This is one of possibly more replies to the Explore God campaign in Austin, Texas. Specifically, an article written titled “Imagine No Religion” that I had some comments on.
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The title says it all. Religion is not something author Christopher Hitchens finds merely unhelpful, unpleasant, or out of place within his own life. Rather, religion is “a poison . . . a menace to civilization . . . a threat to human survival.”1
Sam Harris agrees. His 2004 work, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Harris likens religion to the medieval practice of alchemy. He suggests that all “faith-based religion must suffer the same slide into obsolescence.”2
These are not new arguments. A hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud described religion as “a universal obsessional neurosis.”3 He believed that humans created religion as a coping mechanism in light of their fears and unfulfilled desires.4 But science, he argued, has shown religious belief to be an illusion that must be rejected for human civilization to march forward.5
While I am not Harris nor Hitchens, I think what they might be trying to say is that we cannot move forward as a species if our ideas are not examined rationally. That is, if we simply accept on faith, our ideas may be unsound, and unsound ideas generally don’t benefit us. Note that I use generally. Religion can provide many people with comfort, social support and interaction, and a sense of purpose. However, it comes down to one basic question: Do we value truth or belief? The difference is one is rationally investigated and one is not. One has evidence to back it up and one does not. (Please note that while it seems I am saying “Non-belief is truth and religion is mere belief”, what I mean is “Regardless of what is true, non-belief or a religion, let’s look at evidence and come to conclusion, whatever that conclusion may be.” On a side note, if anyone has proof or evidence they want to share, I’m still researching and deciding what I think about things, so by all means share it with me.)
But is religion the chief cause in all these instances? How much do other motives—such as greed, politics, survival, duty, bloodlust, or even nationalism—play a more prominent role?6
My personal view on this is that religion is a sort of mask for both good and bad results; people are behind this mask. It’s the people that started the wars and made the great scientific discoveries, and it’s the people who killed others for not believing in the Spanish Inquisition and it’s the people who help out the homeless.
If this is the case, shouldn’t we also question their existence when they lead to harmful outcomes in society? Why aren’t Hitchens and Harris calling for an end to sports and video games?
I’m sorry, but sports and video games do not count as religion or religious beliefs. Yes, people can get worked up over them, but no one (or hardly no one) is worshiping a ball or their Xbox controller. Also, I’m quite sure that if these things were harmful, Hitchens and Harris would be against them, but they just are not.
That’s not to say the term “religion” is useless. But it means that ideologies often labeled as secular or simply not categorized as religious should receive no less scrutiny than religion. Put another way, perhaps we should be asking: Wouldn’t the world be better off without patriotism? Capitalism? Marxism? Liberalism? Any “ism,” really?
Nobody is saying that no secular “-ism” should be questioned. In fact, I agree with the writer on this one; we should always, always question what they think is true in order to see if it is true. If it’s not true, we must discard it. If it is true, we must keep it.
Here’s the Explore God post, for reference.
Anyway, what are your thoughts?