I have many misgivings when it comes to religion. It calls for unquestioning faith and treats it as a virtue and is condemning of those who dare to even question the authority of their scriptures. Even though I was brought up in a non-religious but largely political family, I had no dogma to rally against at home. I am sorry to say that the outside world has given me cause for great concern and more so now that I am a mother myself. I have read Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris and have drawn my own conclusions. I read them entirely out of my own curiosity and take them as valid and interesting view points. They disected the varying arguments brilliantly but it is easy to see how religious apologists would view them as Atheist scripture when they most have been conditioned to regard anything written in critical opposition as just such an animal. This is just the point; something written down does not make it either true or sacrosanct rules to live by. We can read a novel without having to believe it is absolute truth and then live by its politics. Books can be hugely influential and inspiring but that does not mean they are a stalwart attempt to convert readers to one school of thought or another, so why can’t otherwise rational people treat religious scripture in the same light? Should not these ancient and contradicting texts be laid to rest on the bookshelves of time along with the Greek, Norse, Celtic and other mythologies?
Christopher Hitchens, in his book, God is Not Great, asked some very stirring questions that I have asked time and time again when confronted on my own doorstep by a follower of some Christian society trying to recruit me to their number. Not surprisingly they would not just go away and take my ‘not interested’ as an answer. They sigh deeply, tell me they feel very sad for me and ask me what terrible thing I have undergone to feel the need to become an atheist. For the record, I did not become an Atheist; I have always been an atheist. I went to the compulsory RE lessons at school and decided for myself that I did not believe any of it and that it all raised more questions than it answered. I even got a detention for pulling out a copy of Origin of Species (at fourteen my reading taste was precocious) at the beginning of the lesson though I maintain that I was moving out of the way while I searched my bag for a pen. This is but one example of religion’s propensity to stifle debate. The questions raised are as follows;
1. If god is the creator of all things, why should we constantly praise him for doing what comes naturally?
2. Who created the creator?
3. If Jesus could cure one blind man, why not blindness per se?
4. Why cast out demons into a herd of pigs? (This sounds like black magic to me.)
5. Why no obvious result for all this prayer?
6. Why do religious apologists equate a non-belief in god with a positive belief in (and worship of) satan?
7. Why the need to gather and berate oneself in public as a sinner?
8. Why do religious ceremonies and rituals, still have pain and humiliation at their centre?
9. Why is sex, (a natural instinct for intimacy) considered such a toxic subject?
10. Why insist that scripture is the basis for modern morals and that without it there would be chaos?
11. Why is unquestioning faith considered a virtue?
These are my objections;
1. Religion is used by those in charge to assert their own authority over others.
2. It misrepresents the origins of humans and the nature of the universe.
3. It encourages solipsism and unquestioning servility.
4. It supports the subjugation of women.
5. It is both the result and cause of dangerous sexual repression.
6. It is grounded on myth and wishful thinking rather than logic, investigation and reason.
7. It is rigid and inflexible when it comes to new or (usually and) contradicting scientific evidence.
8. It stifles debate as heresy, particularly, in some of the religious states.
9. It discourages independent thought.
10. Scripture relies on scripture to prove its own ‘truth’.
Firstly atheism is not a belief it is a non-belief. My principles are not based on faith but nor do I rely on logic, science and reason as sufficient to live my life well. I distrust that which flies in the face of reason. I invite free inquiry and pursuit of ideas for their own sake. I do not hold to my ideas dogmatically and am willing to change my mind in response to new evidence. I take great enjoyment from art, literature and music -among other things -to inspire wonder and imagination and find that this sustains me quite sufficiently. I do not believe in hell or heaven and expect neither reward nor punishment at the time of my death. No statistic has proven to the world that without these, the faithful would not behave any better than the rest of us though proper statistical analysis would probably prove the opposite. I would speculate that once we separate ourselves from our primitive fears like death, and accept that we live short and mostly unremarkable lives with no higher purpose we would probably behave better toward each other. Like many, I am reconciled to the fact that I will only live once and that no amount of coercion will persuade me that I am somehow deserving of an extension of this in any form. Death is a natural part of any life cycle and I do not fear it. Why should I? The chemical processes that occur in a human body after it expires are a fascinating part of human biology. I do not court death, or even look forward to it; I am merely accepting that sooner or later it will happen to me. The basic premise here is that it is possible to live a meaningful life ethically without religion.
Religion and scripture are not the source of modern morals. The scriptures call for behaviour that most people would find disgusting. In most cases religion calls for the inhalation of opposing views and those who hold them. Atheism does not regard any land to be ‘holy’ and so does not therefore lay claim to any ‘divine right’ to it. Religion has been used as an excuse to commit some horrific acts. It is not to say that atheists don’t but they don’t do it because they are atheists. It seems to grant fanatics and fundamentalists permission to behave much worse than those who hold no faith. Atheists do not need any tool of reinforcement to live.
Most of us by now will realise that a trip to a library or a meal or even outside our own homes, will expose us to other beliefs and believers. Censorship does not help a cause but exacerbates a problem and the attempted censorship of non-believers on the pretext of some offence is merely highlighting the fact that while the church complains that Christians the world-over are being persecuted, non-believers are being vilified for merely disagreeing with their world-view and having the courage to do so. Religion is being forced into schools regardless that the majority of this country are of other denominations or of no faith at all. The leaders of many religious states revoke that choice and impose an ancient belief system on an entire population, and call for the conversion or annihilation of those who chose not to follow their rules. Religious moderates around us have thankfully realised that calling for, and attempting to carry out, the extermination of their theological ‘enemies’ is not conducive to a peaceful and productive way of life but they are not ready to critique or analyse their own association with those who do. They themselves are living partially outside the rules of their own scripture by picking and choosing which parts are palatable to them and rejecting the parts that aren’t. They sugar coat the verses they can to bring them into schools but this does not hide that the Bible is not the source of or morals. It still teaches that women and children are property, that homosexuality is a mortal sin and that slavery is acceptable. If those who trumpet the more creditable parts of this bastion of hypocrisy then they must also own the negative.
Religion is a man made phenomena and a choice. This choice is is largely made for us by our families. There is no getting away from it. We follow our parents’ example whether it comes from instruction or not because young children crave the guidance of the adults who care for them. There is nothing innate about religious faith and however tolerant a religious moderate might outwardly seem, they still ‘know’ that those who do not share their beliefs are going to hell. They may revel in this or fear it but this is makes an otherwise ethical and moral individual into a self-serving, cynical, divisive coward because what really drives religious faith is ultimately fear. It means that their no matter what they think motives are driven by, it is really either a mercenary hope of reward for their tolerance, a fear of punishment and the smug satisfaction that non-conformists are doomed to a fiery eternity. This is every bit as unlikely as the existence of a god. If they say that this is not the case then they have either undermined their own argument that religion is needed in order to live an ethical life and know the difference between right and wrong without faith. If they admit that without it they would steal, kill, enslave or any number of given acts unacceptable to society, then serious thought should be given to whether or not you’d want to associate with them.
The great scholars have no doubt written evil or incorrect things, been ignorant of the connection between germs and disease (it is NOT sin), or the point that our planet sits in the solar system, in the past but this is becoming less and less. Science and technology have given us new facts and allowed us to pioneer new technologies, given us remarkable advances in medicine and even aided our flight to the moon. We have been able to adapt to these new facts and change our ideas accordingly. This is not due to religion; this is due to human curiosity and the drive to learn about ourselves –physically and socially – and the world around us. Religious leaders encourage us to take their word at face value as laid down in scripture and is resistant to the new knowledge that it sees as a threat. One cannot help but cringe when one sees the efforts an apologist goes to in order to affirm the absurd. The Aztecs would rip out a human heart every day to ensure the sun would rise again. If they had known then what we know now they may not have bothered but as a reader of history, I know better than to judge events of the past by the standards of the present. The Aztecs had no idea about earth rotation so can be excused the guilt of their forbears but the same cannot be said today where we have both the resources and knowledge to know better, yet still there are those who accept scripture for scripture’s sake and will not hear, let alone accept, that their unsubstantiated view of the world is incorrect.
In a non religious setting the constant sacrifice of self respect, preoccupation with sin and the sins of others , and self humiliation is generally, thought of as self pitying attention seeking that should probably earn the attentions of a counsellor. Change the setting and it’s a pious reaffirmation of one’s own inadequacy but why should the building make a difference? Because scripture tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth. Yet again we have the mercenary hope of eternal reward. Monotheists are supposed to pester their chosen deity on a daily basis with repeated prayers –lest they fall on deaf ears- and flatter themselves that they are a part of some divine plan that only they and others like them, can be a party to. Religion is a man-made phenomenon that predates recorded history and as I said before, it tries to suppress the facts and if it cannot do that it hands the credit for the hard work straight to God. It has a vested political interest in this knowledge that severely threatens its credibility and authority and its method is to propagate and perpetuate its own made-up myths and asserting them as true because scripture tells them so; in other words, using scripture to defend scripture. Father Christmas, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy are undoubtedly happy mythologies made up and have become a bit of fun for children, but as adults we are not expected to believe them. In fact, by the time we reach our teens our natural scepticism has kicked in to realise it was actually our parents all the time. We should be mature enough by now to see ancient dogma for what it is and dismiss it as just that.
Biologically we are only partially rational. The part of the brain we consciously use (the frontal lobes) is miniscule in comparison with what we actually have. Our adrenal glands are much larger than we actually need them to be and our reproductive organs seem to be working on an agenda of their own. This leads to some obvious instability but our conscience has developed to help us realise what is and is not acceptable. This is psychology, not spirituality. Freud hit the nail on the head when he came up with the id, ego and superego. The id is the first thing that develops. It is what causes selfishness and tells us what we need; food, water, warmth, attention etc. The id should diminish over time but it never quite goes as it also provides us with our survival instinct. The ego comes along at about two years. This is the reality principle which makes us aware that we cannot always do or have everything and must prepare for the future. The superego is the conscience which tells us right from wrong and governs the id and the ego which are constantly battling one another. Our own make up is what prevents or causes us from committing acts of violence and atrocity. To assume that there is no point in moral behaviour without religion is incorrect. Criminal behaviour is more likely due to an underdeveloped superego: it has little to do with lack of faith. How many atrocities have been committed in the name of Atheism?
Modern science and the delevelopment of technology have allowed us to map the human genome. The results of stem cell research have been over-shadowed by a wave of faith driven suspicion on the grounds that it requires the creation on an embryo, never mind that the research in question is helping us learn more about –and hope fully cure – many devastating hereditary illnesses. In many ways we are still using tools to assist our own natural selection in a bid for survival. Religion was not the inspiration for these breakthroughs; again it was curiosity coupled with need. Scientists are not driven by a need to prove or disprove the existence of god but by the need to understand more about us in order to benefit humans in general. Even with our breakthroughs and advances, our use of language and our ever lengthening life spans, due to medicine and technology, we are still not that far removed from the animal kingdom. To believe otherwise is nothing short of arrogance. Humans have made up a rich and exciting mythology of stories to explain the world and illustrate and excuse the fashionable attitudes of the time as well as to flatter themselves that they are part of some higher plan. They have long since proven to be incorrect –and in some cases grossly exclusive to those who hold those same beliefs – and therefore should be set aside as mere stories. In the case of Christian Scientists, the dictate of ‘love thy neighbour’ means love another Christian Scientist: the rest of us are fair game.
The more that people hold to this out-dated forms of anti-human propaganda, the less likely we are to see true world peace in our lifetime. Each sect swears that their chosen sets of doctrines are true and correct and hold to the ‘historicity’ of their scriptures. In other words they argue that their scripture is correct because it says it is. This is the same logic that says that writing that the sky is purple makes it true in hundreds of years because it is ‘written’. Something being written down does not make it true especially when the events described in scripture can be checked against accurate historical records. The scriptures are not history books; they are stories and should be treated as such. If one was to attempt to live by the rules laid down in Greek Mythology these days, you might think that their sanity was in question. The way of life in the classical world died for a reason. It was too rigid to be liveable or adapt. Ancient Egypt, one of the greatest civilisations in history, had not changed for three thousand years and stuck rigidly by its polytheistic worship of gods and the Nile. They suffered with the invasion of the Romans who used the country as a limestone quarry and dwindled further with the outside influence of Christianity. Times and ideas changed and the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman ways of life went the way of the Dodo, in that they were bludgeoned to death with the event of Judaism, Christianity and eventually Islam. This was inevitable but one cannot help but notice that the three monotheisms held tightly on to the aspects of the classical world so much so that slavery was only really abolished in the western world in the last one hundred and fifty years. Indeed they supported the ideas of caste and segregation as signs of a well ordered society. The developed world has let go of that so why not the rest? People still kill each other in horrific ways over a perceived divine right to land as laid down in scripture.
We are evolutionarily programmed to be competitive and curious. This is how we survived to now. We competed with other tribes for land and space to expand, over food and water sources, and against predators. Our curiosity led us to use tools in order to turn predators into prey and therefore food. This meant that the first tools we learned to use were weapons. This we did before and without religion and we thrived. Surely, with this in mind, we can thrive without it again. Under the yoke of oppressive ideas about our ‘place’ in the universe we stagnated in the dark ages. We became ruled by fear and suspicious hatred of unbelievers in the middle ages but one thing that they ALL have in common is the ‘knowledge’ that those who do not comply will go to hell and call for the annihilation of those who hold differing beliefs. It would be simplistic to assume that all world conflicts are caused entirely by religion but it certainly is a major contributing factor, if not a catalyst. We don’t need it, it holds back our emotional and intellectual growth. We have our families and loved ones to live for so why invent something else?