Dear religious planet,
I know you are probably not reading this if you are a theist, as you are probably put off by the title. However if you do decide to read, let me tell you now. While you may not like what I write in this letter, this is not intended to be merely a chance for me to offend you and your beliefs or sensibilities. Nor is it a chance for me to ridicule anyone, or say “I am right and you are wrong.”
What I intend to do here is put forward a reasoned and rational argument from an atheistic point of the issues we face as a society, why the ways of thinking that were once seen as acceptable are now harmful, and what are the obstacles we have before us all if we wish to continue to exist on this planet.
Religion is good for you
Religion has been a banner under which people can gather and can foster a great sense of community. People can feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie with others in their faith, and together can make for changes in society under the banners of shared belief. Religions preach peace, love and fellowship, charity and good-will to all mankind. Religion can give individuals some hope for the future when things are dire, and can give individuals strength to carry on in the face of adversity. It gives people the strength of conviction to fight for their beliefs, and to die for their God. And religions promise you a better life after this one, one without pain and suffering, where all you’ve ever wanted in your corporeal life is there for you.
Religious people have started charities and these charities make the lives of million people better by giving their time and money toward food and shelter, education and clean water. This is really a very good thing, and we could all learn a thing or two from those who are willing to give up their time and skills to help those who are in need.
And it is true that for some people, their religion can give a solid basis upon which to base the fabric of their lives.
The problem with religion
While religion can offer a certain sense of belonging for people, and can will people forward to have the strength to help others, and to help themselves, it does so under a series of false pretenses and at the expense of reasonable and rational thought.
Religion and the belief in a particular God divides people. It creates false boundaries between people and understanding based on the fact that one book says one thing, and the other says something different. It sets nation against nation, and can be used as an excuse to wage war and kill. It sets one man higher than the other on a scale of value, sets man against woman and causes turmoil in political circles.
It is also counter-intuitive. While we as a species have managed to sweep aside most superstitious and paranormal beliefs over the course of human history, we still cling to these fanciful notions of higher-power and Gods, even against our own better judgments. An intelligent person can be a molecular biologist or an astrophysicist, and counter to all they know, still cling to a grim hope that there is a God looking over them, protecting them and guiding them toward a better afterlife, despite any evidence to back it up. The main premise of religion is “If you believe, you are saved.”
Religion is so deeply ingrained in some societies and cultures as to become inseparable from daily life. For some it is indistinguishable from daily routine, and holds for some what they consider their core beliefs. And with this brings its own problems, such as judging people who hold different things sacred, or who have values that don’t match their own.
Religious beliefs separate mankind from the rest of the world. We are already separated by intelligence, reason, rational thought, informed choice, manual dexterity, foresight, hindsight, and a powerful sense of self, from the rest of animals on earth, but to step it up one further and make claims that the earth was placed here solely for the use of mankind is folly. Once we place mankind above all else, then the individual above that, we have effectively placed ourselves in the world as godlike creatures, the once reason for life on earth. This makes no sense from a scientific OR a moral perspective, once we look at the universe around us, for the life of a single human means little and has little consequence on the rest of the universe. We are already unique on this planet, why then claim that we are the most important thing on it?
Religion is self referential. “The Book Of God”, whichever one you choose, is considered the true word of God because it says so in the book. How trustworthy can the word of God be if it’s written by men? The defence of this point is that these people were privy to God’s words, and were special among mankind. But if I were to write a book that claimed it was the meaning of life, then backed it up by simply stating “This is the meaning of life” do you think anyone would take it seriously?
Religion is a perpetuation of the false father-child dichotomy, where God is the father of mankind, we are his children, and get rewarded or punished depending on how we act. It perpetually keeps the believer in a state of familial reverence of the God figure, making them believe that what they do, if they believe in it, is what is being directed upon them by their God. It’s an infantile state, where we depend on this God to make our decisions for us. We give up our personal freedoms for this father-figure, and trust that He will make the right decision for us based on what he wants for us to do. If we make our God happy, we go to heaven, if we don’t we go to hell.
The belief in God or gods in this day and age is particularly harmful. The reason I say this is that we stand at a time where the planet itself is in peril, and we need to all be thinking about the future of ourselves and the earth in order for us to continue to exist here. At this time it is crucial that we examine where we are, and how we are to move forward as a species to best meet the greater challenges being faced by humanity.
Religion takes away blame for the individual. To simplify it horribly, one can do pretty much anything they want in this life, ask for forgiveness, and be granted an afterlife. Or as long as someone is faithful to their God and preys, no matter what they do, they will be forgiven and be granted a place in heaven. No need to look after the earth or its people, life is just a precursor for the “real show” up in heaven. And all you have to do is jump through a few hoops and God will be so impressed that he will give you a seat in the sky with everyone you’ve ever loved and known. There is really no justification to look after the environment, because some people believe that God himself will destroy the earth, and all the faithful will be swept away to paradise, leaving behind the wicked and the sinful to fight it out with the Devil on the accursed earth.
So by all this baggage that religion brings with it, we become divided, disenfranchised and demoralised because of the belief of other and by our own beliefs. The counter-productive and counter-intuitive nature of religious beliefs hold us back, makes us make bad decisions based in our belief-system. It divides people, it’s archaic and counter intuitive, it’s self-aggrandising, it causes conflict and sits at the core of so may societies who believe they are chosen over their neighbours. And being written by men, who are fallible, don’t you think it’s possible that they had their own agendas, wanted to move their culture in a certain direction, or just plain got it all wrong?
And it gets worse
Irrational beliefs give rise to irrational action. Because people of religious beliefs feel so strongly about their faith, and it is ingrained in their psyches, it can cause people to make decisions to defend their beliefs and faith with rigour, and go so far as to defend them with violence.
There are plenty of examples historically where people have gone to war against others in the name of their religion. People who kill one another in the name of their God do so with the assumed backing of their chosen superior being. The problems in the middle-east are testament to this, where political problems about borders take the guise of a religious conflict, because the lands themselves are held sacred by the religions themselves.
But it’s not just war people wage against each other. Honour killings, stonings, being burned alive, riots and lootings, rape, domestic violence, kidnapping, torture, infanticide, and any number of other reprehensible acts have been enacted invoking the name of a god.
Civil wars have raged for years between peoples of the same religion, where the conflict arises because of a slightly different interpretation of the same book. Sunni and Shia muslims fight each other because of political difference, which over time have taken on religious significance for the parties involved. Also, Protestants fight Catholics, whose religious difference stem from an age-old disagreement between the people about how to best interpret the “true word of God”, which then became a territorial and political fight.
But it’s not all violence either. Far more ingrained in our societies are prejudices and injustices served up in the name of God. Misogyny and sexism, homophobia, racism et al. While religion may not be the cause of these problems, religious doctrine is often served up as the excuse for them to happen.
People can justify these misdeeds by simply stating “In God’s name” or “It’s the will of God”.
People misuse religion by using these very strong feelings people have to justify their own political agendas. George W Bush while in power used his God-given directives to justify so much killing in the middle-east as to become a caricature of himself, and here in Australia political parties are using the pre-established strength of the church to see their belief systems pushed out into education, and their values pushed onto society at large. People always harp on about the separation of church and state, but that is rarely the case.
The bottom line
So there are plenty of reasons why religion and religious belief poses problems for us in society today, but the main problem is one of rationality. Our world is in turmoil, and we must do something to overcome the massive problems we face today, and fast, before it is too late to recover. Unless we can find a way to all get along without things such as religious values, doctrine and dogma getting in the way, we are all in for one hell of a bumpy ride. The longer we as a species hold on to outdated and outmoded societal models, the more difficult it will be to develop ways to fix the turmoil in the world. We need to be rational and reasonable with our decisions of for the world and its people, and unfortunately religious beliefs stand in the way of this for so many people, because so many of the tenets of religion are based upon fallacious foundations, and the tentacles of religious dogma reach far into our cultures and societies.
I do not say these things because I dislike religious people. In fact, most people of most beliefs I have ever met are just like me; they want to be happy, they want to be healthy, they want to get on with their lives in peace, and they want to have a future for this planet and the people on it. I say these things because I see no way for us all to be able to make reasoned decisions if our minds are clouded with stories of afterlife and whispers from above. We all have to see religion for what it is. Shielding humanity from the truth and potentially denying us a future.