Why Religion and God are Unnecessary in the Modern World

I was originally going to publish this at Associated Content but they don't give up front payments for opinion articles so I published it there under a non-exclusive license and will publish it else where including my blog.

Beliefs in gods is as old as civilization as is religion. But is the belief in god(s) and religion necessary? Does it benefit society or does it harm society? It is my belief that a belief in god(s) and religion are not necessary and are harmful to society.
In this article I hope to show that religion and a belief in god(s) are not only unnecessary in the modern world but are harmful to society

What is religion
When dealing with religion it is necessary to understand what religion is. Merriam-Webster give four definitions three are applicable to the use of "religion" in this article:
1 a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
-Merriam-Websters online dictionary
Though in my opinion a better definition would be "a belief system pertaining to a god, gods and the supernatural"

Defining "god"
The word "god" in the modern English speaking world usually refers to the Christian god but the word "god" is not limited to that one meaning. The word "god" could mean any creature from a creator of the universe not necessarily super natural to a powerful supernatural being not necessarily the creator of the universe to an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being.
For clarity purposes when I discuss the Christian/Jewish god I will refers to it as "Yahweh" rather than "God" and when I use the word "god" unless I am discussing a specific god I will use it in a vague sense.

History of religion
The belief in gods has existed sense the dawn of civilization and probably predates civilization. Historically people believed in many gods in fact historically polytheism was the rule rather than the exception. These gods usually ether governed or were personifications of aspects of nature and humanity.
But where did the idea of gods come from? Humans have a tenancy to see agency where there is none[1] and people thousands of years ago lacked the knowledge of how the world worked, why the sun moved across the sky, why it rains, etc. These two things came together to produce primitive religion, people explained unexplained phenomena with gods spirits and other supernatural agents.
But where did monotheism come from? Ancient polytheistic religions had many gods but they didn't necessarily worship every god in a pantheon, some worshiped a single god but believed in others. This is called henotheism. There is evidence that ancient Israelites were henotheistic. The use of the word "us" and "our" instead of "I" and "my" in Genesis[2] indicate that the ancient Israelites were polytheistic. The first commandment indicates that the ancient Israelites believed in other gods but worshiped Yahweh above all other gods[3] and there are indications that the ancient Israelites believed Yahweh was the greatest of the gods[4]. It is not clear at what point but at some point the Israelites changed from a henotheism to monotheism[5].
While Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion in existence today it was by no means the first. Atenism is a religion started by Pharaoh Akhenaten in the 1350's BCE. The only god of it was the Aten, a sun god. The religion was the state religion of Egypt during the reign Akhenaten. After the death of Akhenaten the succeeding Pharaoh Tutankhamun restored Egypts state religion. Later Pharaohs disassembled Akhenaten's temples and erased Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Ay (the Pharaoh who succeeded Tutankhamun) from the official list of Pharaohs and attempted to erase them from Egyptian written history.[6][7]

Effects religion and theism have on the modern world
Before I go on I want to say that I know most religious people in the developed world and non-religious people who believe in a god or gods are not bad people nor would they try to block or censer information or scientific findings that contradict their beliefs. But they are not the problem.

The main problem with religion particularly theistic religion is that they are authoritarian in nature and it is that authoritarian nature that makes it dangerous. Whether the authority is Yahweh, Allah, some other god, the king of the gods, priests, preachers, rabbis, mullahs, or a book, the authority is the authority and the authority is right regardless of what others or you say and think. The authority is not to be questioned.
This is exemplified in Islamic terrorism; those who fight and kill the infidels are "martyrs" and will go to heaven. They are on the side of Allah and Allah supports their action. This in their minds justifies actions like attacking civilian targets including woman and children. They believe they are justified in the eyes of Allah so they can do such things and get reworded for them in the afterlife no matter how illogical, irrational or how ineffective the tactics are.
The creationism movement in the U.S. also exemplifies it; the bible is true and inerrant, science contradicts genesis thus science is wrong no matter what the evidence says. This is exacerbated by the idea that their version of Christianity is the right one and those that do not follow the Christian religion are doomed to suffer in hell forever. So they end up trying to push their religion into schools and when that fails they try to push a pseudoscience into schools in order to try and replace scientific theories with theistic explanations.[8]
But the best example are those who attempt to justify Yahweh or Allah cruelty in the bible or Qur'an and the Christian or Muslim concept of hell (the eternal suffering one, not the modern concept of a separation from Yahweh/Allah/god) by arguing that Gods actions are always good because he is God. That no matter how cruel and evil an action obviously is, it is good because God is the creator of the universe.
Its not hard to imagine how such authoritarian mindsets can have profound effects on the world. Imagine some one with a mental illness having such a mindset, some one in a position of power with such a mindset or someone with access to the nuclear button who has such a mindset.

Religion promotes beliefs in unsubstantiated claims; the existence of god(s), demons, magic, spirits, the afterlife, etc. These beliefs in unsubstantiated claims do effect how people view them selves and the world.
While in the developed world most people have left ideas of demons and magic behind and their beliefs in spirits are limited to souls and mostly harmless ghosts but in the in parts of the world that are more superstitious these beliefs still exist. In many parts of the world people are still killed for being witches[9][10][11][12][13]. But aren't these witch hunts caused by superstition and ignorance not religion? Of course superstition and ignorance plays a large part but religion plays a part too. According to the bible and qu'ran magic does exist[14][15] and the bible says to kill witches[16].
Like magic according to the bible demons exist[17] in fact the bible says Jesus gave his disciples the ability to exorcise demons[18]. While Islam doesn't have demons in the same way Christianity does, it does has the Jinn; super natural creatures that live in a separate world from humans yet are able to interact with humans and this world. They are not all evil but they can be. The Islamic devil (Iblis) rather than being an angel is a jinn. The jinn (like demons) can possess people taking over their mind and body, evil jinn can cause misfortune though possession like demons[19]. The belief in demons and spirit possession has cost countless people their hard earned money and even their lives. Many people have spent millions to remove demons or evil spirits that they think are causing the problems in their life's and many have died in botched exorcisms.[20]
While the belief in an afterlife may not seem like it would cause harm, it can. Islamic suicide bombers believe that they will be reworded in the afterlife as martyrs. Those that believe that they are doing gods work believe they will be reworded for it in the afterlife even if this "work involves killing or otherwise doing harm to others.
For those who believe in miracles faith healing is quite reasonable. Many have been taken in by those who claim they can heal with the power of god. Many even forgo real medical treatment instead relying on god to heal them. Worse some even refuse to get their children medical treatment instead they rely on prayer and god to heal them.[21]

Religion is a divisive force in the world. History is rife with religious wars, violence and oppression. wars between Christianity and Islam, Islam and Hinduism, Protestants and Catholics, pagans and Christians, Muslims and Jews, oppression of pagans, Jews, Muslims, Christians and people in other religions, atheists, woman and homosexuals.
There are people on both sides who view the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a war between Islam and Christianity, something it should never be and if it were to be would only cause death and suffering.
Between the many denominations of Christianity, Sunni and Shi'a Islam, Hinduism and other miner religions, all claiming that their religion is the correct and true religion and with Christianity and Islam saying that those that do not accept it (Christianity or Islam) are going to hell forever. It is not hard to see why religion causes such violence.

There are many things in the world that people fight for. Politics, philosophy, power, money, resources, land, water, food. Religion adds one more thing to fight for. Unlike politics and philosophy it is not innate and unlike resources, food and water you do not need religion or god(s) to survive.

Of course religion has done some good in the world and it would be dishonest of me not to mention the good its done. Hospitals have been built by religious organizations, religious charities have helped allot of people. But there is a dark side to these benefits.
Many religious based charities discriminate in their hiring practices and and giving of funds. Many Religious based charities use their funds to proselytize as much as help, taking advantage of people plight to spread their religion.
Christian hospitals refuse to give the morning after pill to rape victims making rape victims have to go and buy it them selves. Something that makes the experience worse and more humiliating. Even then they may not be able to get it due to pharmacists refusing to sell it for religious reasons.[22].

While religion and a belief in god(s) may have once given humans answers to questions they had no answers to, those answers were wrong and we now have science giving us testable explanations for the phenomena in the universe. As for question that are out side the scope of science we can always turn to philosophy.
We don't need religion or god(s) and further more religion has negative effects on people and society. Which means it is more than unnecessary it should be eliminated. That is not to say I believe religion and theism should be outlawed, far from it. I believe people have a right to their beliefs regardless of whether I or any one else agrees with those beliefs or not.

Of course many will disagree with me and they will have counter arguments. I will deal with some of those counter arguments here before they are made. But I will not get them all.

"You are just looking at the negative aspects of religion, it has many positive aspects as well."
It is true that religion has positive aspects to it but that does not take away from the negative impacts it has. Over all religions impacts on people and society are negative.

"You can't prove God does not exist."
That is debatable, depending on what you mean by "god" I believe I can but that is not what I set out to do in this article, I set out to show that god(s) are unnecessary and religion is unnecessary and ultimately harmful to society.

"With out God and religion, where does morality come from?"
Morality is a natural emergent property of social intelligent animals. All social animals have rules for their groups and these rules are instinctual. Humans are social animals and have these instinctual rules however we have inelegance and a grater capacity to learn and adapt which often overrides our instinctual rules. As social animals, we need rules to our society, with out rules society would collapse and given that we as population and as individuals benefit from this social structure it is advantageous to maintain these rules.

"But look at the universe. All this could not have come by chance, there has to be a designer."
No one said that life and the universe all came about by chance. While our understanding of how life formed, evolved and how the universe developed is incomplete we do have a fairly good understanding of them and it was not by chance.
I would like to go deeper into the subject but that is not the topic of this article.

"With out God life is meaningless and with out purpose."
Life does have meaning and purpose with out a god. Many atheists find meaning and purpose in their life and many theists find meaning and purpose not related to their theism.

"But that morality, meaning and purpose is not objective."
For something to be objective it would have to be real or true even in a universe with out any sentient creatures including gods. God given morality, meaning and purpose is no more objective than my morality, meaning and purpose.

"Religion and God gives people hope."
Yes but it has also caused death and destruction. And you don't need religion or god for hope, people can find hope in things other than god.

"God has led people away from life's of drugs and excess."
It wasn't god that changed their life's. People don't just change their lives on a whim or after hearing a few lines out of some holy book. The circumstances of their lives at that point have to such that they want to change their life's. It is not god that changes them, it is them that change.

"God gives people strength."
That strength didn't come from god, it was their strength, it came from them. They just attribute it to god.

"Religion brings people together."
And as said above: it divides people.

"All this is just opinion."
I never said it was otherwise.

"You are an atheist."
Yes I am.

1. Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World
2. Genesis 1:26, Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7
3. Exodus 20:3-5
4. Exodus 12:12, Exodus 15:11, Exodus 18:11, Numbers 33:4, Deuteronomy 3:24, Deuteronomy 10:17, 1 Chronicles 16:25
5. 1 Kings 18:39, Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 46:9
6. Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Aten
7. Pharaoh Akhenaten The Heretic King of Egypt
8. Wedge Strategy
9. The Witch Killers of Africa (2003)
10. Witch Hunts in Africa
11. Modern Day Witch Hunt
12. The Literal Witch Hunts in Saudi Arabia
13. Rural India Targets Women in Witch Hunts
14. Islam and Magic
15. What does the Bible say about magic, magicians, illusionists?
16. Exodus 22:18
17. What does the Bible say about demons?
18. Matthew 10:1-8, Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1
19. Concept of Djinn/Jinn/Ghosts/Genie in Islam
20. What's the harm in exorcisms?
21. What's the harm in believing in faith healing?
22. The Wait in a Catholic Hospital After Rape

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Comment by Sonny Mobley on February 2, 2010 at 12:11pm
Nice. For me the fact that there is no god will always be reason enough to abolish religion. Any set of positives and negatives is just icing on the cake.
Comment by Dave on February 1, 2010 at 9:23pm
A tendency to envision the contemporary world dramatically and apocalyptically as a ‘clash of civilisations’ – most saliently, Christianity and Islam - has been vigorously boosted by our exposure to terrorism and extremism in recent decades. A thoughtful approach to this, such as then one Lone Wolf is outlining here, recognises implicitly that the more one knows about religion the better, and that any mode of enquiry based on careful observation, constructive hypothesis and objective analysis can only be beneficial. However, among the many possible approaches there is a distinctive difference – a preferential one, no doubt – between those that focus most closely on history and civilisation and those that seek to understand the present through prehistorical and evolutionary perspectives. These approaches are, of course, usefully complementary. The latter type makes the assumption that constructing plausible hypotheses about the distant origins of religion and morality will help to explain and enlighten our understanding of the present. These are, I think, very reasonable assumptions. They emerge in cognitive anthropology, evolutionary psychology, supported by biogenetic and neuroscientific research, and I simply add this as a footnote to Lone Wolf’s interesting exposition.

The work of anthropologists Dan Sperber and Pascal Boyer tends to deflate simplistic clash-of-civilisations theses by widening the scope of enquiry well beyond the major religions of literate cultures, and by looking for commonalities among human groups in terms of cognitive architecture, the transmissibility of cultural concepts, psychological dispositions strengthened through natural selection, and so forth. Boyer points out for example that ‘[t]he reason why psychologists and anthropologists are so concerned with acquisition and transmission is that evolution by natural selection gave us a particular kind of mind so that only particular kinds of religious notions can be acquired’ (Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors, London: Vintage, 2002:21). This kind of observation narrows the field by casting doubt on the intuitive speculation that anyone can believe anything – that is, ‘we cannot hope to explain religion if we just fantasise about the way human minds work’ (ibid: 36). Boyer goes on to develop a detailed thesis that, across cultures, ontological concepts with some measure of counter-intuitive elaboration added as a ‘tag’ are those which become most transmissible. This allows a kind of rapprochement to be made between, say, a dead human who comes back to life, intelligent statuettes (ibid: 42), or ebony trees that overhear conversations (ibid: 82). The advantage of this breadth of inclusion is that it works against any tendency to represent the world of religion mainly in terms of its best-known players.

Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd claim succinctly that ‘[c]ulture is part of biology’ (Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press: 4). They are sceptical of approaches that attempt to address aberrant and pathological cultural behaviours in the modern world (such as the conflictual violence arising from religious commitments referred to by Lone Wolf) without following an explanatory path through the co-evolution of culture and evolutionary biology. One argument against this view is that cultural evolution, which readily absorbs chronologically any discussion of, say, polytheism and monotheism, has already so outpaced biological evolution by natural selection that one may simply reject the latter as irrelevant to 21st century problems. To address this argument, we do of course need to have evidence that ancient psychological predispositions and cognitive architecture – those of the Pleistocene, for example – continue to form part of the neurophysiological and cognitive profile of modern humans and thus influence culture and behaviour. We also need to show how this kind of argument may find itself identifying with 'blank slate' views of human psychology, which deny any inherited human predispositions for acquiring certain kinds of knowledge and engaging in certain kinds of cultural behaviour. Such theorised predispositions can be seen as abilities to readily discover 'truths' in the physical and social environment, and evolutionary psychologist John Tooby et al ackowledge that 'it is hard to convince blank slate advocates that no possible architecture of truth-discovery or relationship extraction would be able to account for the development of these competences without recourse to evolved content-dependent functional specializations' (John Tooby, Leda Cosmides & H. Clark Barrett, Resolving the Debate on Innate Ideas, in Carruthers, P, Lawrence, S and Stich, S [eds.], The Innate Mind:Structure and Content, New York: Oxford UP, 2005: 314). However, despite methodological problems, there is a solid basis for acknowleding the existence and functionality of such cognitive architecture, and increasing evidence that it cannot simply be ignored in our approach to religion in the modern world.

Thanks, LW, for stimulating this debate.
Comment by Robert McLean on February 1, 2010 at 6:24pm
It's positive that you're able to offer at least the visage of something positive that comes from religious belief. I do however agree with you that the negatives outweigh the positives in sooo many ways. The story yesterday about the xian group 'spiriting' Hatian children, supposedly orphans out of Haiti (interviews on TV last night would suggest that the children are not orphans) lie #1, no doubt of many. Thankfully rational people like Richard Dawkins and his foundation have established a path for non-belivers to assist financially. The good work that xian charity's undertake is tempered by their stated aim to first and foremost spread the word, teach them to read bloody bibles and then if they're good give them a bit to eat. They are recruiting, then assisting. There is a cost, that cost is blind belief in the superstitious nonsense they are selling to traumatised people. It's time for governments to step in and take over the delivery of aid. What about John Travolta, flying his huge personal jet with 4 tons of supplies and (i read) 50 Scientologist "pastors"to "assist"! With what?

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