Today on Twitter, I was asked “Why are you so fixated on religion if you believe it is so untrue?”:
Twitter is an amazing tool for engaging with people in real time, but it’s not brilliant for answering questions like this or really getting your point across, especially when I have a propensity for verbosity. I mean, in less than 140 characters, this guy asked three different questions and made two statements I disagree with absolutely. (And “so untrue”? There are scales of untrue now..?)
So let me attempt to do this query justice and explain in detail why I am so fixated on religion, even though I believe it to be untrue.
Or to put it another way, why is religion bad?
I used to be satisfied just smiling and nodding whenever anyone would begin on the topic of religion. After all, I’m a civilised man – there’s no need to argue with someone over something as frivolous as their supernatural beliefs. I mean, it’s just not polite, is it?
But over time, I started to see what religion is doing to the world in which we live.
I’ll admit, at the grassroots level, it almost seems like a good idea; certainly, harmless enough. Religion provides a good deal of charity to communities, it offers support and guidance to those in need, and it fills advocacy roles which may be missed in government policies.
But at what price?
Before we continue, it’s not my intention to pick on any one religion – most of them have the same attributes: 1) belief in the supernatural, 2) a moral code with supernatural origins, and 3) the need to spread their “truth” to the uninitiated.
The only religion that doesn’t fit the above three characteristics is buddhism. Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is quoted as saying “Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.” Can you imagine the Pope saying don’t bother becoming a catholic?
(More: Why Buddhism Gets A Free Pass)
But let’s be clear here: christianity is the most pervasive and influential of all the religions, and their fundamentalist members are probably the biggest threat to civilised society. Islam is influential in that civilised society feels the need to tiptoe around their beliefs, and extremist muslims may appear prone to committing acts of violence, but muslims don’t hold the same amount of sway as christians do in the west.
So back on point: why is religion bad?
Well, here’s the thing – it isn’t so much what a person believes, but what follows as their behaviour that is harmful.
We’ve all seen the members of Westboro Baptist Church picketing military funerals, their kids in tow, waving their “God Hates Fags” signs. I think it’s safe to say, everyone outside of the WBC congregation find this behaviour appalling. Most of us would categorise these people as extremists, so perhaps they are an extreme example, but do you reckon they think they’re doing the Lord’s work?
So let’s look at some of the moderates: the Catholic church. They are opposed to using contraception because of a belief that dates back to the first centuries of Christianity, that sex must only be for procreation. Therefore, the only form of birth control permitted is abstinence. This hardline stance lead the current Pope Benedict XVI to claim that the use of condoms could make the African AIDS crisis worse. Every single study (not funded by the Catholic church themselves) has concluded that abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behaviour.
In fact, in the United States, where teen pregnancy rates are falling, teen pregnancy is highest in states that only offer abstinence-only education. A lack of sexual education also contributes to the spread of the disease. Abstinence-only is a fundamentalist christian-backed policy, and this abstinence-only education policy is an example of how it hurts society.
Another policy broadly supported by all the Abrahamic religions is the belief that homosexuality is wrong. In this modern age, it is understood that homosexuality occurs naturally, not only in humans, but all the animal species. (Homophobia, however, only occurs in one…) And you know what? There’s nothing that happens between a homosexual couple that doesn’t happen between hetrosexual couples.
But now we are getting closer to what I believe to be the answer to the question: why is religion bad?
As we’ve learned more and more about the world in which we live, the need for a supernatural explanation for questions on where we came from and why we’re here has diminished. It’s known as the “god of the gaps” argument: if science can’t explain how something happened, then god must be the explanation. Two thousand years ago, god was the explanation for a lot of things. These days, god has become an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time goes on.
And thus, as we learn more and more about the universe, our need for a supernatural explanation should be being diminished. Bertrand Russell said, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence. It will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.”
It should be fading away, but it’s not.
Religions are fighting back, recruiting the naive and the uneducated, and attempting to discredit the science and have their supernatural explanations taught alongside. For me, this is what makes religion so bad.
Someone didn’t just “make up science” one day. Everything we take for granted today, started out as an observation, which became an hypothesis, which lead to experiments, repeated experiments, the results of which are eventually submitted for peer review. Should the results eventually pass peer review and get published, other scientists (hoping to disprove the results) analyse the data for years, looking for inconsistencies. Should a hypothesis survive this treatment, only then does it become a scientific theory.
So when I hear “Evolution is only a theory” I’m just dumbfounded. That’s exactly right – what’s your point? As Tim Minchin says, “it is only a theory, it’s good that they say that. I think, it gives you hope, doesn’t it? That… that maybe they feel the same way about the theory of gravity, and they might just float the fuck away.”
That’s right, you know? There is just as much evidence for evolution as there is for gravity. Think about that for a minute…
The “creation” theory, on the other hand, does not stand up to peer review, no matter what you’ve learned in church. The bible is not proof of anything, the bible is the claim, or hypothesis. If it were to stand up to scientific scrutiny, I’d be more than happy to look at it, but the simple fact is, it does not.
Penn Jillette says this on the subject of science and religion: “There is no god, and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly the same way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”
The Dalai Lama has the right attitude about his religion: “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.” All other religions see science as a threat. But a threat to what?
It’s a threat to their vested interest, their way of life, their income, their livelihood. If people stopped going to church, and stopped tithing, religion would shrivel up and die. These new mega-churches don’t pay for themselves, you know..?
I find it ironic that the guy who asked me the question today – @GospelGuidance on Twitter – is launching a new website in the coming weeks which offers “gospel guidance” on a per minute rate, like a spiritual 1900 number… no, that’s not cynical at all!
Creationism is a last ditch effort for religion to remain relevant in an increasingly educated and secular society. While attempting to discredit the science, creationists only manage to muddy the waters, instilling enough doubt in the uneducated masses that their alternate theory might seem just as convincing.
And therein lies the problem. Why is religion bad? After centuries of scientific advancement, there is a movement afoot to drag us backwards so a supernatural belief system can survive another few years before finally fading into obscurity.
It would be a quaint notion, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s affecting society as a whole: bans on condoms and abortions threaten families; bans on using stem cells holds back medical research; justifying sexism and homophobia create an atmosphere of hate and separation; and forced genital mutilation of children is just about the single most fucked-up, barbaric throw-back to the bronze age I can think of.
Finally, amongst any group, you’re going to have your extremists. Islamic extremists are in the news a lot, but the fact is that it’s right-wing extremists (often fundamental christians) who commit have committed the most acts of terrorism in recent years:
The bottom line is that, as religions attempt to remain relevant, they are – whether inadvertently or deliberately – actually hurting our society.
Richard Dawkins says “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” Well that’s true, but I’m afraid religion is far more insidious than just wanting to stick their collective heads in the sand when it comes to the scientific evidence.
Religion matters to me as an atheist because it imposes it’s capricious morals on me in the form of laws.
Religion matters to me as an atheist because it acts to stifle funding for progression in science and technology. For example, religious institutions are pushing to prohibit stem cell research, which is one of the most promising medical fields known to us today.
Religion matters to me as an atheist because it imposes all sorts of psychological turbulence on it’s members, and cages children’s minds with indoctrination.
Religion matters to me as an atheist because atheists are actively discriminated against in supposedly public institutions. Take for instance, the boy scouts – a tax-payer funded institution – which do not allow atheists to take part in it’s program.
Religion is trying to remain relevant by discrediting scientific fact in order to dupe people into believing their lies. Religions are wrong, they are lying to you, and we can no longer afford to smile and nod politely.