The following is a piece I wrote for another board after a prolonged and largely fruitless discussion with a pair of young, indoctrinated theists, whose naivete not just about their beliefs and religions but how those beliefs and religions interact with our world was downright frightening. I found that I was moved to write a rebuttal to their insistent cluelessness, and have further opted to bring that post here.
To us, most of this post is intuitively obvious. Kindly bear with me if I cover no new ground. The problem in the main is that we're the only ones to whom it is so.
I particularly want to thank sacha for the James Randi quote. It said in a few words what I approximated with a lot more.
I have recently been in discussing the relative merits (or lack thereof) of islam and christianity with a couple youngsters. Doubtless, they wouldn't care much for that appellation, but then I am considerably older than they are and yes, considerably more experienced. I have seen the benefits and detriments of their respective religions and have come to the inalterable conclusion that the latter far outweighs the former. That goes for the personal, the societal and the global levels, by the way.
In an age characterized by science, technology and growth and development based on rational, objective criteria, religion is clearly anathema and anachronistic. Any analysis of any religion I am aware of boils down to a faith based on a book or books, none of which has any independent corroboration or historical referent. Put bluntly, they are baseless ... and yet people persist in their beliefs and further, insist that theirs is the One True Belief.
And because of that One True Belief and wrongs against it, real, perceived or otherwise, a lot of blood has been spilled, rights have been abridged, and an enormous amount of political and social wrangling has taken place over nothing. Obviously, that “nothing” wasn't considered to be so in the days when religion was all there was. Oh, philosophy was there, waving its hands in much the same fashion religion was, sometimes with the deity, sometimes without, but what it contributed to mankind's understanding of the reality we inhabit was not much more substantial. If nothing had come along to challenge religion's essential monopoly on reality as it saw it, there would likely be no problem at all.
Something did come along: science. While there is no particular demarcation point which states: “Science started HERE,” I tend to lean on the heliocentric model for the solar system as being one of the first if not the first principle which was quantified by scientific research and experiment and almost immediately challenged as heresy by the church. In the intervening four centuries from then to now, the discipline of science has virtually remade the world we live in, from the ways we travel to the ways we communicate, treat diseases, and most of all, LEARN. Science has done it by being curious, by asking, “What?” and “Why?” and “How?” and “What If?” then working tirelessly to find answers for those questions.
Meantime, religion has done its level best not only NOT to change, but to restrain if not arrest the progress science has delivered to us. From Copernicus onward, scientific observations and discoveries have been labeled, “heresy,” “against scripture,” or “contrary to the natural order.” The price was high to contravene biblical or pastoral diktat. Giordano Bruno was executed; Galileo Galilei censured and subjected to house arrest, and there was always the threat of excommunication at the very least, hovering within striking range. Four hundred years later, stem cell research amounts to baby-killing in their eyes. Jehovah’s Witnesses deplore blood transfusions. Galileo and Bruno have been forgiven their trespass, but apparently Bruno is still guilty of heresy.
Here is a crucial point: science evolves, religion does NOT. Science is constantly building on what it knows, investigating new phenomena, enhancing its understanding of older discoveries, and constantly pushing out to learn more. Religion, if it changes at all, changes with glacial slowness and a studied reluctance. Religion thinks of itself as an absolute, complete in and of itself and not needing anything further. It treats its standards as perfect, sacrosanct, applicable to any time and any place. It treats the words of its holy book as being the revealed will of its deity, unchangeable and adamantine … and it couldn’t be more wrong.
Whether religion wishes to acknowledge it or not, mankind has evolved, perhaps not uniformly and perhaps not with blinding speed, but we are not the shepherds and gladiators and merchants and power brokers who lived in the times when these books were penned. Slavery is no longer an accepted usage. We eat pork and shellfish and do not suffer for it. Women are not property, and in a large portion of the world are treated equally with men. And slowly but surely we are recognizing that one’s sexual preference is not a choice, but inborn in the person, and slowly but surely, we are losing our fear of them, recognizing them for the people they are, and incorporating them fully into our society.
Look at any instance where progress is actively resisted, especially with irrational reasoning as its justification, and there is a strong likelihood that you will find religion at its base. Logic and reason will not be found in the arguments against, but the basis of the opposing rationale will ultimately be revealed in a chapter or verse or sura of a tome which is venerated by believers of one faith or another. Opponents will assert that this or that is abhorrent to the will of their deity, that it is blasphemous, heretical, or profane, but they will not be able to bring one rational argument to support their position. They will claim that some progress is in opposition to life, saying that all life is sacred, while their holy books are a tattoo of death and destruction at the behest of their deities. “We are the source of morality!” they will cry, ignoring both the perfidies carried out in the name of their faith, as well as other references which teach morals and ethics with equal efficacy which have nothing to do with their dogma.
For a long time, people have treated religion as “harmless” or a semi-necessary mechanism needed to keep humankind in line. I submit that there is no function of religion which is so necessary to society that it cannot be accomplished by other means. I assert that religion itself is a boat anchor chained to our collective ankles, holding humanity back from what it can achieve unfettered, and that religion’s claim to goodness and purity and charity is in large portion a shibboleth, that religion’s primary goal is its own self-maintenance, along with the continuance of its influence and power other others.
I further assert that the deity of these religions has neither substance nor means of demonstration, but is a persistent figment of the imaginations of those who have been indoctrinated into belief in it. Something which does not exist cannot help us, but chronic dependence on something which fails to exist does active harm to all of us. We need to drop the naiveté, discard the superstitions, grasp reality and engage it directly, without the rose-colored glasses. We need to learn that we can do good not because of the promise of heaven or the threat of hell but because it feels good, because it helps us and our neighbor and that the thou-shalt-nots really help nothing and no one. In short, we need to grow out of our fear and shed that which has perpetuated that fear.
In closing, I would offer the following words from a man who has long rejected superstition, myth and “woo” and done his level best to embrace reality and encourage others to do likewise:
I suggest that we might want to depose this incumbent God and start dealing with
The Real World. He's proven — time and again — to be cruel, capricious, and
vindictive. He drowns, crushes, burns, and starves millions of us every day. He
created cancer, viruses, and germs to invade and destroy our bodies as He sees
fit, and uses them very effectively. In His wisdom, He directed those in charge
to impede stem cell research so that such a powerful approach would not be
available to us and He wouldn't have to strain the Divine Intellect to disarm
that defense. We amuse Him as we flail about vainly trying to appease Him. I
vote that we dump Him.
– James Randi