First of all, I would like to clarify exactly what I object to. I object to the adamant belief in supernatural gods and the rejection of evidence which inevitably ensues. I object to the strife caused by contradicting beliefs, and the wars that follow. I do not, object to the use of the term “god” as a metaphor to nature. This metaphor does not attempt to explain natural phenomena through supernatural explanations, nor does it attempt to justify or condemn people’s actions through ecclesiastical authorities.
Furthermore, I would like to clarify that though much of the following will use Christianity as an example, the following is not solely directed at Christians. It is directed at all religions which match the criteria given above. I use Christianity as an example because as an American I have been exposed to Christianity more than any other religion, and therefore I am more knowledgeable on Christianity than any other religion. I would also like to state that I do not claim to be an expert on any religion or the doctrine they follow; my assertions below are based principally on the observations I have made.
Religion should not survive an elementary education, yet it does. Why? Because society grants religion an undeserved immunity to criticism. Certain ideas are labeled “holy,” and once they receive that label you are not to question them. If someone’s political views do not coincide with your own, you are allowed to argue with them, but when someone says “I’m not allowed to make my bed on Sunday,” you must respect that.
The burden of proof lies with the theist, not the skeptic. It is not sufficient to say, “You can not disprove this, therefore this is how it is.” This idea is demonstrated by Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy. Russell states:
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
An impartial look at religion will reveal its absurdity. Unfortunately, most people are incapable of impartiality towards religion because the process of their proselytization began at their birth. Does the idea of a man being swallowed whole by a whale and being regurgitated alive three days later not strike people as ridiculous? What about the geocentric view of the universe that the bible preaches? Not only should we repudiate evolution, should we also revamp the entire theory of gravity to conform to the bible? I pray we never take such inane actions. Fundamentalists frighten me.
Most contemporary theists classify themselves as a bit more moderate than fundamentalists. Religious moderation is a consequence of a few factors: a significant increase in the education level of the common man, and partial ignorance to one’s own scriptures. Moderates interpret parts of their religion literally, and parts of their religion figuratively so it does not openly contradict what is generally considered scientific fact. This is not inherently a bad idea. Such an interpretation does not reject facts, and continues to offer people spirituality which science can not. Religious moderation puts up a façade of being the perfect compromise, however, when put in practice, an allegorical interpretation of holy texts is not only regressive, it is also conceited.
Fundamentalists will often view moderates as impious. Instead of excoriating such unjustifiable, obstinate opinions, religious moderation often inadvertently advocates the contrary and strengthens such view points. It appears that many fundamentalists erroneously argue that because so many people have been exposed to god that he must exist. The moderate’s belief in god affirms the fundamentalist’s feeling of superiority and righteousness. Without the plethora of moderates the fundamentalist’s belief system would slowly degenerate and be replaced with an overwhelming majority of people who decided to follow reason and logic when juxtaposed with faith alone.
Religious moderates also follow a much more personal interpretation of holy text. You will rarely find two moderates who share all the same tenets, even if they attend the same church. Many of these moderates will insist on their beliefs as vehemently as some fundamentalists. Since almost all moderates interpret the bible differently from each other, in essence what they are saying is that they themselves have the ultimate authority in declaring how the universe works and what moral standards people should follow. This is the pinnacle of arrogance. If there are a million different metaphorical interpretations of the bible, most likely this means there are a million different flawed interpretations of the bible. Expecting others to conform to your interpretations is obtuse.
While a figurative interpretation of religious text is more rational than a literal one, it is still dubious. This view is still partially based on faith where it is not merited. Though this faith may not dispute empirical data directly, no evidence exists to legitimize this faith; therefore one should still consider it a puerile theory at best.
Faith, though in most cases fallacious, is perpetuated by many factors. Children are inoculated with their parents and societies’ dogmatic beliefs before maturing enough to question those conjectures. When a child has a set of beliefs ingrained in his mind, the process of separating the child with those beliefs is difficult, and in certain cases impossible. As the child gets older, he will have an emotional connection to his childhood beliefs, which will render him incapable of objectively questioning his beliefs. If he is able to look at his beliefs objectively, he may continue to live under the pretense of faith for fear of being alienated from his community. He will also see many people that he is exposed to sharing his beliefs, which will reaffirm his faith. This process is then systematically repeated over the next generation.
My disillusionment regarding religion does not stem entirely from my incredulity towards people having faith in asinine conjectures, it also stems from the violence done in the name of religion, and from observing the extent that people are willing to go to impose their beliefs upon others.
Numerous crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of religion, and range in magnitude from harassment and persecution of dissenters to genocide. At one time, intellectuals such as Galileo were imprisoned for advocating theories which contravened religious dogma. Slowly, the public began to embrace the era of enlightenment. As intellectuals gained favor with the public, classical methods of persecution were abandoned, only to be replaced by more acceptable methods. This cycle continues to manipulate society in modern times. While legal oppression of the intellectual is nearly obsolete, he is often heavily belittled by society for heresy. Einstein was a victim of this sort of persecution. When Einstein stated that he does not believe in the conventional God, he received many outrageous replies, such as one from the founder of the Cavalry Tabernacle Association of Oklahoma:
Professor Einstein, I believe that every Christian in America will answer you, "We will not give up our belief in our God and his son Jesus Christ, but we invite you, if you do not believe in the God of the people of this nation, to go back where you came from." I have done everything in my power to be a blessing to Israel, and then you come along and with one statement from your blasphemous tongue, do more to hurt the cause of your people than all the efforts of the Christians who love Israel can do to stamp out anti-Semitism in our land. Professor Einstein, every Christian in America will immediately reply to you, "Take your crazy, fallacious theory of evolution and go back to Germany where you came from, or stop trying to break down the faith of a people who gave you a welcome when you were forced to flee your native land."
Of course there are far more heinous crimes than religious persecution that are carried out in the name of religion. The most obvious example, the malicious attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, opened up Pandora’s Box. America was left in shock, and The Middle East is arguably more devastated than ever before. Sadly, the extremist terrorists who attacked the United States believed that their actions were justified by their religion. The Ku Klux Klan justified lynching through the bible. Many more examples of crimes in the name of religion exist. The evidence required to claim that religion engenders barbarism and tyranny is pervasive.
In America, religion plays an indisputable role in both domestic and foreign politics. Though America is a leading nation in a civilized era, I find America’s aversion to putting a non-Christian in the oval office unfathomable. There are certain laws passed whose only basis lie in Christianity. Other laws, again only justified by Christian tenets, prevent the progressiveness that America strives for. Opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research almost lies solely with the religious right.