A Critique on Religious Belief and the Common Ways Believers Defend Them
The recent developments in the Middle East and yet another videotaped murder of a non combatant has motivated me to raise awareness in regard to the consequences that unjustified religious beliefs have on society. I welcome all comments and counterarguments.
I feel that religion has been granted immunity from rational criticism in human discourse. Pretending to know things that you do not know somehow passes as wisdom within social circles. Religion is seen as a force for good and gets a free pass on even the most ridiculous and divisive postulations.
Religion has balkanized our world into separate moral communities. People are organizing their lives around a propositional claim that one of their books has been dictated by the creator of the universe or that a piece of real estate has been promised to them in an omniscient real estate deal.
These beliefs are representations of a possible state of the world and they do have consequences. These beliefs typically subsume infatuations like the end of history and apocalyptic prophecy. These ideas have geopolitical consequences and we constantly see the work being done throughout the world on issues like medical research, contraception, abortion, marriage equality, homosexuality, morality, and sex and science education.
We can trace the intolerance underpinning these beliefs back well before Saint Augustine’s argument for the use of torture that laid the foundations for the inquisition. Still today we read about Catholic Ministers preaching the sinfulness and immorality of condom use to those in Sub-Saharan Africa dying by the millions every year from HIV/AIDS. We've recently seen the Ugandan President sign anti gay legislation into law that has harsh penalties for homosexuality after Christian Evangelicals spread their heartfelt religious beliefs in his country. This is criminal negligence that would be prosecuted in any other organization.
We've recently seen a craft store that not only claims to have religious beliefs, but those beliefs now allow them to blatantly ignore science and deny the coverage of certain contraceptives in their employees health plans, from which they have no problem turning a profit on through their investments in pharmaceuticals and healthcare companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs and emergency contraception. We can open the NY Times daily and see the bomb blasts attested to by religious conviction. The fact that we are still even fighting for the acceptance of evolution and climate change boggles the mind.
I am not denying that religious people have done positive things for humanity by any means. The new flavor of religious moderation and scriptural cherry picking doesn't typically make people fly planes into buildings, but the problem still remains. Religion provides bad reasons to do things when good reasons are readily available.
Religion serves as a remarkably effective conversation stopper. The emotional hijacking coupled to them can deeply partition the human mind. Religion provides an extremely efficient framework from which to pretend that you have all the answers and to stop seeking knowledge. Religion aspires to manipulate the minds of young children before they reach an age to reason for themselves. Religious belief derails the use of our full creative capabilities when dealing with 21st century challenges.
The time for respecting such beliefs has long passed. We've been told that we need to respect our neighbors religious beliefs, merely because they believe them. Where else in human conversation do we operate under these guidelines? When was the last time you heard this justification being used by a surgeon, or in a courtroom, or by the engineers designing bridges?
When we flip the subject to god then all bets are off. You can be certain, with zero evidence. You can arrive at your beliefs without reason and defend them against all reason. You don’t need a legitimate argument, you have faith to stop rational inquiry and intellectual honesty. You can be an elected official making wicked claims like Benghazi and the terrorist attacks of 9-11 were judgments from god and still be considered a credible source regarding the nature of reality.
We do not respect someone’s belief, we evaluate their reasons. Faith has never been an effective measure to distinguish fact from fantasy. Either you have good reasons for what you believe, or you don’t.
We literally have 1st century or earlier beliefs, literally iron age philosophy coupled with increasingly more destructive 21st century technologies. This alone should be of tremendous concern while sectarian conflicts in Gaza, Iraq and Africa continue in a post 9-11 world of higher awareness towards censorious Islamic fundamentalism. Our circumstances are much more disturbing than we’d like to admit. This overarching taboo needs to be revisited. There really is an argument to be won here.
Since I've moved from New Jersey to Florida, I’ve heard more about this imaginary dictator that people claim to be certain exists more than ever. During my conversations and online interactions with believers, I typically encounter a few ways used to defend religion. I want to organize these arguments because just about every conversation between a believer and a non believer will find one of these snag points.
Strangely people don’t think that criticizing religion is a bad idea because the evidence for a presumably ubiquitous, yet invisible biblical god is so overwhelming, but instead tend to revert to 3 common methods of defense.
They’ll argue that a specific religion is true, or that religion is useful, or choose to attack atheism.
Claims of Truth
1. First let’s deal with the claim that a certain religion is true. The first problem here is that they can’t all be true. If we did choose to frame this as god’s multiple choice exam and roll the dice, then we’d have to choose correctly from over 4,000 religions on offer. Even if you narrow this down to the 9 or 10 predominant and incompatible doctrines of today, you can still expect damnation purely from a matter of probability. When making decisions that will decide happiness or suffering for eternity, one could certainly hope for more favorable odds.
Notice that your typical believer may not be educated even in regard to their own doctrine or literature, let alone dozens of others. It is very likely that they have absorbed the dominant faith in their home or their society and rejected the other religions without ever researching them or reading their holy books. This should absolutely give pause to people professing religious certainties. They can’t all be right, but they can all be wrong.
If anyone of our religions were true, the followers of that god would be experiencing tangible and undeniable benefits. These benefits would be evident to everyone. There would be endless statistical markers affirming the worship of that god. People would have already lined up throughout history and there would be no question in regard to the one true god. There certainly would be no need to knock on anyone’s door or to leave pamphlets at gas stations to spread the faith. Modern society gives no indication of this.
2. The second and more profound issue with arguing for the truth of a specific religion, is that the evidence for our religions is either completely absent or desperately anecdotal. I’m referring to all support for claims to the existence of a personal god, the virgin birth of certain people, the divine origin of certain books, the veracity of ancient miracles and supposed resurrections. God has never left any evidence of his existence on Earth; concurrently, the miracles of Jesus didn't either. God feels no need to post to social media, code software, write music, make movies or take over the television to end the unnecessary violence, division and hate that we have always seen; not to mention saving the billions of damned people that aren't calling him by the correct name. Prayer offers us no indication that god is answering them. Egregious events like the Holocaust and Holodomor take place without action from god. This complete absence of evidence should be enough for any unbiased observer to stop believing in fairy tales.
Now some may be eager to cite scripture, or specifically the bible as a foundation for their defense. I've heard this quite a few times and I want to shelve this claim thoroughly.
The claim is that ancient text, plagiarized from earlier Pagan religions and translated from copies of copies of hearsay by primitive, illiterate and ignorant people in the 1st century Roman empire, would be all that is necessary to believe extraordinary claims. We're told, as it turns out, that there is a personal god who takes an interest in authoring books from time to time. First let’s put aside the notion that the most compelling evidence that an intelligent creator can provide to convince us of his existence is a catalog of self delusion that could never be corroborated.
Biblical scholars agree that the earliest gospels were written decades after the life of Jesus and the events that they report. These books have been edited repeatedly by man, with entire books being removed from the canon. People lived and died by these books.
Even if the bible was completely unaltered throughout history, it is profoundly unscientific and wildly contradictory. It is shockingly immoral and loaded with barbaric practices like murder, rape, slavery, human sacrifice, genital mutilation and global genocide. These deeply inadequate responses are the best possible solutions that an all knowing, all loving, all powerful creator; which is on it's face a self contradiction, could think of to problems that he knew would arise to begin with.
Referring to the bible only digs a deeper hole and specious deflections to the new testament still spotlight an unchanging, violent and capricious god. This bait and switch essentially suggests that god once wanted us to kill: everyone who has cursed or hit their father or mother, everyone that has not listened to a priest, every women that is not a virgin on her wedding night, followers of other religions and their children and the entire town from which they reside, blasphemers, false prophets, infidels, people working on the Sabbath, adulterers, homosexuals, witches, fortune tellers, and nonbelievers, but then changed his mind.
Jesus says in Matt 5:18 - “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till it is fulfilled.” If you want to throw out the old testament, then throw out the creation stories and the 10 commandments included in it as well and welcome yourself to modernity.
Just think of how good a book would be if it were authored by the creator of the universe. The reader would be left in awe from the clarity and wisdom of this book. There would be no putting it down; Instead, we see the opposite. We are dumbfounded by the continually false logic and absurdity. The bible creates more atheists than believers.
These texts are referred to ad nauseam as to be so wise, that the human mind could not have produced them. Please examine how unlikely this is. There is not a single passage that could not have been written by someone in their respective times. This is a problem when claiming that this is the best book we have.
The bible is nothing more than an attempt to explain many things that ancient man did not understand and therefore assigned intentional agency to them. This approach is overtly rooted in an argument from ignorance and an argument from personal incredulity. We have explanations today in regard to the origin of the cosmos and our species that are so much better than the explanations on offer in the bible. So much better that if they were available then, one could question if religion would have ever taken root at all. No one would now go back to believing that we live on a flat planet or forget that microorganisms exist. These explanations have been relentlessly and conclusively discredited and I’d be ashamed to suggest that they were even inspired by my god.