Initially, I was going to post this as a rebuttal to refute the letter written by Bruce Sheiman and any misconceptions that fence-sitters may develop after reading Mr. Sheiman's book, "An Atheist Defends Religion
." Mr. Sheiman's letter to a reader is re-printed in another thread
that was posted by Noisican under the Ethics and Morals forum. Since my rebuttal to Mr. Sheiman's position is too long for a reply post on that existing discussion, I believe it merits its own discussion.
Mr. Sheiman's position (in short) is that since religion offeres many people comfort, happiness, and a sense of purpose in life, then it is only right to defend religion as a social good. I find several things wrong with that.
First, in the most well-known religions since the time of the Neolithic Revolution during the time of Hammurabi's Codified Law, religion caused more suffering than it brought happiness and comfort. History and archeology shows us by the excavation of ancient sites and analysis of recovered grave goods alone that for everyone who received "comfort" from religion, many more did not.
From the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution up through the end of the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and into the 19th century, women (half the human race) were frequently targeted for becoming fodder for religion — from ritual sacrifice to appease the gods/God, to extra punishments, torture and execution for violating gender-defined roles promoted and dictated by religion. Ruins of ancient ritual sites show us that victims of human sacrifice did not die nice, peaceful deaths. Many were unwilling. For them, the idea that religion brought them "comfort" or "happiness" is highly questionable. They were hewn down before the prime of their lives without getting much of the benefits that makes life worthwhile living.
In polytheistic religions in Meso-America as well as in ancient Europe and the regions known as the "Fertile Crescent", victims of human sacrifice were often violently killed in their youth. This does not even include all the atrocities and human rights violations that have occurred, and which are being occurred today, in the name of Abrahamic monotheism.
Additionally, religion always seemed to explain why some people were spared the cruelties of war and natural disasters, but not others, and this set a lot of people up for marginalization. It promoted an ideology that God (or the gods) favored this or that group, but not others. It's downright despicable when you think about it.
It's selfish and inconsiderate to say, "God spared me/my family" in a natural disaster. What kind of message does that send to others who weren't so fortunate? That they or their loved ones weren't "worthy" enough of God's favor to be spared? Or how about, "God was on my child's team's side" at high school sports events. What about the parents of the children on the other school's team? Why wasn't God on their team's side?
It is more than insulting to hear these kind of statements. But it is even more of an insult to my intelligence to be told that this is all somehow OK just because some
people are benefiting from religion, because such "benefits" frequently are not without expense or loss suffered by too many others. Women are still being told today across the US and other nations in the world that any extra suffering they're forced to bear as a consequence of divine decree from god will be made right in the afterlife. A preoccupation with the afterlife dismisses the importance of enjoying the one life you've got right now, and the importance of social responsibility to doing your part to make life suck just a little bit less for yourself and everyone else while you're here.
It is the weighing of benefits v. costs that must be examined honestly and painfully before making any apologia for religion as an overall social good.
As a fellow author, I respect Mr. Sheiman's honest endeavor to produce a book of compelling introspection. But his is not a position I can agree with. As one author to another, I would recommend reading his book but I would also have to recommend reading mine, Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie
, which is the antithesis to his noble effort.
As an atheist, and especially as a woman, I take greater comfort knowing that there are other like-minded men and women — from young to old — who recognize the importance of purging harmful dogma from societal influence. A preoccupation with an afterlife diminishes the value placed on the quality of life in THIS one. I would find greater comfort knowing that as a woman, it wasn't my predestined lot in life to have to suffer extra punishment, pain, misery, and injustice with the justification that I'll get my reward in some afterlife. So yeah, having harmful religious influences criticized and estopped from making so many people suffer in this life — knowing that in the end I'll be "worm food" — is
a greater comfort for me than any false hopes and empty promises offered by religion ever could be.