Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A justification for challenging religion

Some people have, perfectly understandably, questioned my increasingly common criticisms of religion on the basis, as I see it, that religion deserves the same tolerance and respect as my atheism. In fact antitheism would be more accurate in my case! Besides, I'm not sure that that atheism, given it is an essentially neutral or close to neutral position, actual requires or demands tolerance or respect. In fact there is a sound argument that the word should not even exist.

To quote Sam Harris....

However, for simplicity and the sake of this blog I will continue to use it.

Some people I'm sure will think I should be a 'passive' atheist and not try to influence others in favour of atheism, in the same way as there are many "passive' religious folk who do not attempt to influence others in favour of their religion, and that atheists should adopt a "live and let live attitude" towards religion and theism. My view is that atheists should be more active critics of religion and theism, but this deserves at the very least an attempt at an explanation.

This will be no essay, but a selection of quotes and plagiarised text that I feel explains this view. They articulate it much better than me. So, why do I think religion is bad?

I think I could do worse than start with this quotation....

I used to be satisfied just smiling and nodding whenever anyone would begin on the topic of religion. After all, there’s no need to argue with someone over something as frivolous as their supernatural beliefs. I mean, it’s just not polite, is it?

But over time, I started to see what religion is doing to the world in which we live.

I will admit, at a basic level, it almost seems like a good idea; certainly, harmless enough. Religion provides a good deal of charity to communities, it offers support and guidance to those in need, and it fills advocacy roles which may be missed in government policies.

But at what price?

Let me be clear, it’s not my intention to pick on any one religion – most of them have the same attributes: 1) belief in the supernatural, 2) a moral code with supernatural origins, and 3) the need to spread their “truth” to the uninitiated.

The only religion that doesn’t fit the above three characteristics is buddhism. Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is quoted as saying “Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.” Can you imagine the Pope saying don’t bother becoming a catholic?

Nevertheless,  christianity is the most pervasive and influential of all the religions, and their fundamentalist members are probably the biggest threat to civilised society. Islam is influential in that civilised society feels the need to tiptoe around their beliefs, and extremist muslims may appear prone to committing acts of violence, but muslims don’t hold the same amount of sway as christians do in the west.

So why is religion bad? Well, here’s the thing – it isn’t so much what a person believes, but what follows as their behaviour that is harmful.

After centuries of scientific advancement, there is a movement afoot to drag us backwards so a supernatural belief system can survive another few years before finally fading into obscurity. Religions are fighting back, recruiting the naive and the uneducated, and attempting to discredit the science and have their supernatural explanations taught alongside. For me, this is what makes religion so bad.

It would be a quaint notion, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s affecting society as a whole: bans on condoms and abortions threaten families; bans on using stem cells holds back medical research; justifying sexism and homophobia create an atmosphere of hate and separation; and forced genital mutilation of children is just about the single most fucked-up, barbaric throw-back to the bronze age I can think of.

As religions attempt to remain relevant, they are – whether inadvertently or deliberately – actually hurting our society.

Richard Dawkins says “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

Well that’s true, but I’m afraid religion is far more insidious than just wanting to stick their collective heads in the sand when it comes to the scientific evidence.

Religion is trying to remain relevant by discrediting scientific fact in order to dupe people into believing their lies. Religions are wrong, they are lying to you, and we can no longer afford to smile and nod politely.

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