With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil;
but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.
Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg
The day we as a global nation choose to live for causes and not support ones that are worth dying for; will truly be a great day. Sadly it is a long way off. It will take tolerance and peace having to become more sacred than dogma and blind unquestioning arrogance for that to occur. When questions can be asked without having to fear for ones life, or risk being shouted down in the name of some religion…as they fear the questions (or maybe it is the answers the fear), that will be a day to treasure.
The religions that dominate our world today are made up of fossilized dogmas, that have been excavated from the mud of our past. They hale from a by-gone era when man created religion in an attempt to better understand his world. We now have science, evidence based research and rational questioning minds, which is the antithesis of many religions. This bygone dogma was forged in a world and culture so foreign to the one we live in today, but yet those beliefs are still held as sacrosanct and untouchable. As a result of this outdated dogma, evil deeds are allowed to breed, not by distorting or changing the teachings of scripture, but by obeying them. There is much material in every religious tradition that teaches violence, intolerance and hatred.
When a person believes, truly believes, that they know God’s will, they become almost impossible to reason with. Scientific research and evidence is thrown out along with rational thinking and the bath water. This is because most religions teach that faith – belief not supported by evidence – is not just acceptable but commendable, and is the sign of a virtuous person. Reasoning with a person in the light of the above becomes nigh impossible, as religious morality is not grounded in humans needs and desires, but in the will of god. Beliefs that weren’t based on evidence to begin with usually can’t be changed by evidence. Hence religious faith becomes very dangerous; when a religious believer chooses a course of action that’s evil or harmful, efforts to persuade them to stop will be futile. After all, if God has told them to follow a certain path, any opinion to the contrary is the devils work, and must be resisted, forcefully if needs be.
Religious leaders (and many of their followers), from all religions; oppose abortion, birth control, gay adoption, same-sex marriage, woman’s rights, euthanasia, to mention but a few — they want to control how people are born, marry, raise families, how they die, who they vote for, what to eat/not eat and which wars to fight. They want to barge into ones life during our most private moments and impose neigh, force and demand an adherence to their rigid, paternalistic creed. They know best how life should be lived, they have no qualms in seeking to intrude upon the lives of others at the most important and personal of moments.
Differentiating the evil that religion can perpetuate and the goodness in some people who practice religion seems fair up to a point, but how can one, for example, be both Catholic and good given the Vatican’s hundreds of years of torturing and murder, and currently, its favoring image over children? It is akin to being a good Nazi, which is exactly what its pope believes himself to be. When you base your “faith” in books that brim with divine violence, like the Old Testament, doesn’t that lead to more violence, at least in the defense of your “faith”
Sadly religion is never about what humans really need, but about what “god” supposedly needs humans to believe and do. The fact that religion is not about human needs is exactly what makes religion so pernicious. In other words, no matter what you believe, you do not have the right to hurt or curtail the rights of others, or to disproportionately benefit yourself at the expense of others.
It’s a far nobler a pursuit to wrestle with questions of ethics than to evade our responsibility and just parrot edicts that were written down thousands of years ago. It’s too easy to not have to really think about the consequences of our actions when we can just point to a book and say “but God said so.” We don’t understand maths because we take it on faith, in all other realms of our universe, we do not use faith as means of understanding its inner workings. Leaving it to faith is coping out, and it is the same as throwing up our hands and saying I don’t need to know, and deciding that some higher power will reveal all to us in good time. In my opinion, that stance does not get us any further as a species. It only leaves us standing still; unable to progress and make life better for everyone.
In closing let me end with a philosophical statement… which turned into a religious statement … and then totally ignored by religions…
‘Do unto others what you want done unto you.’
557 BC, From the Analects 15:23
“One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.”
3200 BC, From the Hitopadesa