I saw an article on think atheist that I thought was very timely and I replied. The poster was talking about all the good things that religion has done for humanity. I think the reply is worth repeating here. Here it is:
This seems to be in line with a growing opinion here at TA, so I’ll speak up.
While I am what most people would describe as an atheist, I normally call myself an agnostic, not so much because of any belief in a creator, but more because I would be open to accepting there was one if I had any proof. Dawkins has said about the same thing, but unlike him, I am not sure that the world would be a better place without religion. Yes, many bad things have been done because of religion, but there is a huge bias working in what we hear and see. Most religious people that have moderate views are silent and get much from their faith.
Right, but I don’t think they are the ones – by themselves – creating the problems. Its the core, underlying belief systems of religion used by so many millions around the world to behave irrationally that causes the biggest problems. What happens when that same “quiet” majority, for example, goes to the polls and votes to make abortion illegal in any and all cases because god doesn’t like it? Or for a new law to criminalize homosexuality because god doesn’t like it? This “quiet” majority will move with one voice, I promise you. And if this is too ideological to be fair, there are any number of examples we could come up with like this that have nothing at all to do with politics. This is the weak argument that I must throw in as the obligatory introduction.
But let’s point out what I think Dawkins might be far more concerned about. Suppose a group of religious fanatics desperately wants attention and decides to fly airplanes into buildings in NYC. Now, just suppose the United States happens to have the highest religiosity of any industrialized nation on Earth (which it does), but mostly in a religion inconsistent with the religion of the attackers. Now, suppose the United States has the world’s largest, most sophisticated, accurate and deadly nuclear weapons arsenal. How close is a hypothetical Sarah Palin or her kind to the nuclear button if she were President (I only use Palin as an example because of her own professed dedication and adherence to Christianity – the “norm” in this country)? Now, switch lenses. What if a “madman” or “lunatic” out to “get attention” manages to get their hands on nuclear weapons because gee, the technological infrastructure just keeps getting more and more sophisticated and it keeps getting easier and cheaper to build this kind of stuff? This is what scares me about religion and that is where the true danger lies:
1. The technological sophistication of humanity has dramatically magnified the potential catastrophic impact of religious zeal to a point that the two are fundamentally incompatible.
2. We have a choice. We can choose civilization and the perpetuation of humanity or religion and destruction of the technological infrastructure to reduce us back to barbarity.
I think its crystal clear. I’m not selling sheep and this is not a game we’re playing. I wish people would listen to people like Stephen Hawking and the very few alive today that understand this. Religion must go.
Of course, I will qualify this as my own wicked, heterodox little opinion 😉 But my point follows your next paragraph:
Many if not most believe in science, evolution and such, but simply add the comforting belief that there a loving god and afterlife. I see this coming from several basic human needs.
- First, the more miserable a life someone has, the more need there is to seek some sort of comfort. A belief that they suffer for a reason, that there will be something better is a powerful balm.
- Second, people often are tempted to do things that they morally know are bad, like stealing, lying, etc. Religious belief sets up within people a sort of self governance.
- Third, people suffer when they lose someone they love, A belief in an afterlife removes much of the pain.
Surely there are smarter ways we can help people cope than to use something like religion, a 1000 plus year old corpus of sayings of mostly wise old men? Prozac? I don’t mean that facetiously, I’m serious. Science can help here. We don’t need to rely on religion for this, nor should we. It’s the essense of backward, imo.
There is also a big difference in peoples reality due to IQ differences. Most of us here have a higher than average IQ. My IQ is higher than 99.99 percent of the people around me. The world seems much different to someone with an IQ of even average range. I got a hint of what it would be like to be less logical when an illness affected my cognitive abilities. I had to learn new coping skills and it made me see how someone who just does not have the mental abilities to really understand things like deep time would simply come to the conclusions they have. Nature is really rather miraculous looking.
I don’t think IQ has anything to do with this. My extended family over the last 70 years has consisted of a lot of people, all atheists, and not one of them is a Stephen Hawking, or even a soft scientist for that matter. It isn’t smarts; its horse sense.
I have come to the conclusion that humanity will not ever be free of superstitious thinking and it is understandable. With that in mind, insulting religion does not seem to me a good way of fighting against it. Maybe we would be better off trying to influence religious beliefs instead to promote them being a more positive influence while insuring that as much science education as possible while trying to minimize parental indoctrination.
We agree here. But I do think that superstition can be reduced to a small minority. There will always be eccentric people. And I agree that insulting religion doesn’t help. As I’ve said over and over, all atheists should take deconversion very seriously. The clock is ticking. If that sounds alarmist, its 12 O’clock and the time is nigh.
I am not at all sure that Dawkins is a positive force for atheism. I understand why we tend to have a chip on our shoulder. I am so tired to having people try to indoctrinate me, flipping through the religious shows on tv, etc. Before the Internet, I had not even met another person who would admit being an atheist. We have a lot of pent up frustration. But now, we have the Internet and people who are interested in atheistic ideas will find us. We should work towards ways of being seen positively.
Very strongly agree with you there. We need to learn how to manage our anger better. It’s okay to be angry. Its necessary, in fact, for social change, but imo we should focus it constructively.
Great Post, thanks