This is a continuation of my first post: The End of Religion. If you want answers as to why I’m writing this, please look there.
Let me preface this post by saying that, the key reason for me writing both articles, rather than admonishing or attempting to convert the faithful to non-believers, is to simply get the reader(s) thinking. This is particularly directed toward Generation Y (which I belong to). We need to start having conversations about the important topics of the world, those outside or own self-absorbed bubbles. Only then can we start to better understand the world and if necessary, direct it towards a more favourable course.
Religion is unquestionably one of those important topics. It still holds sway over a tremendous portion of the modern-worlds population. It is also (still) the cause of many of the modern-worlds problems. It is therefore essential that the subject of religion, specifically its criticism, is allowed free discourse, in all sectors of society. It’s a conversation we need to have, to ensure both our intellectual as well as physical progress as a species is maintained.
Now let’s get straight back into it shall we..
It’s a quintessential trait of the unique human consciousnesses to seek purpose or meaning in life. Whether it be human behaviour; why we do what we do, biology; why we are the way we are or the very essence of our existence, life without meaning appears pointless to many. That is why, I’m assuming, so many still cling to their religious ideologies, that we are all part of a grand plan. The meaning of life to these people therefore is to sort out those fit for heaven and those are to spend an eternity in damnation. But to those who automatically assume they are reserved a place in heaven, simply on the basis of their beliefs (that they were one of the lucky few born in the right place at the right time) what is the meaning of their life on Earth? They are simply killing time, waiting for the day they return to their maker and spend the rest of eternity in bliss. That to me is the least purposeful life of all.
Consider though, that there really is no purpose. That this is all just a result of chance. The dice were rolled and this is the combination they landed on. Isn’t that incredible? The history of humanity, all our chaos and glory, all our wars, technological advancements is what we have chosen to do with that lucky roll. It’s all on us. We’ve evolved from the tiniest microbe to be the civilisation we are today, capable of even considering questions such as these. If that isn’t a miracle I don’t know what is.
We have been granted the opportunity to ascribe our own meaning to our lives. We are in control of our own destiny, our own future and in a small way, the future of humanity as whole. In that way we are truly free. Isn’t that preferable to having your destiny predetermined? No matter what you were to do, it’s wouldn’t be a result of your own efforts but simply one step forward on the narrow path that has already been preordained.
I love this quote from Ricky Gervais;
‘It’s a strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It’s the opposite. We have nothing to die for. We have everything to live for.’
Doesn’t that give you reason to make the most of your life and live to its full potential.
There is an amazing post by Tim Urban over at Waitbutwhy.com titled ‘Religion For the Nonreligious‘. It gives great insight into how spirituality is indeed possible for those of us who don’t believe in a higher power. It’s well worth 20 minutes of your time.
You happened to be born in the U.S.A in 1954 to a white, middle class family living in Georgia.
You were born January 3rd, 1970, in the state of Palestine.
You were born in Northern India, March 1980.
You are born this year in the Czech Republic.
With the exception of perhaps scenario number 4, you can guess with pretty high odds of success, exactly which religion the person in each of these scenarios would belong to (With the case of number 4, they’re likely to be Atheist)
What does this tell you?
It demonstrates that an individuals faith, which god they worship and which church they attend is, with few exceptions, purely coincidental. These individuals are also likely to believe, for the most part, that they were lucky enough to have stumbled across exactly the right faith at exactly the right time in history. Out of the thousands of options out there, they were the fortunate few blessed by divine providence. Thank goodness they won’t have to spend an eternity in hell like all those other poor fools who happened to be born a few kilometers over the wrong side of the border… (in this regard religion has a lot in common with another dangerous ideology: Nationalism)
Those who follow 1 particular faith are Atheists toward 99.999% of all other religions throughout history. What gives them the certainty that they have chosen the right doctrine to follow and the right god to worship?
God of The Gaps
I think it’s a fair argument to make that religion dulls curiosity and stifles innovation.
If the answer to a question isn’t known, be it a question of our existence, how the universe came into being or (in medieval and even some modern-day cultures where scientific theory isn’t known or well-advanced) what caused a natural disaster, it is has traditionally been assumed to be an act of god. This assumption in of itself prevents any further inquiry. What’s worse, those who did dare to challenge these ridiculous notions, have historically been deemed heretics and were likely put to death.
Often however, the resulted answer of ‘god’, raises more questions than it answers. Consider the origins of the universe, a question that is still a bit of mystery to even our most capable of modern day minds. I’m confident that one day, the mystery will be solved, logically and with the proof of reason and evidence. Until that day, we will inevitably have a large portion of population claiming that, due to the fact we can’t yet explain it, god must have done it. This assumption however, makes the question infinitely more difficult to solve. If there were indeed a being with the capability of creating time and space, putting together something as complex as the universe well, how did ‘it’ get there? What created it? What are its properties and characteristics? Not only does it require blind faith to believe in this presumption, it makes the question of our existence immeasurably harder to explain. It really answers nothing.
Perhaps the most damaging impact of religion on humanity (outside of holy wars) is it’s stifling of innovation. The advancement of civilisation has been held back centuries due to the curse of religious belief and the church’s repressive rule over the world.
Scientists such as Galileo were tortured at the hands of the inquisition for discovering facts that went against the grain of the church and what they had been preaching. The genius Leonardo Di Vinci was afraid to publicise certain inventions for fear of being labelled a heretic and being locked up or executed. It was centuries before such designs were conceived by others, time for development and improvement lost at the hands of the Christian institution.
This repression is still going on today.. The research into stem cells, a potential treatment that could positively impact the lives of millions, even billions, is being held back due to religious doctrine.
Islamic scholars were amongst the most innovative of their time, inventing algebra, the magnifying glass & many surgical advancements until they too, were repressed.
Where would humanity be today if religion, particularly the holy trinity of Judaism, Christianity and Islam had never been invented? One can only wonder.. (I guess we’ll find out in another few centuries.)
The End of Religion
I do not wish to makes converts of any members of faith (even if I thought I had the ability to, which I don’t). It would be far too difficult and ego-shattering to have lived your whole life by one set of values and principles only to announce that it was all a lie..
I am content in my assumption that the majority of educated religious folk are quite doubtful in their own beliefs but simply refuse to confront these doubts head on. Whether it be through fear of death, never seeing their loved ones again or the previously mentioned fear of ‘time-wasted under the rule of false beliefs’. It doesn’t matter. I am confident my assumption is true due to the way most educated Christians or Jews (as an example) act (or react) in regards to questions of their faith.
Another complete puzzlement to me is this clinging to life that is so inherently religious in nature. If you survey anti-abortionists, pro-life activists and their ilk, you will likely find one common thread (at least 1..): their ‘belief’ in an afterlife. Generally, the most vehement supporters of euthanasia and abortion are in fact atheists. Shouldn’t this be reversed? I thought the promise of a divine heaven should be an enticement to leave this life as early as possible.. I can only reason that it’s fear of heavens non-existence which causes these types to cling on to this earthly life so heartily.
Getting back to the point with which I started this topic, I know it’s not reasonable to expect the conversion of the faithful into non-believers. They have far too much invested, their identity indeed has been partly established on the grounds of their faith (this is another crucial difference- an atheist doesn’t live her life on the basis of being an atheist, it is a non-factor).
Instead all I can propose is that we don’t pass these superstitions and un-truths onto the next generation. At the very least, give the children of tomorrow a choice in what they can believe.. I’m quietly confident that, in the absence of parental or scholastic bias, you will fail to see many god-fearing children in the next generation or two.
As long as the fear of death remains, we will likely have some form of belief in an after-life. That is human nature. This religiously induced belief provides comfort and relief to the masses, taking away the despair that results from losing the ones you love.
The other key factor in religions survival is, in Victor Frankl’s terms, ‘man’s search for meaning’. Humanity is in a constant search for answers- to the origin of life, the origin of the cosmos and more locally, why we are here. As long as these questions remain unanswered, many will invent answers that have no basis on truth or evidence. As science advances however, these unanswerable questions become fewer and fewer, and the necessity of making up un-verifiable answers is also greatly diminished. Therefore religions stranglehold on ‘knowledge’ will also diminish, as it has done over the last several centuries.
There are so many other topics I could’ve touched on in these posts, not limited to; war and persecution in the name of religion, the historical inaccuracies of all the founding doctrines, the issues that have resulted from sexual repression in the church etc.. etc.. the list goes on and on. The are so many other pieces of literature out there that delve far deeper into all of these topics however, all I wish to do with this post is get a few people thinking (namely those in my generation) about bigger issues outside themselves. Although I don’t have a significant audience in any way, I hope the point of this article reaches a few of you.. in any case I’ve learnt a lot and hopefully improved my critical thinking and reasoning by the writing of it.
As an atheist I am quite content with the thought of not surviving my own death, in the words of Mark Twain:
“I do not fear death, I had been dead for billions of years before I was born and didn’t suffer the slightest inconvenience.”
All I can do is try and make use of the limited time I have here on Earth and hopefully leave the world a better place than I found it.
If it turns out I’m wrong and there is indeed an afterlife, I guess I’ll see some of you in hell (most of you I’m guessing, if you’re reading this..). It seems all the interesting people are going there anyway..