I’m the type of person that can sit across the table from a person of any religious background, no matter how fundamentalist they may be, and find a common humanity to build a relationship from – that’s a personal trait I’ve worked hard to hone and that I’m actually quite proud of. Often in doing so I’m asked the question, “so what if it’s not true, what’s the harm in believing?” While the answer to this question can’t be summarily truncated into a single list, I thought it might be a good idea to present the 3 greatest dangers of religion in the more generic sense for the purpose of quick reference and in a way that can be applied to most situations and conversations – so that if you are asked this question in your conversations with the religious you’ll have something to refer back to. These three examples of the dangers of religion aren’t examples of fundamentalism in and of themselves – but they are fundamental tenets of every major religion alive in the world today, and so they are a constant part of the way the world is viewed by the religious.
1. Religion teaches us to be satisfied with easy answers
How often have you been told that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” in your life?
Giordano Bruno – Burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for proposing a heliocentric model of the universe and claiming that stars were actually distant “suns” in 1600 – Source
This principle is fairly common among most of the major religions in the world in that they all, generally, require us to have faith rather than to seek out evidence for that which we believe. This is dangerous to humanity on a number of levels, in the largest part because it generates a complacency for our curiosity and our yearning to know more. The religious often confuse their faith with knowledge and believe that their faith satisfies the human need for real understanding of the world and universe around us – but without curious minds, unhindered by this complacency, asking the questions of “what, when, where, and why” modern science wouldn’t exist as we know it today and we’d still be plagued by diseases that have long been cured, we’d still believe that Earth was the center of The Universe, and we’d have never made it to the Moon.
While some of the most brilliant scientific minds of the last 500 years may have indeed been people with faith, they didn’t allow their faith to keep them from asking uncomfortable questions – and letting the answers speak for themselves when the answers were contrary to their faith. They were, ultimately, not satisfied with easy answers.
2. Religion teaches us that we are evil
The fulcrum of nearly every religion that has survived to this day has been that humanity is irrevocably flawed (evil, fallen, or
sinful ) and that religion X, Y, or Z has the cure.
A modern equivalent to this is having a vacuum cleaner salesman come to your door, show you how dirty your carpet is, and then explain to you how their vacuum (and only their vacuum) can clean it properly with a demonstration of it’s amazing sucking power! Had you never met this salesman you would have kept using your old vacuum cleaner, never knowing that it was inadequate or that your carpet was a breeding ground for dust mites – and so you would have been happy, but ignorant. While this technique of identifying a problem you didn’t know you had and selling you the solution works great for vacuums and other demonstrable devices – it’s absolutely terrible for religion, wherein there are no adequate demonstrations as to the veracity of the claims being made.
The sales aspect aside, how terrible is it that we allow men from stages to tell us that we are vile creatures – destined for one form of punishment or another if we don’t abide by a given set of principles? What terror could this perform on our individual and collective psyche as we, generation after generation, continue to believe that we have something wrong with us that needs to be fixed by god?
“If all this isn’t true, what harm is there?” – well, you should be overjoyed if it isn’t true and you aren’t the scum of the Earth!
3. Religion promises us eternity
Scarcity increases value – we all remember that from our high school economics class right? If you don’t, it’s one of the driving factors behind capitalism and it’s the basic premise that the less of something you have the more valuable that something is. Markets and commodity prices are driven on the premise of scarcity and demand.
The one thing we all know is that we have a limited number of is days to live, however, nearly every religion in the world promises some extension of life into eternity. When life is no longer 70-100 years long and is instead infinity long days are no longer scarce – this translates into a lack of value for your own life, the lives of others, and the future of the planet.
Those convinced that they are going to live for eternity or that a great apocalypse is soon to come are far less likely to believe that it’s important to preserve the planet, seek out cures for disease, or spend their limited time on earth doing good for people that don’t believe like they do – instead, they’ll spend their time trying to convince others that they must believe like they do, or else.
The Dangers of Religion – Fundamentalism
When we take these three things and combine them into a single person – a person who believes he’s been given all the answers to life’s difficult questions , who believes that although he may be a sinner he’s been saved and sanctified – maybe even chosen by god, and who believes that he’s been promised eternity in exchange for a life devoted to his religion’s message – we get a person who is more than likely to be detached from reality. The mere existence of religion and the fact that these fundamental elements are necessary in order for religion to exist and to spread make fundamentalism a trait that is frighteningly common in our modern world.
While many good, reasonable, intelligent, and loving Christians and Muslims may exist who are moderates in our society, and while they may even be in the majority of their respective faiths – their respect of these basic fundamentals gives credence to them, which paves the way for more dangerous and more viral forms.
A better society, a truly secular society, must be compelled by evidence to believe, must embrace it’s goodness, and must act today to save tomorrow.