator of the universe, and what’s going to win?

Especially when it’s a bigotry you’re already inclined to believe, and one that works in your favor? When bigotry is justified by the untestable voice of religious faith, what chance does inconvenient reality have?

Justification for violence and war.

9-11 Ditto.

But more so.

In the same way that religion drowns out the reality check saying that bigotry and oppression is wrong, it drowns out the reality check saying that hurting and killing people is wrong.

And the untestable belief in the afterlife is the biggest obstacle to this reality check. If you believe in a perfect eternal afterlife… then who cares about pain and death in this world? Compared with the eternal bliss/ torture of Heaven or Hell, pain and death in this world is a stubbed toe. Isn’t carrying out God’s will more important than a stubbed toe?

Kill them all. Let God sort it out.

Vulnerability to fraud.

Faith healers When people are taught that believing things without proof or evidence makes you a good person, they become far more vulnerable to fraud, manipulation, and deception.

Not just from religious figures. Not just from phony faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers and authors of bestselling psychic self-help books. (Although them, too.)

From everybody. From every Ponzi schemer and Nigerian email scammer and shady purveyor of Florida real estate.

When people are taught to let go of difficult questions and trust whatever religious authorities tell them; that it’s better to trust their feelings than their critical thinking skills; that evidence and reason are less important than faith; that “doubter” is a synonym for “sinner”… they become vulnerable to every cheater, chiseler, swindler, con artist, and late night infomercial huckster who’s lucky enough to cross their gullible paths. The idea that belief without evidence is a virtue doesn’t just inspire people to trust their religious leaders blindly. It inspires people to trust anybody blindly. Including people who are trying to rob them blind.

Quashing science and education.

CreationismsTrojanHorse Do I even need to explain this one? Do I need to explain how the untestability of religion — and the idea that untestability is a positive virtue — undercuts science and education?

Not just in a general, “making people value science and education less” way — but in specific, practical, harmful ways? Hamstringing stem cell research? Forcing abstinence-only sex education on kids? Teaching creationism in public schools?

When religion teaches that believing in the invisible is more important than understanding the perceivable… that personal faith is more important than critical thinking… that letting go of questions is a liberating act of love and trust… that believing things with no evidence is not only okay but a positive virtue… that unfalsifiable hypotheses are just ducky… that what God supposedly says about the world is more real what’s in the world itself…

Do I need to explain this any further? Do I need to explain how the “Facts take a back seat to faith” trope hammers science and education into the ground?

Quashing medicine and public health.

Pope-condom Ditto “Quashing science and education.” With this addition:

Religion, and its unverifiability, actively promotes the idea that the invisible afterlife is more important than the life we know exists. And therefore, it promotes the idea that even if a medical treatment or health policy would lead to less disease and death, it doesn’t matter. Even though condom help prevent the spread of AIDS, even though immunizing girls against genital warts helps prevent cervical cancer, even though stem cell research could lead to great advances in medicine… it doesn’t matter. What matters isn’t disease and death in this life. What matters is the next life. What matters is God’s will.

Which, again, we have no way of verifying. And which therefore, by the horrible freakish paradox of the armor of God, gets priority.

Terrorizing children.

Gate_to_hell And again, we come to the matter of priorities.

If we prioritized this life, we would never terrorize children by telling them they’ll be tortured in fire forever if they don’t obey our rules. We would never tell them to imagine putting their hands in a fire, to imagine the crackling and burning and screaming pain… and then to imagine doing that for a minute. An hour. A day. A lifetime. Eternity.

Not unless we were horribly abusive.

But when people think the next life is more important than this one — when people think the infinite burning and torture is really going to happen if their children don’t obey God’s word — they’ll gladly give their children nightmarish visions of pain and torture, dispensed by the Fatherly God who supposedly created them and loves them. They’ll do it without a second thought. When people prioritize their belief in an afterlife that, by definition, is impossible to prove or disprove, they effectively cut the reality check begging them to not terrorize and emotionally abuse their own children.

Teaching children about hell is child abuse. Nothing but the unverifiable promise of permanent bliss or torture in the afterlife would make loving, decent, non-abusive parents inflict it on their children.

*

I could go on, and on, and on. But I think you get the idea.

Yes, Even Moderate Religion Still Does Harm

GreedNow.

Many believers will argue that the harm done by religion isn’t religion’s fault. Many will point out all the wars, bigotry, fraud, oppression, quashing of science and medicine, and terrorizing of children done for reasons other than religion. And many will argue that, even when this stuff is done in the name of religion, it isn’t really inspired by religion at all. It’s inspired by greed, fear, selfishness, the hunger for power, the desire for control… all the things that lead people to do evil.

And they’ll have a point. I’m not saying that religion is the root of all evil. I’m not arguing that a world without religion would be a blissful Utopia where everyone holds hands and chocolate flows in the streets. (And then we all die, because the chocolate is drowning us and we can’t swim because we’re holding hands.) I don’t know of any atheist who’d argue that. I know that the impulses driving evil are deeply rooted in human nature, and religion is far from the only thing to inspire it.

Armor 2 I’m saying that religion provides a uniquely stubborn justification for evil. I’m saying that religion is uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self-correction… and that this armor protects it against the reality checks that act, to a limited degree and in the long run, to keep evil in check. I’m saying that religion takes the human impulses to evil, and cuts the brake line, and sends them careening down a hill and into the center of town.

Yes — even moderate religion. Not to nearly the same degree as extreme religion, of course. If all religion were moderate, ecumenical, separate from government, supportive of science, and accepting of non-belief… well, atheists would still disagree with it, but most of us wouldn’t much care.

But moderate religion still does harm. It still encourages people to believe in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die. And therefore, it still disables reality checks… making people more vulnerable to oppression, fraud, and abuse.

What’s more, moderate religion is in the minority. The oppressive, intolerant, reality-denying forms of religion are far more common, and far better at perpetuating themselves. And moderate religion gives these ugly forms credibility. It gives credibility to the idea that believing in things there’s no reason to believe is valid, and actually virtuous. It gives credibility to the idea that invisible worlds are real, more real and important than the visible one. It gives credibility to the idea that our seriously biased personal intuition is more trustworthy than logic or verifiable evidence. It gives credibility to the idea that religious beliefs, alone among all other ideas, should be beyond criticism; that the very act of questioning religion is inherently intolerant. (It also, I’ve found, has a distinct tendency to get hostile and decidedly un-moderate towards non-believers when questioned even a little.)

Joined hands Without religion, we would still have community. Charity. Social responsibility. Philosophy. Ethics. Comfort. Solace. Art. In countries where less than half the population believes in God, these qualities and activities are all flourishing. In fact, they’re flourishing a lot more than they are in countries with high rates of religious belief.

We don’t need religion to have any of these things.

And we’d be better off without it.

Comments

  1. khan says

    Thank you for explaining this. It articulates my vague thoughts.
    It all comes down to ‘no reality check’.

  2. says

    I definitely, vehemently agree with the ‘child abuse’ thing. And even for moderate religion, when the parents never bring up hell – the concept pervades our culture. I was raised by an agnostic and an atheist and I still had nightmares about hell. But at least when I asked them about it they could comfortably tell me that hell isn’t real. I imagine a moderate religious parent would struggle with that one a bit more.

  3. Nemo says

    Re: vulnerability to fraud, I didn’t really think that my opinion of televangelists could get any lower, but I was dismayed to realize recently that many of them are using their shows to peddle snake oil remedies.

  4. says

    Very nice post. You were right to point out that lots of ideologies have the same shortcomings as religion. The freethinkers’ struggle is not only against religion, it’s against all extreme and/or oppressive ideologies. Still, religion has built-in protections, the armor about which you wrote, that make it more difficult to overcome. Recognizing that armor enables us to develop appropriate tools to pierce it.

  5. says

    “In the United States, when same-sex marriage has been up for popular vote, it has, as of this writing, never, ever won. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box, even when a well-organized, well-funded campaign has been behind it. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box — largely because the full force of several organized religions, especially the Catholic and Mormon churches, have been marshaled against it.”
    It’s strange, but the ways of God do seem to become a great deal less mysterious as soon as the question involves gay sex. We don’t know why the Man Upstairs kills infants and refuses to heal amputees, but when we have two people who love each other very very much, God’s Word is crystal clear.

  6. says

    I’ve read that the best scientific discoveries were often expressed in simple, elegant equations.
    Your post, in my opinion, reflects that.
    “Religion = no reality check” — its simple and elegant while still carrying very deep and powerful implications.
    That summation sort of reminds me of the famous equation, E=mc^2.
    As others have already said, brilliant post!

  7. says

    My father is a staunch Catholic. I grew up in a house in which my mother was a Protestant who had jumped from her childhood of Anglicanism to the Southern Baptist church, and I went to the Catholic and Baptist churches regularly. Once I left home, I had had it forever with the Baptist church and called myself a Catholic for a while. Then I met a New Ager and a Wiccan and got interested in comparative religion. By the age of 40, especially after losing my mother after having prayed so hard for a miracle to take away her cancer, I was getting really comfortable with agnosticism. Now, thanks to my husband, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, ffrf.org, other authors and friends, and lately, YOU, I have gotten to the point where atheism makes the most sense and feels right, REALLY right.
    My dad seems to know that I am not only a non-religious person but also a somewhat irreligious person. My stepmom is a facebook friend of mine. I think she reads some of the things I post, like the “Should ‘In God We Trust’ be taken off our money?” poll, and goes back to my dad with reports of my irreligious stance. It’s like the elephant in the room. He doesn’t want to come out and ask me directly if I am an atheist, and I don’t want to get into deep discussions with him when he brings up topics such as “THOSE PEOPLE” who think that all religion does harm. I’ve witnessed, in the past, a nasty side of him which can come out. A man who is normally so quiet and calm will suddenly strike like an angry snake if you push the right button, and religion is one of those hot buttons with him.
    All the same, I feel like I’m degrading myself by not coming out. I’m conveying that my view of the world is something about which I should be shameful and should keep hidden.
    After reading this column, I want to print it out and give it to him and say, “Daddy, read this. I just want to hear what you have to say in response to it.” Your writings are always so deeply thoughtful, Greta Christina. I’ll leave a conversation with my father after not expressing my feelings and thoughts because they are like distant particles in my head that I need to fuse together, and then I find a piece like this in which you have done the work for me, with so much more than had ever occurred to me.
    I don’t know if he’ll respond. I gave him “Ken’s Guide to the Bible” about five years ago–WONDERFUL, HILARIOUS, and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED–and I never saw it again, nor did he ever bring it up. The thing is, he’s a very bright person, and if he read your column and came away unable to acknowledge that it makes such amazing sense, then he is either stubborn as hell or else he is one of the blindly-faithful victims you wrote about, or both. He is my shining example of how insidious religion is in its power to imprison the ability to reason in an otherwise brilliant person.

  8. John says

    You write:
    Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.
    But not all religion involves the items in that list. I am a Unitarian Universalist, which seems to be what you are calling a progressive religion. I joined the church because it involves all these things you say are possible without religion: “community. Charity. Social responsibility. Philosophy. Ethics. Comfort. Solace. Art.” These things may be available outside a religious environment, but I’ve found that my exposure and involvement in all these things has increased dramatically within the church. I was an atheist for over ten years before joining the church and am still an atheist. Not every atheist would be comfortable as a UU and not all UUs are atheist, but there are many atheist UUs. And we aren’t picking and choosing some part of the religion to ignore, there is no requirement to believe in any kind of supernaturalism. One of the principles of the religion basically says one needs to be willing to be in fellowship with others who may not agree on every aspect of spirituality including supernaturalism. That’s not that difficult for many to live with, and you probably need to do that anyway while engaging in “community. Charity. Social responsibility. Philosophy. Ethics. Comfort. Solace. Art.” if other humans you haven’t carefully selected are going to be included.
    You say, “And moderate religion gives these ugly forms credibility.” Progressive/moderate religion such as UU is an alternative to conservative or creedal religions. It is not fair to say the existence of one alternative gives legitimacy to the other alternatives.

  9. says

    John: I think UU is something of a special case, in that it’s a “religion” that doesn’t require actual religious belief for membership.
    But… well, that’s actually sort of my point. Like I wrote in my piece on secular Judaism, I don’t have a problem with people using the trappings and traditions of religion to form communities and connections with their history and their family.
    I just don’t think I’d define that as religion.
    When I talk about progressive religion, I’m not talking about people who preserve the rituals and structures of religion in a secular, non-supernatural manner. I’m talking about people who still have actual religious beliefs in God and the soul and whatnot.
    I’d put UU (or at least, the non-believing members of the UU) in the same category as secular Judaism. It’s a nice, clever way of preserving the positive aspects of religion while rejecting the unsupportable belief in the supernatural. But I wouldn’t define it as religion.

  10. Kenneth Polit says

    I have just recently discovered this site(from a link on Carroll’s The skeptic’s dictionary)and I must say that I absolutely LOVE your mind. That being said, there is something to consider that you didn’t mention. We are indoctrinated into religion at our mother’s knee, whereas critical thinking is discovered later in life, if at all. Because of this some believers may get defensive due to the belief that attacking their faith is like attacking their family.

  11. John McPherson says

    “Without religion, we would still have community. Charity. Social responsibility. Philosophy. Ethics. Comfort. Solace. Art. In countries where less than half the population believes in God, these qualities and activities are all flourishing.”
    This can be true. But it presupposes that countries without religion would be “progressive” in their outlooks and populations. This is a false assumption. Humans do not need religion to act selfishly or viciously. If you think about it, for many people, if there is no God and no consequence in the hereafter to anti-social behavior, then the only check is in the current. For many humans, convinced they can “beat the system”, this is no check at all. There are far too few historical examples for your position to be validated.
    Your arguements are legitimate, as far as they go. But they ignore, probably deliberately, of the positives that religions institutions conduct.
    In the end, rapid social restructuring as you are proposing here is a very dangerous thing indeed. How the US and secular west is transitioning is far safer. A deliberate path, not a stampeed. At the end of the day, ones faith should be a private matter, but there is no harm in retaining some of the quaint practices of our forefathers. Just like singing the national anthem before a ballgame, it’s just the thing to do and it’s not hurting anyone. Go to far in your rejectionism, and you will find yourself and your arguement rejected.

  12. says

    But it presupposes that countries without religion would be “progressive” in their outlooks and populations. This is a false assumption.

    Actually, it’s a completely correct assumption. Countries with high rates of atheism (or, to be more specific, non- state- imposed atheism), such as France and Holland and the Scandinavian countries, tend to be very high- functioning and very progressive, with high levels of education, health care, social equality, prosperity, stability, economic parity, etc. There’s an entire book on the subject.
    You seem to have this notion that any movement for social change is inherently destabilizing, and should never be attempted. Do you think the civil rights movement was wrong to demand change? The women’s suffrage movement? The movement to change child labor laws? How, exactly, do you propose that social change happen, if not by people speaking out and trying to make it happen?

  13. CC says

    Wow. There is so much to think about in all this and I’m very impressed by your consideration in the matter, though I respectfully disagree with a lot.
    The thing is – you are ABSOLUTELY right that bastardization of religion has horrible outcomes and atrocities. But I have to agree with a prior commenter that it’s only one side of the coin and doesn’t look at the good that religion does too. I’m not trying to argue a one for one comparison between the two – I think it’s apples and oranges and you just can’t do that. But I think that it does a lot of good – yes, through the charities and social programs that you noted could exist without it (although I have to think you’d have a hard time finding a secular version of say a Mother Teresa) but also, and this is probably where you’ll disagree with my logic, in giving peace and solace.
    Because I’m actually arguing that the “inaudible voices in your head” may be a good thing. There are occasions where they may be the only thing that keeps you sane and grounded. For example – my Dad was a man of profoundly great faith. He died of cancer about 7 years ago, but during his battle he was never angry about what was happening because he took this amazing solace in his faith and joy in the gifts he believe that God had given him. He would say – how can I be angry at God for not giving me more when he has given me so much and was able to die absolutely peacefully – yes, because of his belief in the afterlife.
    Now, I’m not trying to argue that this is proof of the afterlife or of God. What I’m saying is that believing this did him great spiritual good at a troubled time and allowed him to enjoy his life to the end – and gave us all peace later as well.

  14. DA says

    “although I have to think you’d have a hard time finding a secular version of say a Mother Teresa”
    If you actually know anything about Mother Theresa beyond her media image, secularism lacking an equivalent to her seems like a point in secularism’s favor.

  15. CC says

    Ok, I shouldn’t have tried to make more than one point at once! If it helps, can we substitute Ghandi or St. Francis or Brother Andre of Montreal, etc.? If it doesn’t, can we forget I said it?
    I really just wanted to make the point that I think that “religion” (in the non-organized sense) provides a social good for many people in providing solace in times of difficulty, so that that “inaudible voice” may not be a bad thing (and I think that would be true even if it’s not real).

  16. Emburii says

    You mean the Ghandi that refused to abolish or even speak against the caste system? I can’t speak on your other two examples, CC, but no, ‘forgetting’ that you said something just because it doesn’t prove your argument is not a good way to conduct a debate.
    Religion in the non-organized sense is a shared set of rituals to build community, yes? Greta has already said she doesn’t have a problem with that. The ‘inaudible voice’, though? That’s the same concept that tells gay people raised in some Christian environments that they’re going to hell, that tells women in several religions their ‘place’, that tells religious terrorists and fanatics to hurt unbelievers. It’s the same ‘inaudible voice’ you mention that kills children because ‘God’ (or what their parents have told them that’s been internalized) doesn’t believe they should get blood transfusions or whatever. And the worst part of religion and the inaudible voice? It can’t be reasoned with, and it can’t be disproven to its audience. So it, bolstered by religious armor, continues to to harm in a way that no other system can. Whether real or not the ‘inaudible voice’ is a terrible influence, and what good individual people can derive from it is outweighed by its overall inflexible evil.

  17. says

    CC, correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re arguing that the lack of reality check that makes religion so prone to inspire great evil, and so difficult to stop great evil when it starts on an evil path, also makes religion prone to inspire great good, and to spur great good when it starts on its path. Is that your point?
    If so — I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. Or rather: Of course I agree that many good people have been inspired to do good by their religion. (Although Gandhi and King aren’t great examples: if my memory of my history serves, they were both largely inspired by secular philosophy.)
    There are three main problems with your thesis. One is the “garbage in, garbage out” problem. If religion is mistaken, then it’s harmful — simply because it is mistaken. When people have bad information or incorrect assumptions, they’re going to make bad decisions based on that information and those assumptions.
    More on this:
    True or False? Helpful or Harmful? The Two Different Arguments About Religion
    Two: I’ll repeat something I said in this piece: which is that the unprovability of religion makes people defend it more passionately — including more violently and more oppressively. The very nature of religion seems to make people tend to act badly. Not always, but on the whole. (See Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennet for more on this.)
    And the third problem with your thesis is that it simply isn’t supported by the evidence. Countries with high rates of religious non-belief tend to be countries with very high rates of social functioning, low crime rates, strong senses of mutualism and social responsibility, etc. Countries with high rates of religious belief tend to be countries with high rates of crime, inequality, corruption, etc. Now, it’s unlikely that atheism causes this social health — it’s more likely the other way around. But the idea that religion promotes ethical behavior is simply not born out by the evidence. (Source: Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment)

  18. Jimmy Crummins says

    “So it, bolstered by religious armor, continues to to harm in a way that no other system can.:
    Hitlers SS, Stalin’s KGB, and the security apparatuses of other such states (Mao, Pol Pot, etc) were not listening to inaudible voices. Nor did they claim to be. Their power came from, as Mao said, the barrel of a gun. It did not require reason or argumentation.

  19. says

    m-/
    (That’s the new emoticon for “facepalm,” invented by a friend of mine. I’m trying to propagate it.)
    First of all, Jimmy, Hitler was not an atheist. Hitler was a Christian, and used Christian religious ideas to further his agenda.
    Second: Nobody’s saying that all atheists are wonderful and ethical, or that a world without religion would be perfect. I made that very point in this piece. Quote:
    “I’m not saying that religion is the root of all evil. I’m not arguing that a world without religion would be a blissful Utopia where everyone holds hands and chocolate flows in the streets. (And then we all die, because the chocolate is drowning us and we can’t swim because we’re holding hands.) I don’t know of any atheist who’d argue that. I know that the impulses driving evil are deeply rooted in human nature, and religion is far from the only thing to inspire it.”
    I’m saying that religion takes bad human tendencies and makes them worse. I’m saying that when religion becomes the justification for evil, it becomes that much harder to put the brakes on that evil — because religion has no reality check.
    And I said that in this piece. Please do me the courtesy of actually reading what I write before you argue against it. Thank you.

  20. Jimmy Crummins says

    “Hitler was a Christian, and used Christian religious ideas to further his agenda.”
    Hitler was born a Catholic. But he was not a Christian and ceased taking communion when he was of age. He utilized church ideology when it suited him, discarded it when it did not suit him. I do not think Hitler was an atheist, in fact I don’t think he cared about religion at all except in so far as it could be manipulated. Ultimately I am sure he planned to neuter the Church in Germany as it would have been in the way of his absolutist position. He would brook no opposition to his authority from no quarter.
    “And I said that in this piece. Please do me the courtesy of actually reading what I write before you argue against it. Thank you.”
    Fair enough. But you wrote a lot of material to go through. But since you don’t want me posting anyway, I guess I can do some extensive reading.

  21. Bruce Gorton says

    Posted by: Jimmy Crummins | May 06, 2010 at 01:19 PM
    The Nazi party was prodominantly protestant and Nazi Germany was strongly theistic.
    Hitler very specifically had women’s roles being tied to religion. Further his government saw the banning of all German atheist organisations.
    Even if Hitler himself was of dubious religiousity the apparatus and nation that both voted for him and supported him were heavily religious.
    As to Stalin’s KGB and the other examples such would have in my opinion been worse with religion.
    Without religion people were eliminated based on them being seen as a threat or as vengeance from the revolution, with religion even more people would have been killed out of religious rivalries.
    The horror of Hitler’s death camps, much like the horror of Rwanda, was born of religious hatreds. The Jews were killed because they were Jews and the Jews “killed Christ.” Not because they were seen as a threat.

  22. says

    People, just a gentle reminder: Please stop feeding this troll. I know it’s tempting, I succumbed to the temptation myself for far too long… but Jimmy Crummins has dominated the conversation in this blog for far too long, and it is clearly going nowhere. Please stop feeding him. Thanks.

  23. Jimmy Crummins says

    Chomp, Chomp….
    I really want to respond to Gorton – but I will avoid it to make Greta happy.

  24. BushIsEvil says

    I agree with many things you’re writing — but let’s not forget that atheism is, in some sense, a religion as well.
    While there is no proof of the existance of any god or gods, and there’s little to no evidence, there is also no absolute, undeniable proof that they don’t exist (proving something doesn’t exist is always hard…)
    Like other religions, atheism could in theory hamper science – if the invisible, inaudible beings did exist and someone could for some reason see and hear them, atheists would look for other explanations and in the end write off the person seeing/hearing them as a liar and/or crazy because what he’s seeing and hearing doesn’t match their religious beliefs — while someone else might consider both the option that the person is a liar/fraud/madman and the slim possibility that he’s actually seeing/hearing something that is real (and who knows what scientific information they could share…)
    Of course you can argue that for atheism to harm science in that way, the invisible/inaudible beings must exist, which they don’t, and therefore it’s not going to happen — but then, given there is no absolute undeniable proof of their inexistence, that’s just referring to the atheist religion’s dogma, and could be compared to a (non-atheist) religious person saying his religion is not going to harm science because everything in his favorite religious book just happens to be true. The only difference here is that the atheist’s dogma is more likely to be true than the religious person’s dogma.
    For what it’s worth, I’m somewhere between being an atheist and being an agnostic — I believe we have no way of really knowing, but the atheist religion is more likely to be correct than the others.

  25. says

    BushIsEvil: Atheism is not the absolute, unshakable, 100% certain conviction that there is no god. For most atheists, atheism is the conclusion that there almost certainly is no god or gods: that the god hypothesis is entirely unsupported by evidence or reason, and that unless we see better evidence or reason, we are going to reject it.
    It’s like unicorns. Most people would say, if pressed, that they can’t prove with absolute certainty that there are no unicorns. But they wouldn’t say they were agnostic about unicorns. They would say, “I don’t believe in unicorns,” or, “I don’t think unicorns exist.” Most atheists are the same way about God. It’s not dogma — it’s a provisional conclusion, based on the best currently available evidence.

  26. Nate Phelps says

    “But moderate religion still does harm. It still encourages people to believe in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.”
    And it is the tacit approval that moderate religion gives to supernatural beliefs that help underpin, pave the way for, the radical religious ideas that cause so much harm.
    This has always been my argument about ALL religion. Regardless of where a particular person stands on that continuum, the entire line is defined by the attributes you describe. Attributes that defy accountability in the real world.
    In a very real sense, moderate religion gives the nod to extremism.

  27. Nate Phelps says

    @BushisEvil: I imagine that if we ever “discover” god, it won’t be by some scientist posing a god hypothesis, but rather through some paradigm shifting theory such as Einstein’s Relativity. In the ensuing testing, reporting, debating process that is science, we would identify a force or an energy that we collectively agreed to call god.
    Your suggestion sounds too much like a tacit acceptance of the argument that something just might exist outside of our perception, with all the characteristics generally applied to god, including obsessive concern for who we bump uglies with and who we should hate.
    While I am disinclined to shut the door on the possibility of god, my certainty, that it isn’t the god of any religion known to man, is so secure as to allow me to nestle comfortably in the arms of atheism.

  28. says

    You lost me at “Proof is in the pudding”
    Yes I am aware that is rapidly becoming an acceptable version of the original. But it’s such an absurd statement in its bastardised version.
    “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”
    The proof is never in the pudding, ever. It’s an absurd place to hide the proof. It makes NO sense. So please. PLEASE. Stop using that expression incorrectly, it makes you look like an uninformed rube, and makes me look like a ranting pedant.

  29. DSimon says

    Stop using that expression incorrectly, it [...] makes me look like a ranting pedant.

    I’m pretty sure that someone else is doing that…

  30. phhht says

    The rational worldview does not deny the existence of gods; it obviates it.
    Nobody denies gods exist. They’re just not necessary.

  31. Maxx says

    Good evening;
    A very interesting diatribe. I would like to give a try at addressing some of the issues discussed in this article, but to do so all at once would take far too much space.
    If Ms. Christina permits, I would like to address this thread an issue at a time, you know, kind of a running dialogue kind of thread.
    My first contention is a matter of clarification. It involves defining of terms.
    What, may I ask, Ms. Christina, do you mean by “religion?”
    I am asking for a more specific definition in light of the idea that by clumping ALL religions together under a single genre, you would be committing the fallacy of over-generalization.
    “Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.”
    This attempted explanation merely attempts to assign attributes to religion, but does not offer a working definition. In other words, you are merely describing an alleged effect without referencing a cause.
    Could you please plausibly define – religion?
    Thank you

  32. Eclectic says

    Maxx, to quote the first paragraph of the second section of Greta’s own essay, “The thing that uniquely defines religion is belief in supernatural entities. Without that belief, it’s not religion.”
    That’s the definition she’s working with. (Please read a bit more carefully.)
    Greta quite clearly states her preconditions, and if you’d like to suggest something that you think qualifies as a religion that doesn’t meet them, we can debate terminology as needed, but I think most popular religions qualify.

  33. Maxx says

    Good evening,
    Thank you “Eclectic.” Your point is well taken. However, I submit an issue to your reply.
    [U.S. Supreme Court
    TORCASO v. WATKINS, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)
    367 U.S. 488
    – Decided June 19, 1961 –
    “[ Footnote 11 ] Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others”]
    May I submit to you that Buddhism, like atheist secular humanism as listed above, in its classic form is atheist, – considered a world class religion as well.
    If I may propose – your definition, and Ms. Christina’s pre-condictions are simply too narrow to include every species of the genus – religion.
    I have thus submitted “something” that I believe to be a religion that does not meet them.
    Thank you
    PS – Really, I’m not trying to some sort of a jerk, but these are important issues and should be treated as such without the aid of simple T-shirt aphorisms.
    Again, thank you

  34. says

    Maxx: First of all, Buddhism and Taoism, while they don’t espouse a belief in God, do espouse a belief in supernatural entities or forces: souls that reincarnate, supernatural energy that flows through the universe, karma, etc.
    Second: What is legally considered to be a religion by the United States Supreme Court is not the same as what the word “religion” means to the overwhelming majority of people who use it. For reasons of religious freedom and First Amendment protection and so on, even atheism can be legally defined as a “religion” — not because it is one in any classical sense, but because legally classifying atheism as a religion (or more accurately, as a religious affiliation) grants atheists, and other non-believers such as secular humanists, equal protection under the law.
    I have defined here what I mean by religion. It is what the overwhelming majority of people mean when they use the word “religion” in everyday use. And it is that definition of “religion” that I think does serious harm: namely, the belief in supernatural entities or forces. You are not going to slip out from my critique of religion simply by re-defining it.

  35. DA says

    Also, sorry I keep smacking this one, but Buddhism and Daoism ARE theistic. I just spend the weekend photographing Daoist temples and there are Gods all over the place. My Buddhist friends here use the term “god” quite freely to describe their temple activities, e.g. “I went to the temple before my BEC test and prayed to God for help.” In theory, Buddhism is transtheistic, but in practice it never has been. Daoism is polytheistic, and in its popular form always has been (the ‘philosophical’ form is practiced by an insignifigant number of Chinese intelligensia and Westerners).
    And also, more to the point, word games about what constitutes a religion won’t change anything about the actual social effects of religion. ‘Race’ is a concept with no objective basis, but that doesn’t keep racism from rearing its ugly head.

  36. Eclectic says

    Maxx, as Greta said, religion is a somewhat slippery term. That is why she defined it in her essay, and why you needed to ask. Nonetheless, her definition is clear, matches common usage extremely well, and correctly positions non-theistic religions.
    Just finding an alternate definition of religion does not invalidate her point. I could quote many other definitions inconsistent with your USSC definition. Equally august ones, even; I expect some digging through Privy Council rulings would unearth something.
    To invalidate her argument, you don’t have to just find one corner case exception, you have to argue that the exceptions are so numerous that her argument does not apply to the majority of religious practice in the world.
    I really don’t see how you can successfully argue that.
    It’s easy to get corner cases when talking about subjective beliefs which are not even constrained to be logically consistent.

  37. Kirsten says

    This article is extremely well thought out, well written, and accessible. It puts into words my own unease with ANY supernatural-oriented belief system, even from folk who are quite nice in normal social situations. I think I end up as uncomfortable when someone tells me they are religious as many religious people must feel when they find out I am a staunch atheist and anti-theist!
    Thank you for putting it out there in such a well reasoned way!

  38. Charlie says

    Everybody’s convictions are based on unprovable assumptions – also known as faith. Science assumes that basic conditions will remain the same tomorrow as they have been today – but that is unprovable.

  39. says

    Late to the thread, but I wanted to post some thoughts, first specifically on Buddhism and then on the article in general.
    Someone said: “Buddhism and Daoism ARE theistic. I just spend the weekend photographing Daoist temples and there are Gods all over the place. My Buddhist friends here use the term “god” quite freely to describe their temple activities, e.g. “I went to the temple before my BEC test and prayed to God for help.”
    We Buddhists are an odd case in that belief in Gods or spirits is sort of a side issue. You aren’t less Buddhist for believing or not believing in gods or spirits.
    Not all Buddhists believe in reincarnation either. Some do, some don’t, and some say they do, but their definition of reincarnation (or as we call it rebirth) isn’t so much about being born again in another life as it is about the conservation of energy (ie Firewood doesn’t turn back into firewood again after it’s burned, but it does continue on in the sense that there’s ash and heat and released energy which goes on to transform into something else and so on).
    As to this comment from the original article:
    “Any other ideology or philosophy or hypothesis about the world is eventually expected to pony up. It’s expected to prove itself true and/or useful, or else correct itself, or else fall by the wayside.”
    But If you’re talking about religion in the abstract sense like “politics” or “economics” then I’m not sure.
    I think that religions and religious institutions DO have to prove itself useful in that the people who believe in it get some benefit from that belief and when people stop getting benefits from it, they fall away from it (Sadly, the benefits the believers get are necessarily good for the rest of the world).
    Religions rise and fall all the time and many of them are forced to evolve with the times to keep up. The ones that don’t remain relevant lose support. And some religions just get lucky (or unlucky).
    I also think that religious leaders only have as much power as their followers are willing to give them and there’s a very strange dynamic there. I think a problem a lot of religious institutions suffer from is when we isolate ourselves from other ideas or decide that our spirituality makes us exempt from secular oversight (moral, legal, financial, etc) and that leads to a lot of institutional abuses.
    I’ve noticed that one thing the strongly anti-religious people I know have in common with the ultra-religious is they both seem to credit religion with a lot more power than it actually has. Then again, maybe that’s where the danger lies.

  40. Nathanael says

    Wrong, Charlie.
    I explained this a few years back and it’s hard to explain. This is something which needs to be explained to post-modernists and solipsists, usually, not to religious people.
    The fundamental assumptions of science are the assumptions which you are *forced* to make in order to get out of bed in the morning.
    The assumption that things will go according to the pattern by which they have previously gone *until evidence to the contrary shows up* is not faith — the key is that *evidence to the contrary* part.
    Other assumptions include the functioning of basic mathematical logic, and the essential consistency of reality (the idea that there is a describable reality). These are assumptions you *cannot get through the day without implicitly making*.
    Otherwise you’d be going “Hmm, I wonder if my body exists today? Can’t be sure! Better consider the alternatives!”
    All of science consists of making working hypotheses, and using them while checking to see whether new evidence makes us reconsider them. Which is indeed how most of our analysis of everyday life is conducted, at least when we’re doing it competently.
    In contrast, other assumptions which one might make, such as religious assumptions, are not privileged in the same way. The assumptions of scientific methods — and they are very, very minimal assumptions — are literally *unavoidable* assumptions, ones which if you tried to live without them, you’d be completely nonfunctional instantly.
    Proof exists only in pure mathematics (where we define our own world and ignore reality), while the weighing of empirical evidence is the realm of science. And that is the most reliable way to gain knowledge which is actually accurate. (We need other ways of gaining knowledge, such as authority, because it takes too long for us to personally test everything, but empirical observation and testing remain the best way to get accurate information.)
    It’s almost obvious when you put it that way. The surprise for me is how *much* information you can get from the absolutely minimal assumptions made in scientific research. You might think you wouldn’t get enough to do anything interesting, but instead we get enough to enable astounding advances in technology.

  41. Ryan Sprague says

    An insightful post. Certainly it is difficult to defend the “religion” you have constructed herein, and I can’t say that your construction is incorrect from my own experiences and knowledge. I was taught that hell did exist as a child, and believed it did until I actually started reading through the bible and asking questions. It is interesting to me that many of the issues with “religion” that we see (particularly American Christianity) defy what I consider a nuanced, intelligent reading of the bible. Doubt is allowed for, as is questioning, the focus is almost entirely on the present (there are only two books that deal specifically with eschatology explicitly, and some scattered verses elsewhere), and if I recall correctly the person “Jesus” strongly emphasized doing good in the present, not burdening people with legalism, taking care of others, etc. I don’t believe that Jesus, or “the Buddha”, or many other people necessarily intended to begin their own religious tradition, but it happened anyway.
    I would hope that we could find a way to break down this “armor of God” you talk about. It is uniquely troubling, and one of the reasons why I look forward to spending more time living in Japan. =)

  42. says

    I’m still confused on how religion is different in kind from other institutions or belief systems. All the various tangible evils you list are not exclusive to religion. You even point this out: blind devotion to any ideology (Communism, for example) results in the same outcomes.
    I guess I’m confused on how “unverifiable” is any worse than “verifiable but never actually verified.” You talk about how a verifiable claim is eventually brought to task and the ideology behind it shifts or collapses as a result. Doesn’t this happen to religion? Isn’t the very existence of atheism evidence that people do hold religion to task and find it lacking? And hasn’t religion in general adjusted itself more in line with (supposedly) rational secular life, especially over the last century, due to these challenges? I can’t see a difference in kind, here. The crumbling of religion is just a lot slower than that of other ideologies.

  43. says

    lierinwait said:
    “I’m still confused on how religion is different in kind from other institutions or belief systems.”
    It’s because the feedback step comes after death – it is impossible to verify religious claims.
    lierinwait said:
    “I guess I’m confused on how “unverifiable” is any worse than “verifiable but never actually verified.””
    It’s different because it never will be verified. How do you know there’s no lake of fire? It’s illogical, sure, but it’s impossible for a modern explorer to say, “Yup, we found Hell. The Catholics were right.”
    Communism, capitalism, any real-world belief system has tangible results in the real world. You can form hypotheses and predictions, and then test them against reality, and then modify your beliefs.
    That is impossible with religion.
    So yes – people may come to the conclusion that their belief is illogical, just as with any belief system. But it’s not built-in.

  44. Dave X says

    On reading this, I remembered David Brin’s saying “Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error, or CITOKATE. This Armor of God makes religion impervious to criticism, and removes the single known antidote to error.

    Maybe a good question to ask before wasting time with the armored is “How can you know if you are wrong?”

  45. says

    What about religious music? Got you there, eh?

    More seriously, I wonder sometimes if the best thing about Christianity is the music, and sometimes I wonder if it’s the only positive thing. I challenge Christians to be certain music isn’t the greatest legacy the faith leaves us; so rarely does anyone rise to the challenge.

  46. nude0007 says

    You are such a great writer! I am always baffled when people do not get this. Well said indeed!

  47. says

    What an amazing rehash of fatally flawed anti-theistic arguments.

    1. Places where theistic beliefs interact with the physical world are open to critiques, and always have been. The vast majority of theistic beliefs are not in contradiction with any scientific evidence.

    2. False dichotomy attempting to relate truth vs. lies to good vs. evil.

    Another sad attempt to justify hate instead of fighting the actual causes of suffering.

  48. DSimon says

    Places where theistic beliefs interact with the physical world are open to critiques, and always have been.

    I’m glad you believe this, but many religious people do not. You can consider this argument to be addressed to them, not to you.

    The vast majority of theistic beliefs are not in contradiction with any scientific evidence.

    This is highly questionable; consider how many people believe in creationism, or spiritual healing.

    Regardless, it still remains true that the vast majority of theistic beliefs fail any reasonable standard of evidence: they perhaps may not contradict anything, but neither are they supported by anything. That is the main point of the article.

    False dichotomy attempting to relate truth vs. lies to good vs. evil.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this, can you go into more detail?

  49. Nathanael says

    I’m tying this into the religion=fandom essay, and it seems that the fundamental problem with religion is not merely that it has no reality check, but that it does so *while making claims about reality*, unlike, say, Star Trek fandom.

    Not having any reality check would be OK if you were not actually making any claims about reality. But reality demands reality checks!

    When I put it that way it seems almost tautological.

  50. annabucci says

    “The Proof Is Not in the Pudding”

    This header doesn’t make since because the saying is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

  51. David Beorn says

    Faith is NOT belief without proof, just trust without reservation

    Great article – as a Bible believing Christian, I agree with most of what you said. But I know few people who are this simplistic in their belief in God or their approach to their religious beliefs. It reminds me a bit of the “9 Questions To Not Ask an Atheist” – you seem to make the same assumption about “us” that you say we make about you – that we are lacking in humanity or thoughtfulness, etc. You paint a picture of a bunch of DOLTS who not only believe differently than you but “run the world”. It’s no wonder you’re so “angry”. No doubt that people like that exist. Hitler was a Christian in name only – he may have thought he was following Christian beliefs but think about it!! The Bible calls the Jewish people the “God’s chosen people” – why would He want to exterminate them?

    Anyway, maybe all the people like that only hang out with the atheists (sorry – just a joke, don’t be so sensitive) but other than the crusades, which were done by “Catholics” (I would say in name only) and the pedophile priests (who I’m SURE knew they were not abiding by Christian belief, but did play off their influence and power – but some teachers also do this NOT in the name of or by influence of the church or religion) I can’t think of any vast evil done by Christians. Now, if you want to make the argument that George Bush or other presidents made decisions after praying to God and thought they got confirmation of their decision from God, well we’ll never know, will we? And that part is true – it’s unverifiable. And it affects many lives. But he could make the same decision without consulting God.

    Now, as to “faith” – you say you have no need for it but every time you talk about evolution, you exercise a sort of faith in the “evidence” for it. Despite what the evolutionist say, there are no transitional forms (we’re talking MACRO evolution here, not variation within genus or species, which is micro evolution and happens frequently.). And if it happened over millions or billions of years, there should be tons of them. So neither of us will likely have proof on that question, since we were not there. Piltdown man, Java man, Lucy and others were all pointed to as transitional forms – until they were proved to be a hoax or a mistake or someone who was diseased – I suppose they don’t talk about them much anymore…

    I’m also a mechanical engineer, who rejected evolution in the 10th grade (before I believed in God) because it didn’t make sense, from a scientific basis (millions of years and so “FEW”, at that time, transitional forms – now I know even those were false). Galileo and and many other scientists have been Christians, who fought to have the church accept science as a valid proof of things in our world.

    So we disagree on a few points but I don’t disagree with you that the power can be abused. And I would be right there WITH you to root it out but I don’t think throwing away God and faith is the answer. I believe it because I think it’s true, not as “fire insurance”. You “believe” in Atheism because you think it’s true and come by it honestly. None of the leaders of our churches should demand or expect blind devotion – mine have always welcomed an informed skepticism and an intelligent approach to our faith, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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