Religion – Shit it!

I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that person doesn't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him - Herman Melville

Religion is always going to be a dangerous subject to discuss openly. People get very defensive when they think that you are attacking or denigrating their deeply held beliefs, but should they? Shouldn’t their faith be strong enough to withstand a logical and frank discussion? You would think so, wouldn’t you?

I am an atheist, an admission that is fairly meaningless to me. The majority of my friends are atheists too. I was raised in an atheist household but encouraged to be respectful to the beliefs of others and I have tried (not always successfully) to do so. To not believe in God, or a god, or gods, seems to me to be the logical choice. I see no evidence in any sort of divine creator, and the idea that this world was brought into being by a loving god would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

I like to think that I have a fairly scientific mind. I like things to be explained, measured and categorised. I also like asking questions and that seems to be anathema to those of a more religious mindset. To ask questions seems to be the opposite of having faith, and to test faith is to weaken it apparently.

The Science Vs Religion argument is an old one, first really rearing its ugly head with the Catholic Church disagreeing with Galileo over the theory of heliocentrism first put forward over fifty years previously by Copernicus, whereby the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. This appeared to be a direct contravention of the Bible, and so Galileo was convicted of heresy and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. An early and well-known example of the Church persecuting those who voice ideas that are true.

This has gone on throughout history and continues to this day with the Evolution Vs Creationism arguments. As we all know, evolution is only a theory. But ‘theory’ doesn’t mean ‘guesswork’. Scientifically, theory means that something is a ‘comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence… so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially’ (according to the United States National Academy of Sciences). It is not a hypothesis. It is not a guess. It is a scientifically tested and supported system that is accepted as fact.

Creationism, on the other hand, is just making up fairy stories. Fairy stories that some Christians want to be taught exclusively in schools and others want taught alongside evolution in science classes.

No. Creationism can certainly be taught in Religious Education lessons, but Science classes are for science. You know, things that can be examined scientifically. With evidence.

I really don’t mean to be rude, but a literal interpretation of Genesis is idiotic. To believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that the earth is only 6000 years old and was created in a week by a divine being is insane. It also suggests that you believe God is messing with our heads, trying to fool us and thus earn us a place in eternal torment for believing in evolution. Loving God, my arse…

I don’t want to fall back on the standard anti-religion arguments. I could write for hours about the fossil record, geological ages and so on. I could argue that religion has been the cause (or at least the excuse) of more conflict than anything else in the history of mankind. I could point out the horrors inflicted by religious extremists (from all religions) throughout history. But that seems somehow lazy. Instead, I’ll post this picture:


Ah yes. The Westboro Baptist Church. I realise that it is unfair to tar every Christian with the same brush as these bigoted scumbags, but I’m going to. Let us not mince words: these people are shits. They preach a message of hate and intolerance based on their twisted and morally deficient belief system. ‘God hates fags’? If so, I’m fairly sure I don’t want to meet the fucker. If they are right, I will gladly lead the march into Hell with pride (or possibly Pride).

It is the silence of the moderate religious majority that allows these extremists to exist and spread their messages of hate, the vast majority of religious people being generally sensible and normal (despite their crazy belief in big beards in the sky and so on). And obviously it isn’t just the Christians who exhibit these anti-social, borderline psychotic tendencies. Jihadist Muslims, the far-right Jewish Kach party and so on, all willing to insult, dehumanize or murder in the name of their own religious ideology.

The fundamentalists and extremists often pervert their religion for their own ends. The message not to kill tends to run through most religious teachings, and yet it seems to be acceptable if you are killing non-believers, heretics or just people who are somehow different to you. In the West, we tend to hear mainly about Islamist fundamentalism and extremism, so we develop an inherent prejudice. Our media seems to largely ignore the actions of Christian extremists, a tacit approval of their actions. We need to fight this. The War in Iraq had its roots in Christian versus Muslim conflict, but it was the Islamists who tended to make the news as ‘the bad guys’, rather than the right-wing Christian governments (AKA ‘the good guys’) that were busily bombing civilians. The Isreali-Palestinian Conflict is essentially a conflict between Judaism and Islam, with a little Christianity thrown in for good measure.

I could go on, but I will withdraw from this section of my rant while I still have a little dignity (largely because I have pretty much exhausted my knowledge of the religio-political situation in the Middle East).

Intelligent design is another ‘theory’ that pseudo-scientific religious ‘thinkers’ often put forward. Basically, this runs that some things (usually the human eye is inserted here as an example) cannot have evolved a little bit at a time and must therefore have been created in one go by an intelligent creator. It is described by its followers as “an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins” despite being, quite clearly, not scientific in the slightest. It was thought up to try to circumvent American laws about teaching Creationism in schools and was about as successful as its predecessor.

Perhaps one of the most well-known, and certainly the most outspoken, atheist is Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene. He has been a critic of creationism for years (check out his various TV series and interviews). He has said that ‘The list of things about which we strictly have to be agnostic…is infinite. If you want to believe in a particular one of them — teapots, unicorns, or tooth fairies, Thor or Yahweh — the onus is on you to say why you believe in it. The onus is not on the rest of us to say why we do not. We who are atheists are also a-fairyists, a-teapotists, and a-unicornists, but we don’t have to bother saying so.’

"By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out." - Richard Dawkins

So why is religion still so popular, despite the fact that it ignores fact? Probably because it ignores fact. An atheist has to face the simple truth that life is all there is: there is no paradise, no pearly gates or seventy-two virgins waiting on the other side of death. This is all we get. That is a scary notion, but also an enormously liberating one. What we do while we are alive matters! By working together for the good of all we can change the lives of many, rather than waiting to be rewarded after death for not being bad. The ‘dangerous notion that death is not the end’ (Dawkins again) allows the religious to sidestep their responsibilities in life, or worse be prepared to end their life and the lives of others to make a religio-political point.

Shortly after the horrific events of 9/11, Bill Maher said that ‘we have been the cowards, lobbing Cruise Missiles from two thousand miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, that’s not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly’. I agree in part, except that to the terrorists, it was the beginning of a beautiful afterlife, according to the garbage that they had been fed by people who were quite clearly not on the plane with them! Perhaps that should have been a warning sign to them.

Religion messes with people’s heads. It divides them. It makes them small-minded. It can make them bigoted, murderous, evil. We have outgrown religion. We don’t need it any more. We need to move on.

Scientia non habet inimicum nisi ignoratem

14 responses to “Religion – Shit it!

  1. Excellent. A style of thinking much like the Alain de Boton (spelling?) article I read in xmas guardian mag about how to bring up children, giving them a christmas, when you are fervently atheist, and that even atheists need ritual in their lives, to bring people together, to encourage care and love and fun. I loved how he stole the elements of xmas that would bring his family together without submerging them in religious ridiculousness.

    I am strongly of the opinion that intelligent atheists still need rituals, from big to small, touches that bring people together, as most religions have some nice touches which I would merrily steal to my own end…candles, big cool-looking stone gathering halls (churches being used as gig venues is a favourite!)

    On the other hand, whilst dressed as SatanSanta, I still found myself hiding from nuns at the catholic church in soho square, some part of the catholic 6 year old in me was still a little scared of them, even though I was dressed as Satan!

    And I had a trident with fairy lights on it…..

  2. I am really impressed with your blog and completely respect your opinion. I am used to people slating God and criticising me for being a Catholic. But it is good to see it from the view of someone who is not an arrogant pig! I admit that I am not as good a Catholic as I should be, I haven’t been to mass for years, however, I still believe in God and all his valuesm

    Neither of my parents were Catholic or even Christian, however, with the world that we are living in, they agreed that I should be Baptized and Christianed, go to a Catholic primary school and Catholic secondary school. And I am grateful that they did.

    I don’t believe that God is a ‘beard in the sky’ and I don’t believe that Creationism is a ‘fairytale’.
    I believe that there is something that is greater than us, greater than Science that created us and guides us. This ‘something’ isn’t a man who moves furniture to make thunder, or cries to make rain, I suppose for me it is just a ‘thing’. Something we will never understand, as humans, we use what, 10% of our brain potential (don’t quote me on that one).

    For me, life seems meaningless if we remove our faith.
    When things go wrong, as humans we look for comfort, we turn to God. It annoys me when people say that they ‘can’t believe in things that they can’t see to be real’, well, I can’t see the air, but it is keeping me alive.
    I don’t think it is God that makes us feel better when we pray to him. It is the thought that God is there that warms us, its that faith that keeps us strong and keeps us marching on.

    Life is so precious, and to think that after all our hard work, our relationships that we’ve worked so hard for, our tears, our laughter, our memories will all be for nothing is scary! It scares the shit out of me to think that one day all this is just gone.
    However, I know deep down, that we are reunited with our deceased loved ones and there is something more for us.
    I am not nieve, I don’t think I stand in a queue on a cloud, have a quick chit chat to St Peter and then live in the clouds, I just know that this isn’t it.
    There is something waiting for us, ready for us.

    Well for now, that’s me!
    On the side of the believers!

    • There are a few things I would like to pick up on.

      Firstly, thanks for commenting! It’s good that you have a faith to rely on, but I still think you need to be questioning that faith, otherwis it is an empty comfort.

      You say that it annoys you when people say that they don’t believe in what they can’t see and you use the example of the air. Well, I would argue that you can see the air, just not with the naked eye. It can be manipulated, measured. We can see and measure the effect it has. This is not something that can be done with god (or God).

      I have to disagree directly with the ‘creationism isn’t a fairytale’ comment. Yes. It is. Sorry. Evolution is something that can be measured, seen to be a fact. It is supported by a ton of evidence and is accepted by every reputable scientist (and a lot of Christian authorities).

      I find it interesting that you say life is meaningless without faith. For me, I believe that life gains meaning without faith. We are free to make this world a better place, without being blinded by the belief that there is a ‘better place’ waiting for us when we die. If fewer people believed in an afterlife, I believe they would work harder in this life.

      • As Human beings, we strive to find the answer in everything. Why are we here? How did we get here? This is why we can ‘see’ air, because we hunger to know, which in one sense is a good thing, however, not being able to explain God, to me, is somewhat of a comfort.
        I don’t want to know Gods biological formula, as said previously, I just like that God is there, always (in my eyes anyway!)

        Creationism. Big topic. Everyone has their own views I suppose I just don’t like it being branded a fairy tale.
        Definition for fairytale:
        a story about fairies; told to amuse children.
        You see the irony, there are no fairies in this tale!
        I believe the story of creationism was told so that the people of that era could easily understand how the world was created.
        I just don’t believe that life ‘evolved’. How can something come from nothing? Something much greater than our knowledge and understanding had to have been involved in our creation. Something that ‘breathed life’ into us.

        I have to disagree with your final statement. I believe in God and I do believe in ‘something’ after this life, but it doesn’t affect my working abilities in this life. I have worked hard for 5 years, and that doesn’t include all my academic work life.
        What you insinuate is that religious people are lazy. Do I have to point out all the unreligious people I see leaving a can of cider outside the job centre while they sign on?

        I think a lot of people do not believe in God because they fear the unknown, the fact that we don’t know what or who God is.
        People want evidence, proof, facts and figures.
        Personally, I don’t want to know ‘what created God’ (relating back to the old tale of the chicken and the egg), I am just happy to know and believe that ‘He’ is there.

        Thank you for your reply!
        Can’t beat the never ending battle of evolution and God!

  3. There’s nothing to say life has any inherent meaning anyway. That we want something to be true doesn’t mean that it is. That we want life to have inherent meaning doesn’t mean that it does.

    As our host intimates, the finite nature of life lends it more value and meaning.

  4. About paragraph 4:

    If you’re going to bring up Galileo, at least get this history (and the context) right. Galileo was a devout Catholic and even wrote, “the book of nature is a book written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics.” Pope Urban VIII (Matteo Barberini) was an amateur astronomer and a friend of Galileo – Galileo even dedicated his book Assayer to him in 1623. Urban had assured Galileo that he had no problems with Galileo publishing his work as long as a) he made it clear he spoke as a mathematician, not a theologian, b) he made it clear that the theories were theories — unprovable as definitive conclusions *under the current means of testing.*

    Apparently Galileo did – but he put the words in the words in the mouth of “Simplicio” in his Dialogues, the character who voiced all the errors Galileo was out to disprove. Additionally he lied to Urban about *when* the book would come out, so the Pope was caught flat-footed in the storm of controversy. That Urban would feel betrayed by such treatment from someone he had considered a friend is understandable. Still, it’s doubtful it would have gone much farther if a) the Thirty Year War and the Counter-Reformation hadn’t already had everyone walking on eggshells, b) certain churchmen in northern Italy hadn’t confused “astronomy” and “astrology” and begun slinging wild accusations, and c) Galileo had been willing to apologize for his behaviour (lying to his friend) instead of blaming (and insulting) both the Jesuits and the neo-Aristotlians.

    I like the way Rodney Stark put it: “[The Galileo affair] most certainly demonstrates that powerful organizations often do abuse their power. But it also shows that Galileo was not just an innocent victim: not only did he needlessly tempt fate, but he thoughtlessly placed the whole scientific enterprise itself in jeopardy.”

    • Thank you for the clarification.

      If I had been writing an article on Galileo I would almost certainly have included some of these details. However, the article was about religion and, as Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life, I fail to see how these details relate. Pope Urban and his church objected to Galileo’s theories and, regardless of Galileo’s shortcomings and errors, he was persecuted by the church.

  5. This is simply my opinion, I have no desire to offend or criticise anyone else’s. A detailed and considered piece from a highly astute and creative mind. However, I’ll never understand being anti religion. Whilst all your points are valid and comically put, why must we always focus upon the negative?

    There are those who use their faith to judge and castigate others. This is undeniable. It is also completely true that the interpretation of the most popular religions in the west can be oppressive and lead to people feeling constrained and unable to be their true selves.
    BUT, the same effects are caused by family obligations, social pressures and a range of other elements.

    As for the fundamentalists, such as the Westboros, they are in my opinion, ill. Their extreme behaviour is the result of brainwashing and indoctrination; this is an example of religion used horribly detrimentally. As for Muslim extremists (oh yes I said it) this is again a small amount of people. Their beliefs have led to hatred and violence and this can never be supported. But what of those whose faith is practiced peacefully and with genuine love?

    There will always be reasons found for waging war. Declaring it a jihad does tend to give those fighting a misplaced sense of honour, but with religion out of the equation; land, resources, patriotism or revenge for a tenant stealing a landlord’s donkey back in 1758 would be used as supposedly reasonable cause for taking up arms.

    There are those who use their faith whatever it may be to guide them through life and give meaning to their existence. This rarely means being complacent in the corporeal plane as there’s something better on the other side, but living a life that benefits those around them as well as themselves. It can give strength in times of need, comfort in times of sorrow and direction in times of uncertainty.

    We don’t need religion? We need something. That much is obvious. If people find happiness in following a faith and follow it without disrespecting other people’s points of view or damaging others (as the vast majority of believers achieve) then good luck to them. If people want to smother themselves in mud, stand on their heads and play the banjo, good luck to them. Life messes with people’s heads: love, money, dreams, but it is a part of being human. You can’t have the good without the bad

    • I tend to agree with many of your points here. Fundamentalism and extremism are the real enemy as I mentioned in the article, but they are not the only enemy.

      Religion can give people peace and comfort in their lives – good for them – but it does far more harm than good overall.

      I would disagree that the ‘vast majority’ of believers follow a religion without disrespecting others. You only have to look at the rows over women priests, or homosexual marriage, or Sunday opening hours to see the hold that religion has over our (supposedly secular, or at least multicultural) society.

      We don’t need religion. That is my personal (and strongly held) belief. What we need is a society in which we can respect the individual views of every member. Religion doesn’t allow this. From the fundamentalist to the evangelical, the religious individual will always use their faith as a way to judge others, and if others do not follow the same faith they will be judged and found wanting. This is bad for society.

      And as for the question ‘why must we always focus on the negative?’ it is because there is far more negative than positive, and the liberals in society are generally far too liberal to challenge it. We see challenging the negative as an infringement of personal liberties, which allows extremism (religious, political, socail etc) to flourish.

  6. This blog is the work of a very skilled writer. Hugely enjoyable to read. I think I have rather commented on the wrong post though, as the simple fact is one person writing believes that religion does more harm than good and one believes the opposite and as this is all a matter of opinion, it can never be reconciled, much less proved.

  7. Highly astutue response, difficult to disagree with such a well constructed viewpoint.
    However, I see this issue differently. Agreed, Asda closing at 5pm is irritating, but this to me is not demonstrative of religion having a considerable hold over society, today it seems more about objections to double wages than observation of the sabbath. As for the much publicised arguments about women priests and gay marriage, opposition of such things is revolting and bigoted, but in my opinion these objections are not supported by the majority of religious followers.The opinions of the few and high profile are presented as the opinions of the many because ‘The congregation held mass and then discussed fundraising for the youth centre over battenburg’ is not going to make page nine.

    I hate to fall back on the old ‘Some of my best friends…’ cliche, but as this is my opinion it is informed by my experiences so I consider it relevant. Like most people, I know more athiests than religious people but even bearing that ratio fully in mind and multiplying the number of religious people along with their prejudices to match the number of athiests, in terms of homophobia, racism, sexism, and lack of resepct for other people’s points of view I have honestly found more of these prejudices expressed by people without a faith than by those with.

    I have felt disapproved of for my personal religious choices by religious individuals, I should note these people have always been over eighty, otherwise I have never personally felt pressured or judged for not conforming. I have had differing points of view particularly on sexuality with those who follow a faith, usually siting that God or Allah meant for man and woman to procreate so homosexuality is wrong, in which case I have always disagreed, however I’ve also had disagreements of this same nature with secular individuals, usually defending themselves by saying they never knew any gay people growing up. Prejudice will always exist, with or without religion.

    In terms of the bigger picture, overall I stand by my opinion that the vast majority of religious people do practice their faith peacefully and without damaging other people. To me the good acheived through religion does outweigh the bad. When the ultimate goal is to create a society in which we can respect the views of every indivdual member, to cast such judgement upon people for believing in a divine being seems rather contradictory.

  8. I have to say that yes, the majority of religious people are moderate and tolerant, but their silent acceptance of the bigotry, hateful polemic, aggression, subjugation and violence done in the name of their religion is what allows it to continue.

    And if you are still unsure of the link between church and state, check out Eric Pickles and his decision to overturn a High Court ruling banning compulsory Christian prayers in Council meetings.

    Secular society, my arse!

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