Last week I spent three posts describing the origins of my disbelief in the existence of a God, and the reasons that the idea of a God, and especially the Christian God, are completely unsatisfactory in the face of any rational consideration.
One thing that no one said but a few people hinted at was along the lines of "Look, it may not make sense. It may not be even true. But it helps people live better lives, so why not just let them have it?"
And my answer is: because it doesn't. What religion does is make people live in fear.
In many cases, it's fear of Hell. People live their lives stifling perfectly natural and healthy impulses and desires because they've been taught that they are engaging in "sin". They flagellate themselves -- sometimes literally -- with guilt when they commit some act that they have been taught is sinful or immoral for no good reason. They deprive themselves of joy in this life on the promise of another life after this, yet still always have the gnawing fear that they may have done something wrong or aren't quite good ENOUGH to curry God's favor so they won't be cast into the flames. This is not the way to live a better life.
It manifests in fear of others. Other people whose customs present a threat to your belief system and your sense of morality. If people were killing each other over whether Mother Goose or the Brothers Grimm were the true authority on morality, it would be madness. But when it's "real" religion, suddenly it's more serious and deserves more respect than that. Nothing that leads to fear and hatred deserves respect. That is not the way to live a better life.
It becomes a fear of new ideas. Every truth that you discover about the world, the universe, the nature of reality itself is almost certainly in contradiction to something that you are supposed to believe -- you should believe that the sun revolves around the Earth, that insects have four legs, that all animals were created and lived simultaneously up until the flood. People are dying because of religious opposition to stem cell research. A potential human has, in some cases, more rights than an actual human.
Any idea that contradicts the "perfect Word of God" cannot be accepted and must be rejected out of hand, lest "Satan" take hold of one's mind and draw someone away from the fold.
And ultimately, this boils down to fear of being insignificant. Fear that this is all there is. Fear that we are not worth anything unless someone else tells us so.
I have a friend, who I will not name, who once admitted to me that she knows that she is dependent on other people for her own sense of self-worth, that she is nothing without validation from people who care about her.
On another occasion, we were discussing religion (she's a believer), and she said "Even if there was all the evidence that there was no God, and I knew logically that there wasn't, I would still believe in God. And I'm not sure why."
A loving presence that , despite being tasked with keeping the whole Universe running at once, cares about you individually and tells you that you matter in the grand scheme of things. The God-as-Santa that many people today "believe in". And it seems obvious why it's so important to her that God exist.
Put back-to-back like that, it seems obvious; but these conversations were weeks apart, and unless she reads this blog she may not make the connection at all.
When pressed, anyone who calls him or herself a believer cannot come up with logical reasons or evidence for believing as they do, they just believe it. When pressed further, the revealing word that starts to show up is "want".
"I wouldn't want to think that the people I love who die are gone forever."
"I don't want to feel like we're alone in the universe."
"I want to believe that there's a higher power with a plan for all this stuff."
Well, I'm sorry to say this but here's a truth in life, truer than anything else: What you want, has no bearing on what is.
Read that again and make sure you understand it.
The fact that it dismays you to think that this is all there is doesn't change the fact, if it is fact, that this is indeed all there is. And frankly, that shouldn't dismay you. It should be a source of freedom.
If this is all there is then it's idiotic to live one's life trying to build credit for the next one. It's here, and now, that's important.
Religion takes away from the beauty and wonder of life by turning it into something manufactured, planned, understood even if not by us. If God created us, then we're not really that special all-in-all; we're a toy in his sandbox.
But if nothing created us, if we just came to be, then, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, the fact that we have come to exist, and to exist at such a level as to question our own existence, when all the odds are stacked against us, is such a profound, moving realization, and one to instill such a deep appreciation and meaning into every precious moment of our fleeting time on Earth.
One of the most egregious faults of religion is taking credit away from humanity. People who suffer through illness, and credit God for their recovery are selling themselves short, selling all of humanity short when it is science, it is the beautiful brilliance that is human knowledge, that saved them.
People who throw off the shackles of an addiction and credit it to God are demeaning themselves. If there is no God interested and involved in human affairs -- and there is no reason to believe that there is -- then THEY broke the spell of their addiction. THEY had the strength and the will and the power to do it. When people give all the power to God they fail to recognize the power in themselves. It holds them back as individuals, and it holds us back as a species.
I went off on a long and very specific rant about the problem of amputees, and how if God existed he would answer the prayers of amputees, even if only occasionally, and we would have cases of people spontaneously re-growing limbs. But they don't, because humans aren't salamanders.
But then there's this:
Humans DO have the capacity, in our genetic code, to regenerate limbs. We can do it when we're young and if we were funding stem cell research -- which the RELIGIOUS people are blocking funding to, remember -- we could have that capacity. And it's only a matter of time before the science gets there, U.S. government funding or not.
God didn't do it. We did. To give up the praise for God, or to decide that you WILL pray for your arm to grow back now that Alan Russell has figured it out -- but it won't work without God's intervention -- is total bullshit. It's a travesty of logic, and it completely misses the real miracle: WE did this. WE are figuring this out. WE are learning to understand, and may even learn to control, the very forces of the universe itself.
And if WE don't learn to master our fear, and let go of the idea that someone smarter and more powerful than us will swoop in at the nick of time, show us how to do it right, and save us from ourselves, we will destroy ourselves.
Even on the off chance that God exists, we are coming to an age of power and technology where the true morality will be found only if we assume that he does not.
There are people who are unwilling to help stop global warming -- not because they don't believe it's happening, but they believe that God put us in dominion over the Earth, that God wouldn't let it get to the point that we wouldn't survive because he promised us he wouldn't, or that God will bring the Judgement Day before we get to that point.
We cannot live under the assumption that God will fix it, that God is in control. We must accept that nothing and no one is in control, and do our part to take control and make things work.
I picked global warming for my example but you see it time, after time, after time. There is too much at stake and the world is changing too fast to let first century mythologies inform twenty-first century humanity. Think of all the things we know today that we didn't know even two years ago. And we're supposed to believe that people TWO THOUSAND years ago knew jack-shit about the universe?
I'm begging you, WAKE UP.
Listen, I have no problem with people taking a philosophical stance on religion. If the Christ you were taught in Sunday school is an example you want to live up to, more power to you. That Christ isn't Biblical -- Christ was a mean, petty, misogynistic guy if you actually read the Gospels -- but he's a great role model. So is Luke Skywalker. Or maybe Frodo Baggins is your thing.
I understand the power and the value of mythology and fiction and storytelling. It helps us understand our own experience by watching someone else's, even if they're fictitious. I'm devoting my life to creating and wrestling with and understanding it.
But there is a reality, too. It's easy to say "Well, Jesus was God, so of course he was good. No mere human could get there." But we've had Martin Luther King, we've had Gandhi, we've had hundreds of people who could be true heroes and role models, and the idea that they are human and their strength comes from them -- and the same strength lives in you -- should lift you up beyond the fear and weakness of submitting yourself to the will of a fickle God.
You are beautiful. Life is beautiful. And you don't need anything else but this life, right here and now, to have meaning.
A friend of mine who stopped believing in God recently, after a whole life of faith, confided in me that he is now afraid of death. This seems genuinely incomprehensible to me. If death is the end, then it is nothing to fear. It can't harm you, it can't bring you pain. As Mark Twain said, "I do not fear death, as I was dead for millions of years before I was born and have not suffered the slightest inconvenience for it."
Death is nothing to fear; if there is anything to fear, it is not living life the to the happiest and fullest extent. Do not postpone joy. Happiness is a choice, and I urge you to make it right now, and for the rest of your life.
All of this has been a primer towards the subject of living free of the self-oppression that is religious thought and devotion. Other, smarter men have gone a lot farther into it than I, and I have used their arguments among my own. It is not my intention to plagiarize anything and I apologize if I have said anything that I have not properly credited, but my intention is more to get the ideas out there than to claim them as my own.
One of the reasons I did this myself was to get a broad overview, and potentially interest some people reading the blog to read further about a point I have made. It's also to introduce the ideas outside of a context which might appear hostile -- for example, you can find an expansion of some of my points in Dawkins' The God Delusion, but the title may be offputting, and without an interest in the subject matter may never be read.
Some other resources to continue this "path to truth" for yourself:
Read the Bible: The Skeptic's Annotated Bible is the full text of the KJV Bible, annotated and correlated to note all of the points that don't make sense on their own, contradict other parts of the Bible, or are just plain abhorrent to common-sense morality, destroying the claim the morality comes from God/the Bible. I guarantee that the quickest path to apostasy is actually reading the "Good News". You can also find some strong anti-apologetics, using the Bible as an indictment of religion, at Evil Bible.com
Check out some other blogs: The guy who compiled the SAB also runs a blog, Dwindling in Unbelief, highlighting particularly interesting (read: disturbing or absurd) Bible verses that most people don't know because they've never actually read the Bible. There's also The Godless Bastard, who is a lot less respectful than I've been (which should tell you something) but makes a lot of good points, at much greater length and detail than I have in this handful of posts on the subject.
And then, of course, there's always the straightforward proofs at God Is Imaginary.
Please feel free to comment or e-mail me with other points of view, critiques of my argument, or good ol' fashioned debate points. As for the blog, it'll be going back to the "lighter" fare for a while.