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:

Pigf*ckers

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

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