Religion is Bad

This is an oddly controversial topic, even for my clearly-atheist blog. You can almost smell the qualifications and caveats I’m going to offer as I go. But religion is bad. From the religions which famously teach violence, like Islam, to the religions which teach unwavering peace, like Jainism, religion is bad. It doesn’t matter how tolerant and loving your Christian grandma or Muslim neighbour or Jewish uncle are; religion is bad.

Starting, first, without a moral care in the world, religion teaches us bad ideas; the claims of religions are wrong. That wouldn’t be so bad if religion, like science, offered a way to question and challenge claims alongside the claims it generates. Most rational ways of coming to know things include some sort of error-checking: the falsification of scientific claims is a good example. Religion doesn’t offer us this. Religion offers us claims that are completely incompatible with science, the world we see, observation and common sense, and it give us precisely no way to challenge that; whatever a religion claims is true, no questions. Ignore, for now, the content of the claims and focus just on the fact that we are not encouraged to challenge the ideas. Gods often call for their followers to punish people who challenge their dogma; is that a sensible way to approach issues of knowledge? You cannot progress without questions. This is simply the poorest “education” available.

Luckily, people do question these ideas. Challenging all things, and seeing worse ideas perish, seems to be human nature, and we have a history of overturning bad ideas. And this takes me on to moral considerations. Religion is a filter; an excuse to not actually consider the merits of an idea and delegate to an authority; an excuse to allow one’s own biases and prejudices go unchecked because, Lord knows, religious texts sure know how to excuse the occasional bias. This underpins the very idea of whether religion has a place in society.

To have a place in society doesn’t mean to simply exist, it deals more with whether—given the choice—you would allow it to have a place in society; considering what it may offer. Something has no place in society if it has no tangible benefits or if those benefits come with too great a burden. Religion offers people a certain amount of comfort1, so perhaps it has a place at home, and religion offers a focus point for small communities, which really is a tangible benefit for society. In turn, however, it encourages people to be content with not asking questions. Worse, biases and prejudices—homophobia comes to mind as a prejudice that encompasses many religions—are more than unchecked, they are promoted and encouraged. With those burdens in mind, it is worth looking at other ways to reap the benefits religion offers2.

“It gives me great peace to think that Elvis is still alive” or “My community is held together by the shared belief that the British Royal Family are reptilian aliens” are not treated with any level of respect, regardless of the “peace” and community cohesion apparently offered by them; normally society shuns bad for their lack of merit. The self-entitlement of religion in this regard is unsociable. It reminds me of the antisocial teen playing football against a wall with a sign that says “No ball games” and then excusing himself with the line I’m just having fun, mate, possibly followed with You can’t stop me; I know my rights. It teaches people to feel excused from really answering challenges. Sam Harris recounts a story of a bioethicist who admits she would allow a community to pluck the eye balls from new-born children if they could answer the moral challenge other people and societies would no-doubt offer with ‘it’s our religion’ (do a text-search for the word “eyeball” to find the passage I mean).

I hope extremism is conspicuous by its absence is my post. A post about extremism would be titled “Religion is Heinous” or “Religion is God-awful” (for the irony). Violent extremism often is compatible with, passively encouraged or mandated by religions. As I’ve said, humanity has a history of overturning these ideas. But moderates are part of the problem. The ingratiating face of religion today is welcome. But it has become the pathway by which no one is allowed to dialogue with the extreme sections of religion. Subjugation of woman, genital mutilation, race-based wars and terrorism—regardless of whether you accept they are a part of your religion—cannot be said to be wrong if they are religiously inspired. That is the ethical dilemma we have when moderate people who are not responsible for these actions themselves demand everyone respects their religion; we are also asked to respect the religion of the people we really do detest. Accusations like “religion is bad” are met like the indignant smirk of the religious moderates, and they stop the accusation getting to the people who really need to hear it.

1 – I feel I have always been much more comforted by the truth. Knowing family members are dead means I don’t have to worry about which post-life institution they went to. Better still, knowing they are dead means I don’t imbue them with an eye on Earth and the lasting ability to worry for me, be ashamed of me or laugh at me. Imagine eternal worrying about the wellbeing of those closest to you. Alternatively, imagine if a god made forget about those closest to you for the very reason of protecting your wellbeing or stopped you from having the healthy emotional response to knowing a loved one is in distress.

2 – This is what Alain de Botton was probably aiming at with his ‘Atheist Churches’. But, in all seriousness, an atheist church is simply a well-run community hall; everyone invited; no religion. And that does earn the community focus of a Church, without the guilt.

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18 thoughts on “Religion is Bad”

    1. Thanks. I try to keep a friendly and inviting-looking blog. Given we’re moving into the winter months in good ol’ Blighty I imagine that tone will keep me and the hearty people I live with warm.
      Although, my tone may be occasional shameless lifting of Hitchens and Harris ideas… but I’m going to take full credit for it.

  1. Let assume all religion are totally wrong not just bad, incompatible, incompetence, non-rational; i.e Islam are promoting violence, Christian promoting fallacy, others promoting some other thing.

    So, what are the philosophy, from your view are morally, good, workable, sustainable, understandable through out all level of mind, education level?

    So, what is the objective of good philosophy, of course, in the eye of Atheist, God is no more a main objective.

    So, what are the main “individual” purpose? Money, sex, power, rich, big car, popularity, fame. Let, re-assume in different word – good sustainable life, love, capability, buying power, accommodation, good connection.

    May I suggest a “community” purpose – good governance, good community, morally people, financial sustainable, fertilized land, maintaining natural resources.

    It come back to political idea and government. Seem, the idea is just like merry go round.

    1. The conversation about what the right thing to do is still open. From my blog you’ve probably noticed that protecting wellbeing is a big part of that. The issue is that religion claims it as its own domain, so the conversation is rather stifled; it is difficult to have the conversation who unquestioningly already have “God” as an answer.

    2. If religion claim it own domain. What are a real problem?

      It was a norm for any political, professional, organization to have their own domain/ working space to work out their ideas, philosophy. It was stifled or awkward because you as outsider want to criticize about others. If the conversation is stifled, it shown that lacked of confidence and knowledge of both party.

      Are you expecting a nice red carpet for criticize others? You should realize a risk of your action. Sometime, I don’t understand what are real problem between Christian and Atheist, what are you all fighting for…

      As most Christian are living like an atheist. From my view Atheist is just another Christian without god. Is it correct?

      The philosophy of Atheist and Christian also not much different. One say “baby born as sinner”, another one say “baby born as mistake”. Many other example that I can show, if required.

      Sigh…

      1. Take, for example, the idea that condoms, contraceptive pills, stem cell research and abortions are all sins — and we’re simply not allowed to have that conversation. Take, for example, the disdain I used to get for living with my long-term girlfriend. What about the fact that most of the criticism of research done in biology and cosmology is not based in evidence, but religion. England actually televises conversations that give weight to the idea that following a religious book is better for a society than not…

        And yes, I fully expect my government and scientific communities to roll out the red carpet for criticism to policies and ideas within the domain of science. I actually find it hard to believe that we lend enough power to Churches and religious leaders to allow them to shoehorn in their ideas with the sentence “respect my religion”.

      2. The idea that condoms, contraceptive pills, stem cell research and abortions are all sins.

        If I were government officer who dealing with the issue. I don’t think I will easily give an approval for above. Yes, all above have a benefit, but it also have a harm.

        If I take both weight, I can easily put all above in harm position. I can easily agree if the condom only can buy at hospital or pharmacy, but to sell it openly i.e 7-Eleven against my ideas.

        Same with contraceptive pills – You need to buy with doctor’s prescription. I totally against who are selling it openly. If you want to buy it, get a doctor approval.

        — the disdain I used to get for living with my long-term girlfriend. —

        I put like this, if I was a father of your girl friend. there was no security and I putting my daughter at risk. If there are anything happen, birth or what so ever. Who will taking the risk? May be you will say yes, you will responsible, but statistic doesn’t say so.

        In open sexual relationship, most of the risk are on woman. If anything happen, man can just walk away. I know few who are willing to take responsibility, but most don’t. I know a person who give a woman 10k as compensation and hospital treatment for abortion. He was rich and educated too.

        In the environment where open sex is abnormal, thing like this are happening. You think, where open sex is normal, thing will be better?

        People treat people are bargain and you want me to agree.

        1. I understand that condoms and stem cell research and abortions are against your ideas. But I am yet to see that they cause more harm than good. When it comes to stem cell research, I am yet to see that they cause harm at all. These things are against your ideas, and I want ideas like this to actually be debated on a public forum without the shroud of “God said so” stopping the conversation. And it does. We need better conversations.
          When you say a foetus has a soul and therefore abortions are murder you are making a real claim–that of pre-natal souls–for which there is no evidence. It is a religious claim. And so are the rules on contraceptives. If you stop religion having a say on the matter and care more about the effects of things (and slightly less about how loudly some people can ‘feel’ things) the conversation would make a lot more sense.
          People who ‘feel’ an objection to an idea, instead of actually reasoning an objection, are loud and they are in the way of the discussion societies really need us to have.

      3. For abortion, my reasoning as follow. The question is “When it is permitted to have an abortion?”. The answer is religious, but it have secular reasoning.

        http://spa.qibla.com/issue_view.asp?CATE=87&HD=12&ID=270.

        Regarding condom – I don’t understand why man wear condom. It killed your pleasure, and satisfaction. I thought I the only one who feel like that. I ask around, almost all of my friend throw it right away after using it once. I have used it once, I will never use it for second time.

        Many people who are use condom to screw others, so he can not pregnant others. Many who buying that are under age who doesn’t know anything about sex or just curious about it.

        Yes, condom is about birth control. So, get it from pharmacy. I against selling openly, it not everyday product.

  2. Great post mate. Religion has to be banished from the public square and relegated to the private, maybe then its practitioners may find it offers no real value

    1. I do wonder how well people follow their religion in the privacy of their own home. Thanks for your comments.

      (Interestingly: google “Population: italy” — are they abstaining or using condoms? They are Catholic in Italy, right?)

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