There is nothing wrong with religion… Except their belief systems, their perpetuation by pedophile preachers, their teachings, bigotry, insane prophets, murders, holy books, (and I mean there are a lot of holes in them), lack of critical thinking and logic, tortuous histories, anti-science outlooks, indoctrination of the young, claims to be any kind of guide to morality, subjugation of women, hypocrisy, misused wealth, sodomising monks, divisive schooling, interference in government, self-righteous holier-than-thou crap, claims to know the answer to everything, the stupidest memes, the big daddy in the sky, and ‘intelligent design’, which really means, ‘It’s too complicated for me to understand, so everything must’ve been done by a supernatural power, using magic.’
One of the major issues that I see as a bad thing about religion – at least within the three main Abrahamic traditions, is the speciesism that is integral to the belief systems. Whilst it is true that there are some ‘laws’ laid down for the treatment and slaughter of animals in these belief systems, they are in many cases treated with appalling cruelty, from Josua’s crippling of horses, to horrific ritual sacrifices designed to satisfy the whims of a god who enjoys the smell of burning flesh.
Humans are seen as the top species on the planet with the right to do whatever we like to lesser animals. This ethos has so embedded itself in our society that many people, even scientists, deny that other species have consciousness, feel emotion, or can love and feel pain in the same way that we do.
Thus, as a species, we use animals in any way we like. There are tortuous experiments worldwide designed to inflict pain to test animal resilience, and these experiments are widely reported in respectable journals which seem to have the attitude that anything done in the name of science, no matter how cruel, is for the general good. So rats are bred to have terrible genetic diseases that give the poor creatures a lifetime of suffering. Chemicals are dropped into the eyes of rabbits to test how much damage they do to the rabbits’ eyesight, and LD 50 experiments are still carried out dispassionately to test how much of a particular toxic chemical, pesticide, or drug it takes to poison half of a group of animals to death. (The other half are killed anyway, so as to make a fresh start for the next experiment). The suffering that the animals undergo is not even a consideration. No ethical committee considers the nausea, the stomach cramps, the fear, the hopelessness, the agony, blisters, abandonment, desire for freedom, terror of the unknown, headaches, joint pains, organ failure or whatever else is experienced by the animals that we use so unthinkingly.
So much for human superiority… It only takes a little observation to realise that all animals are as capable as we are of suffering, and although all animals do not have the same level of consciousness that we do, they are undoubtedly conscious. They may not be able to think in words, but they can and do anticipate, and they show empathy for each other. Their stress hormone levels rise, like ours, when they are subjected to stressful conditions. They will move away from something that inflicts pain on them. They mourn, sometimes to death, over the loss of a companion. They enjoy play, much as we do. They clearly care for their young. I have seen blackbird parents frantically searching night and day for their lost young, taken by a cat. Dolphins and whales will strand themselves to stay with a sick friend or relative. And most animals will fight to protect their young.
So the question comes to consciousness… And it’s something about which we don’t really have a good enough definition. But common sense can tell us a lot. If an animal can make a decision, it is necessarily conscious, because consciousness is required to make decisions. So a hedgehog that decides to go to sleep rather than forage for more food is conscious. A goldfish that makes a decision to chase another rather than come up for food is conscious. Creatures of all kinds, including ourselves, consciously choose a mate from what they see as the fittest of the contenders. A lot of instinct, and perhaps pheromones are involved, but there always comes a time to make a decision.
Man’s dominion over other animals is not therefore because we have a god-given right, or because we have consciousness and they do not. Rather it is because our evolution has given us a peculiar form of intelligence combined with a dexterity that allows us to dominate other species. It could so easily been different.
In this vast universe though, where there are as many galaxies as there are grains of sand on the earth, there must be intelligences that are as far above humans as we are above fruit flies. Where then the superiority of humans? We think of ourselves as conscious, but there could easily be conscious beings in this universe who restrict their views of consciousnes, as we restrict our views in homocentric ways, to beings who can create matter at will, who have the mental power to be what we think of as gods. Only gods can thus be conscious. Ironically, such gods would likely be atheists.
The superiority of humans is therefore a very blinkered view, perpetuated by religions founded thousands of years ago, when we did not realise there were other worlds, and our imaginations were limited by daily survival as desert nomads. That this blinkered viewpoint still limits the consciousness of people, causing endless suffering to species that we think are by right, under our dominion, to kill at will, to bleed to death and eat, to torture in the name of science, is without doubt a bad thing about religion and a disgrace to any conscious human, religious or not.
I had the pleasure of being invited to a Passover meal recently and despite not understanding Hebrew, I enjoyed the experience. We were given a little pamphlet that had an English translation of the proceedings. It was basically a comic. What surprised me was that it seemed to be mostly about thanking the god of the desert for helping the Israelites by plaguing the Egyptians in various Machiavellian ways. Is it any wonder that Arabs and Jews are still in conflict?
Two Jews sat in a coffeehouse, discussing the fate of their people.
“How miserable is our history,” said one. “Pogroms, plagues, discrimination, Hitler, Neo-Nazis… Sometimes I think we’d be better off if we’d never been born.”
“Sure,” said his friend, “but who has that much luck…maybe one in fifty thousand?”
It struck me that the Jewish god has a typically Jewish sense of humour. I mean, given a god that could do anything, he instead decides to really annoy the Egyptians with the most diabolical things he could think of, in the following sequence…
1. The Nile River turns to blood
5. Livestock disease
10. Death of the First Born
Comments: 1. The Nile River turns to blood…
This would kill all the fish, which many Egyptians used for sustenance. Also, it would soon begin to stink. So the Egyptians have dead fish, a horrible stink, and a river turned to blood…. Black pudding anyone?
Apparently, the second plague consisted of frogs falling from the sky. This is a known phenomenon, but is very rare. Unless they could think of something to do with all the frogs, the ancient Egyptians would have been a bit overwhelmed. Had there been any French amongst them at the time, of course, there would have been no problem.
Even the thought of lice makes me itchy. Can you imagine the scratching? A plague of lice would be really annoying. You’d change all your clothes for fresh ones, have a really hot soapy bath with Wild Oregano Oil; or some other lice killer of the time, be inspected all over by a close friend to make sure there were no lice left, and as soon as you got dressed you’d be covered in lice again. At least, if I were a god imposing a plague, that’s what I’d do…
Just when you had got rid of the lice, you’d open the door to bring in the milk, and lo and behold, a beast! Maybe a tiger, but at least a warthog. There’d be beasts everywhere, with a plague of beasts, and it would make life very awkward. For one thing, you wouldn’t be able to let the kids go out and play. There is nothing I can find to say how long the plague of beasts lasted, but it is certain that a lot of people would have been eaten alive, some in the most undignified of circumstances. Still, it’d give you something to talk about down at the local ale house where beast steaks would be on the menu.
5. Livestock Disease.
You thought you’d had enough to cope with lately, but out for a pleasant walk, you’d go up to the farm and find all your cows had gone mad, your goats were climbing the roofs, and your sheep vomiting worms. Yuk!
They are nasty things boils. And it depends where you get them, but if God gave you them with the purpose of annoying you as much as possible, you can bet they’d be in some awkward places. And lo and behold, as soon as you got someone to squeeze one boil, a bigger one would pop up to replace it. You’d try covering them in mud or leeches. Oops – you’ll wish you hadn’t burned the witches – they knew how to get rid of boils.
I’m guessing that a plague of hail wasn’t just little lumps you could build snowmen from, they’d have been huge iceballs that’d go through your roof. Plus, your sick livestock would have nowhere to hide. You couldn’t really dodge them. If God wants to get you with a hailstone, he’ll wait until you are off your guard, and ‘Whack!’
You might be feeling a bit persecuted by this time, if you’ve survived everything so far. Well, at least you’ve managed to get the new crops planted. Surely nothing else can go wrong… Wait a minute, what’s that buzzing sound?
Who put the lights out? Is this a practical joke? Right, someone needs to invent street lights!
10. Death of the First Born
This one’s no joke. The oldest child in your family would just drop dead, killed by God. Also, your oldest ox and your oldest sheep from each ox and sheep family. Goats too! God’s given your livestock a really tough time lately. Bet you’d grown really fond of old Daisy… She still had all those boils, and was starving, because the locusts ate all her food, and broken ribs from the hail, but at least you thought she might recover and give you some milk. Wrong! Oxtail soup is on the menu tonight, after Amenhotep’s funeral.
It may not be immediately obvious that faith is a bad thing about religion, but some thought on the subject makes it clear. We hear of someone being called a man or woman of faith, and that brings a certain amount of respect in religious circles. They may even be given that respect in secular circles where there is often the feeling that we should not mock or test someone ‘of faith’. Faith is thus given respect, as though a person of faith possesses some special quality, and people who challenge that faith are seen at least as iconoclasts, and often as the devil.
So the beliefs of the faithful are cherished beliefs, and they generally do not like those beliefs being challenged, no matter how absurd they may seem to the person of independent mind. In some countries, challenges to faith are seen as apostasy, and still merit the death penalty. As I have mentioned in other essays, even in Europe there are challenges to freedom of speech, with religious leaders trying to have a Europe-wide blasphemy law invoked. If that were to happen, this essay would be illegal, and our restricted rights would be the beginning of a ‘sliding slope’.
Freedom of speech is something we have to defend against erosion. Nobody, no government, and no religion should beyond criticism. Freedom of speech also means we should be able to mock whoever and whatever we like. There is a lot of humour in the hypocrisy of government lies; in the stupidity of religious beliefs, and in individual buffoons, religious, royal, governmental or otherwise. Humour, in fact, is the best weapon to use against those who will not be mocked. They should be mocked at every opportunity.
But back to focus on religion. Religious faith, like faith in the word of a politician, is nothing but belief without logical reason. It is the legacy of thousands of years of superstitious belief when people had no way of explaining the world except by magic. The things that happened to our ancestors needed explanation, so they believed that spirits or gods were responsible for events, good or bad; for natural catastrophes (punishment from the gods), for good luck in harvest or hunting (favour from the gods), and for the weather.
Today, this legacy still affects people of faith. They still attribute events in their life to the favour or disfavour of a god or prophet, and they seek to influence the object of their worship with prayer or symbolic sacrifice, hoping to gain the favour of a supernatural power that may influence their life in some beneficial way.
So, some people have faith… but where is the virtue in that faith? Faith is not kindness or loyalty or love—it is simply belief. How can there be virtue in a supernatural belief system? Believing in something—having faith, cannot itself make someone virtuous, for people can have belief in all sorts of things. Personally I believe that I will not turn into a fish overnight. That belief is strong enough to be called faith. However, it does not affect my virtue, because it is simply something that I believe. An example of a religious faith could be a strongly held belief that one day we will all turn into fish. This belief system could be based on a book, or on testimonials of people who claimed to have been told by someone that someone else witnessed a friend turning into a fish.
If you think such a religion would be based upon a far-fetched story, think again—it is no more far-fetched than any of the thousands of creation or transformation myths that abound, or the stories of supernatural entities talking to prophets, revealing things that we should or should not do, or fabulous stories about what will come to pass. Had someone the inclination, there are at least a few people that they could convince of the veracity of our fish destiny. Those who believed would have to convince others, because the nature of self-doubt is such that others who believe the same thing reinforce our own beliefs.
At that point a fish prophet should die by being lost at sea. Soon, people would be wearing bejeweled fish around their necks, and sects would diverge into those who still ate fish, and those who thought that the eating of fish was an abomination. One can imagine fundamentalist believers on either side fighting with each other. Probably, only the good and the faithful of a particular denomination would turn into fish. Perhaps eighty years after the fish prophet’s death, there would be stories of people who witnessed the prophet turning into a fish.
Ridiculous, right? No more ridiculous than a talking serpent persuading Eve to eat from the tree of life. No more ridiculous than Jesus’ mum being impregnated by God; the Scientology of L Ron Hubbard, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the earth being just 6000 years old. In the words of Robert A Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land, “One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.”
Whatever we believe in, to have faith in that belief the thinking person needs reliable, verifiable, falsifiable evidence. We can accept as true many things until they are proven false, but to accept the tenets of a religion as true with no evidence is to be willingly self-deceived. To have faith is therefore to be willingly self-deceived, and that is a bad thing about religion.
Looking at the world as it currently is, it would be easy to despair of humankind. Rarely a day goes by without some atrocity committed in the name of a god or prophet or group of believers, usually from the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition. Sometimes the atrocity is committed because of land boundaries, but often it is because one tradition wants to impose its (usually religious) will on another group or individual. Even secular war activity usually has some religious prejudice or hatred at its roots, at least in its history.
This is not something that atheists can be found doing as a rule… Although many atheists feel strongly that religion is a damaging force in the world, which destroys or severely restricts independent thinking and warps minds, atheists do not jump on soap boxes in the middle of town squares, shouting about the fact. Nor do atheists have violent protest marches, smash up places of worship, or blow themselves up taking a bunch of other people with them. These things are done exclusively by religious people.
And yet, there are random acts of kindness that have the ability to warm our hearts. People rescue animals and give them great lives. A young woman saves an old man from drowning. People intervene to help others. People hand out blankets to those living rough. Human kindness does overflow, but it does so naturally without any religious direction. From the religious right we hear such kindnesses as giving poor people handouts only encourages them; everyone should have the right to bear arms (US), and that we should cut the benefits to single mothers. I’m looking for the compassion there, but can’t find it…
Isn’t it a pity though, that here in York where there are disadvantaged and homeless people who spend the night out in the cold, that the churches don’t open their doors to them, and give them a place to sleep…? Or is the preaching of Christian Charity pure hypocrisy?
Many churches have rich works of art. Their preachers wear robes adorned with gold and they use silver chalices. The higher up members of the churches live in palaces. The churches are amongst the biggest landowners in the country, and are massive investors in the financial and property markets, gaining all their profits without tax because of their charity status. And yet they leave dealing with the homeless to secular organisations like Shelter and Crisis.
If religions want to have the respect of atheists and freethinkers, there are many ways they could start earning that respect. Some of them are obvious. Meanwhile, the people who speak out about injustice and inequalities are not the church spokesmen; they are the secular thinkers, atheists, and humanists of our time. They are humankind fighting for human kindness.
Fundamentalism in religion is to believe absolutely in the central tenets and the earliest tenets
of the religion. It goes back to the beginnings of the religion and gets rid of the subtleties of
modern thought that may have made the religion more acceptable to people living in today’s
world. So a fundamentalist Christian believes that the Bible paints an accurate picture of
creation, and believes in the literal truth of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark and the Flood, the
massacres of Moses, and the virgin birth, life, death, and alleged posthumous rising of Jesus.
A true fundamentalist also believes in the harsh punishments prescribed in the Bible and the
Quran for the many transgressions that break god’s laws; that homosexuals, witches, and
adulterers should be put to death; that an unmarried girl who has lain with a man should be
stoned to death on her father’s doorstep; that a woman’s word is worth half that of a man’s…
and the list goes on. In the Torah, from which the Old Testament of the Christian Bible is
derived, there are not just Ten commandments, but six hundred and thirteen, covering every
aspect of the life people in the Middle East lived thousands of years ago. Want to know what
to do if you catch your neighbour abusing one of your sheep? Look within. Want a guide
to modern life? You won’t find it in the brutality of the religious dictators of either today or
Fundamentalism does not allow for independent thought. There are rules to be obeyed,
and those who disobey them, whether or not they are members of the religion in question,
are administered the prescribed punishments. It breeds a particularly reprehensible form
of collective outrage, in which an insult against a religion or prophet of that religion, causes
believers to use violent means to stop the challenges to their beliefs, and this is true for Islam
today. The extremists challenge our freedom of speech with such a violence that most people
fear to speak their true thoughts aloud, and even politicians in the west will condemn any
criticism against ‘those who must not be offended’. The simple act of speaking your mind,
saying what you believe to be true, can cause thousands of deaths, and a price to be put on
It’s my personal belief that most people are reasonable, and that most of those involved in the
violence don’t really give a damn about what is said about their prophet. However, they can’t let
that be seen by their neighbours, and their neighbours can’t let that be seen by their neighbours,
so they join in, and in the spirit of the collective mind, will join the mob violence and be seen to
be good Muslims defending their prophet. To do otherwise, in certain communities, would be to
be ostracised or worse.
Education invariably cures fundamentalism, but with religious schools still being funded by the
state, at least in the UK, children are sometimes taught from kindergarten level to hate and to
look forward to their heavenly rewards. Such indoctrinated children are unlikely to break out of
the mould they have been shaped by, and so extremism grows, and their group isolation grows
within the foreign territories where they demand respect, despite their violence, or because of it.
This is, however, a respect that they will never be given, because we in the west have become
at least semi-civilised, and those who threaten our freedoms are bound to lose in the end.
How much are we in the west responsible for the hatred now coming our way? Very much,
would be my guess. We should stay out of the business of countries in the Middle East.
The ‘Arab Spring’ is western propaganda, with paid mercenaries, bloodthirsty gangsters and
terrorists given weapons and monetary rewards to instigate change of regimes we do not like.
Oil money leads politics. There are agendas.
Nevertheless, things are coming to a head. Those who threaten us, riot against us, try to restrict
our freedoms, demand that we respect their ridiculous beliefs founded by warmongers and
shepherds from forgotten history, should be wary. We will only stand so much, and when the
tide turns against them; when finally we decide enough is enough, they will realise that they
have underestimated our ability to more than match their excesses. Look how far we had to go
to stop Hitler…
It will be a sad time when that happens, and a frightening time in human history, but
fundamentalist terrorism makes it inevitable. Civilisation will win in the end.
For the most part, Christianity in modern Britain (now that we are no longer burning non-believers at the stake) can serve a useful purpose. It gives those people who need it, and do not have the initiative to think for themselves, something to believe in that is fairly harmless when kept within our own society, so long as they do not try to push it on others, and provides a framework for them to interpret events through, when they do not have enough sense to realise that there is a natural rather than supernatural explanation for everything that happens. I’m really not trying to be condescending here. This is just how things are.
Some Christians claim that the Bible gives them useful moral guidelines, although the book is full of horrific massacres and genocide. Other people claim that fear of future punishment helps to keep religiously inclined people in order. Perhaps this is true, although I doubt it, because people seem to take what they want from religious texts and ignore the rest. They are not going to choose to believe something that interferes with their personal preferences: people choose instead to take on board things that reinforce their personal prejudices, and they feel that those things that give them that reinforcement are true.
I don’t want to get into a long-winded discussion about religion, but I will repeat something I have mentioned before on this blog — that feeling something is true, even feeling it deep inside, with ‘experiential knowledge’ and absolute certainty, is no basis for judging whether something is true. We tend to believe the things we are taught, and that reinforce our prejudices, even if we are not aware of this being the case, (if that were not true, advertising would not work)….
A woman may worship a tree, as some Hindus do, have faith in that tree, go to it for comfort, healing, and strength, pray to it, read the ‘facts’ of the history of previous followers of the tree and the personal messages they got from the tree, and interpret events and the inner peace her belief brings as emanating from the tree, failing to understand that all the inner feelings, faith, belief, interpretations, and the ‘facts’ of the history of previous followers of the tree, are culture and indoctrination based, and that her absolute and total conviction of the truth of this is subconsciously influenced by the her own need to have something to hold on to, as well as an inability to dismiss the beliefs of other people she may respect who hold deep-seated feelings about the sacredness of the tree.
Many or even all faithful followers of one or another religion are victims of their culture and their inner need to believe in something, or to conform to the laws of their land. Even in semi-secular Britain, where there is no law requiring any citizen or politician to subscribe to any particular religion, many people keep their atheism quiet.
To the independent thinker, it seems a bit sad when people stop thinking for themselves and accept the god they have been exposed to in their culture. Realistically, it brings them peace of mind, but it’s the peace of mind of dogmatism and weakness. It’s true that it gives a wonderful feeling to accept something on faith, and with that emotional crutch, not have to stand alone, but it’s harder to face the truth of our existence alone, without the self-delusional support of an imagined god. Nevertheless, standing alone in the world like this brings and provides its own strength. Once one realises the absurdities that faith-based religions are pushing as true, there is no going back.
‘The man o’ independent mind, he looks an’ laughs at a’ that.’ (A Man’s a Man for o’ That. Robert Burns).
But please show me to be wrong. I’d love to discover the ‘true’ basis for your belief. However, you are not facing the facts if you ‘just know it to be true’; ‘feel it to be true’, or, like the tree worshipper, have ‘personal experience of a god’; interpret the inner peace your belief brings as emanating from a god, (it’s actually emanating from the belief itself) or refuse to discuss it because your arguments are not strong enough…
This is your challenge: to look within and examine the ‘true’ basis of your faith.
Throughout religious history, especially in the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in all their many manifestations and break-off sects, there has been a set of dogma that believers adhered to, often blindly believing that their holy books gave them direct instructions from their versions of God, through revelations of one or another prophet, turned into a written doctrine that should not be deviated from.
These instructions are often contradictory, but still often detailed, providing instructions on what to eat and when, what festivals to celebrate, and what to do about sex, as well as prescribing punishments for infidels, apostates, slaves, and disobedient women. They are also seriously out of date; as if the prophets who are credited with writing the books could not see far enough ahead to realise that what they wrote was effectively setting in stone rules and regulations that would not be able to be updated, and would lead to the deaths of millions, the destruction of entire societies, and the barbarism of the cruel society they lived in being perpetuated for generation upon generation.
So whilst and where each religion adheres to the dogma in the books they call holy, progress is slow or non-existent. This is best seen today in states that are ruled by Sharia Law – the Islamic version of justice, (in Iran, the Islamic Penal Code), mostly derived from the Torah and the Quran, where such things as stoning young girls to death for breaching one or another of many rules, the burning of witches, and the putting to death of homosexuals are laid down. To be raped there is a crime, which can be punishable by death.
“On October 30, 2008, the United Nations condemned the stoning to death of Aisha Duhulowa, a 13-year-old girl who had been gang-raped and then sentenced to death by a Sharia court for fornication (Zina). She was screaming and begging for mercy, but when some family members attempted to intervene, shots were fired by the Islamic militia and a baby was killed.”
Assyrian International News Agency (http://www.aina.org/news/20081117111817.htm)
Superstition rules religions of all sorts, and reason fades where religion rages. The Torah and Old Testament are full of brutality, genocide, and the cruelest of punishments for the slightest of offences. This is the dogma that still rules Islamic states today, and the Imams and Islamic courts enforcing Sharia Law have created regimes as bad as the worst of the dictators of the 20th Century. Nevertheless those dictators have gone, and their regimes collapsed.
This is not to say that the dogma of the Christian churches are any better – were it not for people – brave people, risking their lives to wrest control of the law from the hands of the churches, I suspect life would not be much different today in Britain than it is in Iran. Three hundred years ago, we were still burning witches at the stake, and would still be doing so if we followed Christian Law where ‘Thou shall not suffer a witch to live,’ is laid down in black and white and written on stone in the hearts of the powerful leaders of the Christian sects, who must be seething at the loss of their powers of life and death. Religion corrupts, creating people with twisted minds and deviate tendencies. Religious leaders will always cling to power where they can. Fortunately, history shows us that no dictatorship regime lasts indefinitely.
I suspect that women will make the difference. Slaves will only be slaves for so long before they revolt, and the treatment of women in Islamic states, where their rights are similar to the few rights given to slaves in the west before emancipation, is an abomination that will not be endured forever.
The power of dogma is so all pervading, so corrupting, and so easily put to evil use by those who stand to lose their privileges if things were to change, that the fight for freedom and secularism in Islamic states will not be an easy one. I suspect that many will die in the fight for freedom, but I suspect also that women will win the fight against the dogma that keeps them trapped behind burqas, as less than human possessions of men.
But that religious dogma makes that happen; that it forces women into untenable positions where they can die for speaking their minds; that it traps them, enslaves them, covers them up, prevents them from driving, restricts their freedoms in thousands of ways, makes them less than men, enforces brutal punishments for minor crimes, prevents them from reporting rape for fear of death, and allows them to die during childbirth rather than be touched by a male doctor… now that’s a bad thing about religion.
The Bliss of Ignorance is directly responsible for religious reverie, and that sublime state of infuriating superiority and pity that those of religious bent take towards non-believers. The thinking person can never have such certainty, because we realise how little we know about anything; that much of what we think we know will be revised later, and that life is a process of learning. And of course there are some things that each of us would rather forget, or not have known in the first place.
But oh, to have the bliss of ignorance… What a fine thing it must be to feel that one has the answer to everything; to sit and smile, like the ‘fool on the hill’, even if it is because of self-delusion; to think that ignorance leads to truth, wisdom and understanding, and that one is possessed of all these things.
And yet, I can’t help thinking that such bliss can ever only be temporary even in the minds of the most fervent believers. Surely the half-intelligent amongst the self-deluded must always be on the look-out for anything that could disrupt their delusions, so as to avoid those things. That means that a level of fear must be present. The ‘many disguises’ of the devil could take any shape, from an article on astronomy that shows our minor place in the universe to a TV programme that points out an unwelcome fact about evolution. And God Forbid the books of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the remarkable A. C. Grayling, let alone that scandalous work The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, which completely destroyed the credibility of the Bible as any kind of history book or divinely inspired work over two hundred years ago.
So all then is not quite as blissful as it may seem for the ignorant, and we should have pity on them, because it must be quite a struggle in our Age of Information to remain ignorant of the knowledge that would end their state of ‘bliss’.
Having said all that, I suspect that some of it may not be true; that for many who profess themselves to be believers, the damage has already been done and the struggle they have is not that of avoiding unwelcome knowledge, but maintaining their self-delusion despite realising that it is self-delusion. Thus they become hypocrites, and it seems fairly clear that many such hypocrites will be preaching from pulpits, saying words they long ago ceased believing, and preaching for the most part to an audience of hypocrites who get their temporary fix of delusion-reinforcement that allows them to go out feeling less self-deluded for a little while.
The Bliss of Ignorance thus becomes the Bliss of Self-Delusion and although to the contemplative person it seems sad that people want to live like that, it is ultimately their own choice. It is fortunate for them that at least in the western world, they can live in relative comfort with the aid of modern technology, designed by scientists and technicians who are mostly atheists, and when they get ill, be treated by atheist doctors and surgeons. Were it not for atheists, the lifespan of the religiously self-deluded would most likely be shorter and more brutal…
Another thought occurs: that perhaps it is exactly those who are most self-deluded who are the most violent ‘defenders’ of their faith. If they don’t really believe what they delude themselves into thinking they believe, what they are really defending is their own self-delusion. The outrage at being mocked; the self-reinforcement they get from trying to persuade others to believe the same thing; the condemnation of those who think differently; the gathering together with other deluded ones, can all be thought of as ways to hide themselves from the truth that would expose their own delusions.
Religion in that case is a system of installing self-delusion, reinforcing it, making it transferable to others through the offer of the Bliss of Ignorance, and finally defending the installed delusions through a type of self-defense that can become very aggressive when the delusions are challenged. It is a system that has evolved over thousands of years to be very efficient, but it is a system that in the end creates far more misery than bliss. People trying to promote their own ignorant religious views to reinforce their own self-delusions is the cause of much of the trouble in this world, and that is a bad thing about religion.
This is the beginning of the New Age of Atheism, when humans are awakening from the religious daze they have been in for aeons, and beginning to realise that they have been fooled by preachers long enough – and what they previously believed not only has no basis in reality, but is actually very funny to thinking people. Of course there have always been atheists, but In the New Age of Atheism, we find that atheists are leading the world in every area, from arts, science and medicine, to philosophy and psychology. There is a good reason for this – when you think the answer to everything is ‘God’, you have closed your mind, and are not likely to think of new ideas or to challenge established thought. When the leading thinkers of today, people like A.C. Grayling, the late Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins, and Steven Hawking come to mind – all are atheists, and each with far more influence on current thought than the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. What you get from these modern thinkers is the originality and intelligent insights that people need to help them understand the world of today and our place in it. What religious thinkers cannot supply, especially when the absurdities of their most basic beliefs are apparent, atheist thinkers supply, and in abundance. It is no longer legal in most places to kill atheists for pointing out the absurdities that people must accept to believe in any particular religion, and the world is beginning to be influenced by reason. Blind faith drops away as people realise that thinking is a better alternative. People have begun to realise that ‘being good’ does not involve their method, frequency, or intensity of worshipping their god, but instead, it involves their actions in this world.
Living the ‘good life’ for those who are not deists, is therefore quite different from the ‘good life’ of those of religious bent. For atheists there is no god to forgive sins — we live with what we do. There is no god to tell us what is right and wrong – we use our conscience and decide for ourselves. There is no god to tell us that we must believe any particular book — we judge each by its merits and the supporting evidence. There is no god to prescribe what we eat; with whom we should have sex; what we should believe; to whom we should give praise — we use our own experience to judge what to do, and there is nothing — even our most cherished beliefs, that should not be questioned. Contemplative people realise that we learn new things all the way through our lives, and some new evidence may prove, and often does, that what we believed to be true yesterday was wrong. The basis of atheism is skepticism and scientific enquiry, and few things in science are immutable. In fact, that is the one of the major reasons that science and religion will never be reconciled – the former acknowledges that it is always up for revision, and little by little we improve our knowledge. The latter has fixed ideas and a dogmatic approach that is never up for revision until society or science proves, bit by bit, that the dogma is wrong.
Admittedly, it is harder to think for ourselves than to just believe what we are told to believe, but the consolations of self-determination are more than enough compensation to make the effort worthwhile. To know that we are each the masters and mistresses of our own destiny is to take back our own power and with that power in our own hands we can look at what is happening around us with a critical eye and take steps to change what is wrong, contribute to what is good, and make the difference that blind followers of any particular religion can never hope to achieve. The ethics of atheism are thus the ethics of common humanity, which all good people, religious or otherwise try to live by, with the greater good in mind, whilst respecting individual rights.
Compare this compassion of common humanity to the prescribed rights and wrongs given in the books of the monotheistic religions. The approval and disapproval of one thing or another so obviously originate from bigoted and fairly primitive human minds that any idea that an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful god could have been the originator of the ideas and opinions put forward in, say, The Bible, vanishes as one reads the absurdities, contradictions, and blatant errors about our origins and our place in the universe, and about the rituals and religious crimes and prescribed punishments.
Nevertheless there are many who have not awoken from their religious daze. Amongst them are those who take their moral stance from The Bible or The Koran. Suicide bombers are made of such stuff. The religious police in Iran and Saudi Arabia enforce the laws of the Islamic holy books. Apostasy still warrants the death penalty in these places, much as it did in Britain a few hundred years ago.
The thing is that as true believers in their god and in holy writings, those who commit torture and murder in the name of their god are simply carrying out what they believe to be their god’s will. We may be shocked by what they do, but they are adhering to The Bible and the Koran which are both held up by their preachers to be a good guide to morality. This is the morality that is taught to them from an early age. The right and wrong are black and white, and fixed forever in our ancient history. There is little place in these books for compassion, and where there is wisdom, such as in Jesus’s reported statement, ‘ Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’, it is ignored. Jewish people may have stopped stoning or beheading apostates and adulteresses, but in Islamic states it is still common, and is very much approved of.
The current religions of our world do not deserve our unearned respect any more than we should afford respect to racist political parties, or to those secular people who incite hatred and war for material gain.
Thus, the religious claims to morality and the official respect that our modern religions and their various types of preachers get as arbiters of what is right and wrong are bad things about religion.