This article is part of a series on “God”, religion, and religious people. I recommend reading the first parts listed below before you read this article.
Religion is not something that merits respect and tolerance, the same way you would not respect anyone’s belief in fairies or anything else which its existence cannot be proven or disproven, though any mentally stable person would immediately dismiss. Religion should be regarded as a parasite in a dysfunctional mind, something to be ridiculed. It is this misguided belief that religion should be tolerated and respected that allows it to survive in a time when religion should already be a thing you read about in history books, yet it still exists, dragging humanity down into a pit of ignorance, stupidity, and often dehumanizing violence. Anyone who does not see the horrific effects religion has on humanity is either willfully ignorant, downright stupid, or just does not care enough to see it.
I believed in “God” without asking any questions whatsoever up until the point when I realized that there was such a thing as not believing in “God.” Knowing that there are people out there who doubt or don’t believe in his existence prompted me, as a young boy, to question what I was being told, to develop a skeptical mind. If something so natural that I had never questioned before and seemed so ordinary and every-day, could in fact be false, what else did I take on blind faith? With learning that there’s a possibility that “God” might not be real, a whole new world had opened up to me.
It strikes me as odd how certain people oppose science when it conflicts with their beliefs in a higher power. Science is in everything around them, in every little thing they depend on in day-to-day life, from the light switch to the phones in their pockets, yet when science goes beyond and tries to answer the questions the universe poses, suddenly it’s gone too far and when it does answer certain questions, science becomes unreliable, however certain it is of its answers and regardless of all the proof it provides, as is the case with evolution. Richard Dawkins said way back in 1976 that evolution is as much open to debate as the Earth revolving around the Sun is. That was over 40 years ago and a lot of people today still refuse to accept evolution as a fact, in spite of the mountains of evidence for it.
We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. – Carl Sagan
I feel religious people suffer, in a way, from a sort of intellectual Stockholm syndrome, because that’s what religion basically is, an intellectual captor, keeping your mind in a state of captivity and preventing it from functioning properly and all the while you feel good about it.
Fair enough, perhaps. But not, I submit, for readers of The Spectator, because religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.
Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality. No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’; instead the will to power. No more ‘Thou shalt not’; instead people would live by the law of nature, the strong dominating or eliminating the weak. ‘An act of injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be “unjust” as such, because life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner.’ Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.
This had nothing to do with him personally and everything to do with the logic of Europe losing its Christian ethic. Already in 1843, a year before Nietzsche was born, Heinrich Heine wrote, ‘A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem like a harmless idyll. Christianity restrained the martial ardour of the Germans for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman is shattered, savagery will rise again… the mad fury of the berserk, of which Nordic poets sing and speak.’ Nietzsche and Heine were making the same point. Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.
Richard Dawkins, whom I respect, partly understands this. He has said often that Darwinism is a science, not an ethic. Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster. But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it. – Chief Rabbi: atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians
The world would crumble because of religion in the first place. If people weren’t raised to be moral because of their religion but based simply on common sense and compassion, you wouldn’t turn to religion as a pivot in a functional, moral society. Morality is inherent, but it needs to be nurtured, at least at first, otherwise it withers. If keeping religion would only mean that people would be more moral/good, I’d be somewhat more tolerant of it, though having a world built around a concept that defies reason is still something I see as a problem, a barrier in the way of freedom of thought. But that’s not the case, is it? Religion isn’t just a force for good, nor will it ever be. It’s not like religion doesn’t also breed its fair share of horrible things. It certainly can’t be ignored. All that being said, I’m not really sure that the positive things about religion outweigh the negative, nor is religion necessary for the achievement of the positive things; there is literally no good thing religion brings to the world that couldn’t be achieved otherwise.
It is just that, in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’ – ibidem
I think it’s really sad, but if I were to have faith in something, it would be in humanity, it would be in exactly such a world, where people no longer need religion to be moral. It may not happen during my lifetime, it may not happen during the lifetimes of my great-grandchildren, but I want to believe that it will happen at some point. Maybe the world really isn’t ready and strong enough for religion to be abolished, but I want to believe that someday, it will be.
Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were ‘getting religion’ – praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don’t worship any god at all, don’t pray, and don’t give much credence to religious dogma of any kind. Instead of being bastions of sin and corruption, however, as the Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the ‘happiness index’ and enjoy their healthy societies, which boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer. Zuckerman formally interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds over the course of fourteen months, beginning in 2005. He was particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their lives without religious orientation. How do they think about and cope with death? Are they worried about an afterlife? What he found is that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. This led him to wonder how and why it is that certain societies are non-religious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures some interesting answers. This fascinating approach directly counters the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman believes, for Americans to know that society without God is not only possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant. – Phil Zuckerman, “Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment”
To say that “God” is beyond human comprehension and logic is a convenient way of sticking to your absurdly ridiculous and unfounded beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence against said beliefs, or at least a clear lack of any kind of evidence for them.
How can you love a god that’s not humble? How can you love a god who flaunts his power constantly and who rejoices in the idea that you would renounce all worldly possessions and relationships just to show your love for him? If I, a mere mortal, were in his position, I would feel awful knowing that there are people who would endure anything and who would make others endure anything if they thought that that pleased me. I would feel like a burden to them and my conscience would be a burden to me. Say what you will and sugarcoat it anyway you want to, but the fact is that your god, whom you love and worship, is a selfish and horrible being who in no way loves human beings as you would like to believe. If he truly does, his love is in stark contrast to the way he would have us think and live our lives. If a person would display such a disgustingly distorted form of love for people, he would be put away for the safety of those around him. There are people who proudly say they would renounce their families, friends, and whole lives for “God,” and they think that makes “God” happy. I fail to understand how they cannot see what horrible a being it is to which they would so happily give everything and out of love, no less, not fear.
“God” is omnipotent, right? Of course he is; he’s also omniscient (although these two traits form a paradox, as they rule each other out, but let’s play along for now). Being omnipotent and whatnot, “God” has conceived a plan, a grand plan for each and every one of us. Apparently, this plan includes murder, rape, genocide, disease, and a whole bunch of nasty stuff. In the end, somehow, it’s all for the greater good. My questions is, if “God” is omnipotent, why must all those things be included in his plan? Why not just have the greater good in the end without all the suffering? He does love us, right? Yet it would seem he wants us to suffer. Now, you might say he’s testing our faith and that we constantly need to prove to him that we’re loyal servants and we trust and love him no matter what, and other such horrible things, because for such an awesome entity, “God” is like a jealous boyfriend with some pretty serious issues. You might say he’s testing our faith, but I’m going to go ahead and post a quote from another article I wrote some time ago, that basically explains why “God’s” traits render the concept of free will impossible and thus we can’t be tested for anything since everything we do and think is “God’s” will.
And what about free will? Since “God” is omnipotent and omniscient, every possible ability we as mere humans can conceive with our minds, “God” has it. If that’s so, then that means “God” knows our future and that means that free will is an illusion, masterfully crafted by our loving “God”. There is no free will because no one could ever do anything differently than in the future “God” knows will happen. Since there is no other force superior to “God” in any way, our future can’t possibly be random, so it must have been chosen by “God” and each individual’s future has been already chosen since the beginning of time, even before their existence. Ergo, everything anyone has ever thought, said, and done, has been “God’s” will and nothing more. That means that absolutely everything in existence, from the smallest particles in the Universe to every living, breathing being, is exactly where and how “God” wants them to be, for no real reason, just because. You’re an atheist? That’s “God’s” will. You’re a Satanist? That’s “God’s” will. You were born deformed? That’s “God’s” will.
What’s the point of “Heaven” and “Hell”? Logical reasoning dictates that there’s no free will and no one has control over their lives and “God” decides how our lives unfold and who goes where completely at random and by no means based on merit. […] It means everything exists by “God’s” will and we are, in fact, absolutely powerless and completely insignificant. – “Free Will?” – My Thoughts on “God”
So basically “God” is a sadistic puppeteer and we suffer for his amusement.
I don’t understand the concept of prayer or why anyone does it. Is “God” not omniscient and all-powerful? Does he not already know what you are thinking? More importantly, does he not have some sort of divine plan? Is everything not his will? Because you say he knows all and everything happens for reasons that only “God” could know, because he “works in mysterious ways” and has some sort of divine plan. If he does, is he willing to somehow alter it because you prayed really hard for your team to score a touchdown? Or to find a parking space? Or is he more likely to alter it if you get together with other people for group prayer? Are a larger number of people’s prayers more likely to be heard or indulged if they get together to pray for the same thing? And if he does alter his plan because of people’s prayers, how can he still be omniscient? “God” can’t go back on a decision, because “God” can never be wrong. If he did, it would mean he’s not really omniscient, but just making stuff up as he goes. As with anything religious, prayer just makes no sense whatsoever, and as with anything religious, all you need to do is think a little and it will all soon come crumbling down.
I believe most adults who are religious are so because they’re too comfortable to have ever given religion any serious thought. Those who are not set in their ways, those “weekend Christians,” they may very well be reasonable people who out of lack of interest have simply not stopped to think about their beliefs. Would they, I think they would most likely realize how unfounded their beliefs are and would renounce them.
If “God” were real, I’d like to think that as such a supreme and all-knowing being, he would appreciate his creation’s inclination towards critical thinking and skepticism, its use of the reason with which it has been blessed to question and doubt, rather than to blindly follow. If not, I question that he would be a very likeable god.
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. – Galileo Galilei
When you insult my faith you go right to the heart of what makes me me. When you’re trying to convince me in 140 characters of sub-GCSE philosophical abuse that God doesn’t exist, you’re trying to take away the faith that gets me up in the morning, gets me through the day and helps me sleep at night. You’re ridiculing a God without whom I suspect I might not even be alive, and a God that I prayed to when my mother was going through cancer therapy. You’re knocking a Church that provides me with compassion and friendship without asking for anything in return – perhaps the greatest, most wonderful discovery of my adult life. You see, people don’t generally believe in God for reasons of convenience or intellectual laziness. It’s usually fulfilling a deep need – filling a soul with love that might otherwise be quite empty and alone. In short, when you try to destroy someone’s faith you’re not being a brilliant logician. You’re being a jerk. – If we’re cracking down on Twitter abuse, can we include Richard Dawkins and the atheist trolls?
People don’t generally believe in “God” for reasons of convenience or intellectual laziness (that’s a little open to debate, though), they believe because they’re too weak to find the love and beauty that religion fills their “souls” with in the world around them. All the love and beauty is right here, on this world we live in, in this universe. It’s sad to create a concept from which to draw strength when it provides us with nothing that our world and the people in it can’t.
When I was 12 or 13 years old, while in class, I asked my religion teacher why “God” allowed all sorts of bad things to happen; the way I saw it, this kind, loving and all-powerful god that was being shoved down our throats couldn’t possibly let bad things happen to us, right? So either he wasn’t kind and loving, or he didn’t exist. My teacher did not hesitate in telling me that everything happens for a reason and “God,” in his infinite love and wisdom, has a plan for everyone. I sat back down and was kind of disappointed; I was disappointed because I had thought that I was actually onto something, yet the teacher easily provided an answer. I wasn’t really sure why, but I didn’t really like her answer and I think deep down I knew it was kind of a shitty one. If an answer was to be provided, I was expecting something a little more elaborate, maybe, not just “‘God’ is super smart and has a plan that we will never understand; deal with it.” Now that I’m not 12 anymore, I know that that was a shitty answer, yet people, actual adults, do think like that.
You’d think a being so great and infinitely wise as “God” would be beyond such petty nonsense as expecting his beloved creations to literally worship him in blind faith and love him without – and I cannot stress this enough – literally any proof of his existence whatsoever. Such a perfect being would be beyond these sort of dumb schoolgirl expectations and would have no trouble definitively proving his existence by showing himself to man and saying “Hey, poof! Here I am. Now love and worship me or go to Hell for all eternity.” Because that’s who he is, really, isn’t it? That’s basically all it comes down to. “You’ve been one of the kindest and most loving people throughout your whole life. However, you did not accept me into your heart, even though no sane person would have any reason to. It’s Hell for you, I’m afraid. Off you go!”
Threatening an atheist with Hell is, to me, one of the dumbest things a religious person can do. How do you figure that to be a valid claim against atheism? It seems to me that doing so would suggest you consider fear a good reason to believe. Do you believe because you’re afraid of getting on “God’s” bad side and ending up in Hell? Is that the loving “God” you hold in such high esteem? Because if he is, he doesn’t seem that loving to me; in fact, he sounds like a really awful guy. Either he is as perfect and loving as you claim, which I think would make it impossible for him to consider fear based belief a reason to “save” you, or he isn’t, in which case he does see it as a good reason and as a result is pretty undeserving of any kind of praise, wouldn’t you say?
I’ve often heard people ask that if there’s no “God”, what’s the meaning of life, its purpose? To that I respond by asking if “God” does exist, what’s the purpose of life then? “To go to ‘Heaven’ and be by ‘God’s’ side.” Okay, fair enough, but why? What’s the purpose of that? You die, go to “Heaven”, and then what? Fine, you don’t want to go to “Hell”; that means the only reason you serve “God” is because you want to save yourself from eternal damnation. That’s the purpose of life for many religious people, to not end up in a place where they’ll endure untold suffering by serving “God,” some religious people openly admit that that’s what they think the purpose of life is.
I ask you now, how does that make you feel? To me, it seems very sad. It seems awful, cruel, and unfair. That’s what “God” wants from you; he loves you a lot and all, but if you don’t love him back, you’re toast. He made you for the sole purpose of loving him and being his followers, punishing you if you aren’t. The word “slavery” pops into mind. – “The Meaning of Life” – My Thoughts on Religion
And who in their right mind sees atheism as a choice? Can you simply will yourself to stop or start believing in something whenever you want? Is there anyone who has any control whatsoever over what they feel? Who sets out to be an atheist? It’s not something you decide to become, it is simply the result of a healthy mind, of a mind governed by reason and common sense. No amount whatsoever of fear of Hell and whatnot could ever possibly make a reasonable mind believe in something unreasonable, even if it wanted to, even if it tried to. It just can’t happen. You can’t look at your hand and will yourself into believing it has 6 fingers, even with a gun pointed at your head. You can lie about it, but you still know it makes no sense.
I have this dream of a future world where people will look back on all these atheists writing articles, making videos, podcasts, and so on, about religion, criticizing it, pointing out its flaws, its negative influence on humanity, ridiculing it and its believers. I have a dream of a future world where people will look back on all us atheists amazed and laugh. They’d say: “Wow! Look at them! They actually had to talk about these things and explain them to people who believed otherwise. There were people who believed otherwise! Such was the state of humanity in those times.” They would be shocked to learn what the world used to be like and they’d feel relieved. “Thank reason we’ve overcome… what was that word again? Religion!”
Faith? I do have faith. I have faith that one day mankind will be strong enough to rely on itself rather than on made up deities. I have faith that mankind will be so strong that these fictitious deities it reaches out to for help will become obsolete. I have faith that every man and woman will find that the help they need was inside them all along.