The Three Great Dangers of Religion

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

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 .

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

Albrecht Durer's Fall of Man

Fall of Man by Albrecht Durer, Engraving 1504. Shared among a number of ancient mythologies, man fell after eating a forbidden fruit – the female is depicted giving the fruit to the male figure. This has long solidified the woman’s place in religion as the lesser.

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.

The dangers of religion are many and I’ve only scratched the surface here – what would you say are the most poignant dangers of religion as you’ve experienced them?

Testimony of a Dying Man

Last night a friend of me sent something to me from a friend of his who is dying. I don’t know the man who wrote this personally and his name is intentionally being kept anonymous, though I did get permission through my friend to post this testimony of the last days of this man’s life.

I’m thankful to this anonymous man, a former minister himself,  for the opportunity to share this very short but very touching part of his life with my readers.

It is often said that we unbelievers will find ourselves quick to repentance at the end of our days, grasping fearfully at the prospect of eternity. Here, proof otherwise.

Testimony of a Dying Man.

15 years ago I missed a turn and drove off a 30 foot cliff knowing absolutely that I would not survive when it was over.  I had often wondered through the years what I would say or do when facing certain death and I found out at that time. My wife was riding with me and as we went airborne I heard myself say “oh, sweetheart”… In that short moment airborne… And utter complete mental silence.  8 feet of snow saved our lives a second later.

A week ago I was scheduled for a gallbladder x-ray to confirm the presence of a problem which could be surgically removed… Perhaps even that same day.  Unexpected phone silence ensued.  My spirit began to open to other unexpected possibilities and to ready itself for whatever it may be.  My Catholic upbringing had instilled the concepts of sin, salvation, resultant heaven hell and purgatory.  My 44 year search since leaving that world view had exposed me to alternatives of every age of mankind.  During that 44 year search I have often wondered if, when faced with an ultimate certainty of death in the near future, would I resort to the old paradigm or could I bring forward and live within what I had found in the meantime…. For within the last year of my life I have arrived at a silent and deep knowingness that taking evolutionary cosmology to the deepest emotional level gave me the foundation I never found in an anthropomorphic God structure…. But I always had a slight wonder, “is it only conceptually deep?”

Five days ago, I and my wife listened to the words on the speakerphone as she sat opposite me and she later said that when I heard the words she saw a huge transformation of calmness and clarity come over me….”You have inoperable metastasized liver cancer, and may expect two months at the outside”.  And in the five days since that news I have experienced a calmness and centeredness such as religious faith had never provided.  I have found a sense of place and process within the world view of evolutionary cosmology such as I have searched for relentlessly in my 77 years…. And it is increasingly feeding my spirit daily with a sense of readiness for every present moment in this process of dying.

I am finally really learning how to live in the moment.  Fear and hope have no place in this process. It is a readiness and willingness of an utterly deep knowingness.

Farewell. We truly all are in this together.

 

The problem with certainty

I recall being certain that God existed, that he loved me, and that he was embodied in a set of books we call the Bible. I was so certain of this that I would have said, without any question whatsoever, that I even knew these things. Certainty, according to many Christian presuppositional apologists, is the cornerstone of the Christian worldview because it and only it provides any way in which to ascertain truth.

I remember the first time I became uncertain about my faith like it was yesterday. It started with the first in a series of questions about some doctrine that I’d now say is insignificant. It was the first time since I had given all of my life to my god that I considered the notion that perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I had been worshiping him incorrectly, perhaps something I believed about him was out of line with the Truth, perhaps the elders in my life were not as wise as I thought, perhaps even god’s very character was in question.

I know of no fear more all encompassing than that which came with my first experience with uncertainty.

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Science: Humbling the Faithful

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Science is hard.

 

Science is really, really hard.  I know this because I’ve been spending a lot of my time in recent years trying to get a grasp on various areas of scientific inquiry. From astronomy to physics, evolution to chemistry my studies have taught me one thing above all others;  what humans know is infinitely minute, what I know is 1/10th of .0001% of that (I’m likely being far too generous).

Science has a way of humbling us. I think we have a lot to be proud of, especially considering the length of time that modern science has had to get to where it is after surviving the Dark Ages, but I feel a certain sense of awe and wonderment when I consider all of the things we don’t know – I feel insignificant and tiny when I look at the Hubble Deep Field or when I consider the vastness of the human genome.

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Appropriate Conduct for Christians

Twice in the last three weeks I’ve been witness to two different Christians in group settings openly ridiculing atheists and science. I’ve also in the past seen believers ridicule other believers of a different sort, a double standard by my book.

The first was at my favorite coffee shop, I was there early in the morning and a group of 12 or so men were having a Bible study. I was a little early for work so I decided to sit down for a bit and finish reading The Blind Watchmaker. I overheard one particular gentleman comparing any non-christian with dogs by saying that he expected  bad behavior from non-believers and other faiths because that’s just who they are just like he expected a dog to lick his behind. The same gentleman later said, “What takes more faith; believing that we crawled out of a swamp, or that god created us?” to much agreement from the group.

In this situation I patiently held my tongue, though I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust.  I did later send an email to one of the participants that I happened to know, and last week I attended the study myself. Turns out these guys are really nice, were open to my discussion points on the parts of the Bible they were discussing, and welcomed me into the group very openly. I’ll continue attending. (I do intend to discuss their offenses eventually and write about this entire experience here on the blog.)

The second offense was from a guest pastor that held a moment of reflection at an event I volunteer for every couple months, a live music show that benefits my local arts guild. The pastors first words were a quote of Psalms 14:1, “The Fool hath said in his heart, there is no god”.  He continued to deliver a plea for salvation at a clearly secular event. I’ve yet to email this gentleman but I intend to explain that he need not pity this fool.

The point I’m trying to get to is that for some reason it’s ok to make fun of people and beliefs that aren’t your own in the Christian world and to even do so in a public setting, often with the assumption that those beliefs are so rare in your community that there won’t be anyone particularly offended by such things (and for those few that are, well – obviously they deserve it).

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Book Review: God No! by Penn Jillette

 Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, recently release his new book entitled God No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales that I believe to be a great addition to the atheists library.

I purchased this book because I’ve been a big fan of Penn Jillette, Teller, their show Bullshit!, their magic acts, and Penn Says. Naturally I’m going to be drawn to his writing.  On top of all that, Penn Jillette is my unmistakeable doppelganger. Multiple times every week I get someone coming up to me and saying, “You know you who look like?” and I always say “Yea” – they proceed to tell me that I look like that Penn guy, you know, that Magician from Las Vegas. We’ve got the same hair, same build, similar facial structure, same glasses, same goatee…I swear it was never intentional, it just happened. Honest. We are both very, very sexy men.

God No! initially caught me off guard a bit. I expected philosophical and scientific musings explaining why Penn didn’t believe in a god and why belief in god was outdated and outmoded as a way of life for the human race in the style of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.  What I got instead was a collection of very personal stories about family, friends, sexual exploits, and freedom all of which conveniently tied into an atheistic interpretation of one or more of the 10 Commandments. Though it wasn’t what I expected, I’m glad that this is how the book was presented and in the end I wouldn’t change anything about it.

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Proof and Evidence

I recently witnessed an assertion about proving god’s existence to atheists by a Christian that made the following claim:

Ask 1000 people what proof/demonstration by God it would take to belief in Him and you may get 1000 different responses. At the end of the day each person has different doubts and needs, and their proof of God’s existence will be different to meet their needs.  ~Anonymous

I think statements like these highlight the fundamental difference between a person that talks about evidence and proof, and a person that actually knows what evidence and proof actually are.

Proof and evidence aren’t words that can simply be exchanged for each persons perspective. Something either proves a hypothesis or it doesn’t so if the data analysis from two different people determines that the evidence either proves or doesn’t prove something one or both are incorrectly analyzing the data.

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Popular Misconceptions: Knowing Truth

In my last post I talked about how difficult it was to move from absolute belief not holding any belief and how, despite everything you know being turned on it’s head, that your experience can truly get better.

Today, I’d like to talk about the nature of knowledge. When I was a believer my understanding of knowledge was something entirely different from what it is today. I think it’s important that we rightly define it in order to understand what the word knowledge actually means. I know this probably sounds absolutely nuts to those of you that have never lived in the world of faith – but this was probably the most massive change in my psyche during my deconversion.

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Popular Misconceptions: The Definition of Atheism

Quite a few of the conversations I’ve been involved in with theists lately seem to start off with a basic misconception about what atheism actually is. Since there is such a disconnect between the definition of the term and what people think or believe that it means I’d like to clarify a few things.

Most recently multiple pastors have asserted that the term atheist was best defined as  ” to be certain there is no god” or “to believe that there is no god” – both definitions are decidedly incorrect.

Theism is defined by Mirriam-Webster‘s as:

belief in the existence of a god or gods

 

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Rules of Engagement

I don’t particularly like to use terms of war when I discuss what I call Positive Atheism – or activist atheism if you will. In this case I find it rather difficult to find a better term to use, but to be crystal clear, this post is in no way a call to arms or a declaration of war. This is a discussion about engagement in the form of intellectual and philosophical discussions and debates. (I don’t want there to be ANY confusion here – or any opportunity for the less scrupulous individual to make claims that might hinder reason or falsely indicate a “war mentality” here.)
In a previous post, from what seems like forever ago, I discussed what I felt was a moral obligation on my part to reduce faith and increase understanding. In this post I intend to talk about the Rules of Engagement that I have developed when engaging in these sorts of discussions. These are my personal rules, some may not find these necessary – but for me it draws a line in the sand as to what conversations are worthy of my time and attention, as I have a tendency toward extremes. If at least one of the following criteria are not met, I won’t bother engaging.

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