It was once the case that New Religious Movements were considered to be a symptom of social problems. Now the tide has turned, and much of the world has now come to consider religion in general to be the cause of social malaise1. Some such as William James defend religion by saying that it is merely human behaviour that causes problems2, however, despite the sure progress of humankind towards peace, stability and education religions in particular are have been "notoriously slow" to make progress on gender equality and racism, and sectarianism and a "them-and-us" approach to society means religion is associated strongly with violent strife and war3. This page is a conglomeration of some of the harshest arguments against monotheism from a practical and pragmatic point of view. It is about the terrible results of monotheism as embodied by Christianity and Islam in particular. I have a wealth of statistics and arguments behind every argument made here, so, each topic is a summary and a link to more in-depth reviews. The scale of the horror presented is too much to be contained in a single web page.
Religion continues to be associated with violent fanaticism, as religion-inspired horror occurs with "unceasing regularity. Whether the struggles occur among Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus in India, or between Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem"4. No major world religion has avoided generating violence extremist movements from within its ranks5,6. This has been the case "since time immemorial"7. Religion-inspired violence is the stimulus for some people to call for the abandonment of religion altogether8 - it's not worth the risk. Monotheism has bred the most violent individuals and cultures due its intolerance of 'other' gods and a general strictness on the specifics of belief but, other forms of religion also breed antisocial and violent individuals. Public opinion (in the USA) correctly rates Islam, Christianity and Hinduism as the most violent religions (64%, 9% and 4% said so); Judaism was rated last at 2%9. "Even Buddhism", the most peaceful world religion, has stimulated organized violence6.
Three factors lead believers into uncivil behaviour. (1) The irrationality of belief and (2) the legitimization given to actions by beliefs in higher authorities, without the teaching of any critical and skeptical way of judging between claims as to what those higher authorities would want. For some people, voices in their heads are all that are required as long as they believe in god(s) which have authority to speak to them. For others, including atheist skeptics, such voices are immediate warning signs of impending mental ill health. Thirdly, (3), an otherworldly idealism and fixation with the corruptness, evilness or immorality of this world often pushes groups into extreme isolation where they cease to consider outsiders to be worthwhile human beings. Both irrational and criminal behaviour are given freer rein within religious systems of thought, as is suicide to escape this world and move on to the 'next'. Mass suicide, shoot-outs, gas attacks and other atrocities have befallen groups whose main thing in common is self-isolation from wider society, and a dread of a generally Christian-themed apocalyptic judgement-day. Many such groups emerged from mainstream religious movements and gradually became more and more sectarian over time. The main causes that allow this slip are insipid supernaturalism, poor education, sectarian schooling and a lack of critical thinking.
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Fundamentalism is an approach to a religion's doctrine where its beliefs are enforced so strictly and literally that they are no longer compatible with the real-world as it is today. Some religions are more prone to fundamentalism than others10. The uncompromising attitude is a psychological boost, and fundamentalists will happily seek out areas of conflict between their own values and the values of those around them in order to publically highlight their own superior discipline. Also fundamentalists can be accidentally intolerant of others because by sticking so sternly to their own interpretation of the rules, they cannot make room for the diversity of real-life. It can descend into violent extremism but note, please, that some fundamentalist groups (such as the Amish and Jehovah's Witnesses) exist for very long periods with no sign of extremism. It often seems futile arguing with fundamentalists because most arguments against them merely prompt them to re-state doctrine.
Fundamentalist groups seem especially prone to schism and organisational instability, with most such groups being originally part of larger movements. Because personal beliefs are raised to the level of ultimate importance, every possible interpretation of (vague) doctrine will result in two sides who stake their entire religious outlook on the fact that their interpretation is correct11 and often "true believers are obligated to fight against corrupting influences from the broader culture"12 and to fight against any sign of 'false belief' from within their own ranks too, often leading to schism13. Many people push for increased rights for their own religion and for theocracy, 'out of an emotional attachment to their religion'14 but some people take it too far. The declining strength of religion in the face of secularisation means there are fewer middle-ground religionists to rein in fundamentalists. Fundamentalist branches of religion across various religions tend to share certain traits and features15, in particular scriptural literalism, active resistance against multiculturalism and the rejection of human rights.
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Atheists and scientists do not kill each other over their beliefs. The adherents of superstring theory have never killed opposing theorists, and Lamarckian Evolutionists never killed any Darwinian Evolutionists on account of their beliefs. Newton and Einstein may have disagreed, but they refrained from violently attacking each other's followers. Like them, Arius and Athanasius disagreed over theory in the 4th century, although in their case it wasn't physics, but about the nature of Christ. The Arians and the Nicene Christians, however, soon ended up damning each other to hell because of the other's "wrong" beliefs, and then resorted to murder, aggression and burning until the Arians had been wiped out. Well, that is one way to settle a theoretical dispute. But why is it the religious way? There is something about religious beliefs that leads to violent intolerance. I think it is this: the beliefs that you cherish, but which you think are maybe silly or untrue, are the beliefs that you will defend most irrationally and most aggressively. It's a defence mechanism. Rather than subject dodgy beliefs to the rigors of debate and questioning, it is easier to claim outrage and act aggressively when dodgy beliefs are challenged. This is why scientists, who want to learn which theories best describe the truth, actively engage in debate without ever, in history, killing each other over their differences with other strands of scientists.
Even standard sociological inquiries about beliefs and the history of beliefs can be found offensive simply because the attempt to rationally describe belief requires questions to be asked about how beliefs work.
“The sociologist of religion may also offend a person's religious sensibilities by subjecting his or her beliefs to rational scrutiny.”
When it comes to disputes about the world, political and cultural differences between groups can often be dealt with democratically, through argumentation and debate, with both parties trying to convince the others that they are right. It continues because each side thinks it is possible to conclude the dispute through discussion. Compromise keeps things from breaking down: you give a little in one area, but have to give up in another. But religionists can come to deny any chance of compromise. Those with stern religious beliefs often believe various issues have a universal, absolute and cosmic significance. They will not compromise on their position. Malise Ruthven in his book on fundamentalism warns that this is particularly dangerous17. It is the basis for fundamentalism. Religious differences often become violent, endless struggles, because both sides elevate their struggles to ones not between them and us, but between good and evil itself. By giving arguments a cosmic, absolute and universal significance, religious groups make violent solution the only recourse. The battles between Israel and its neighbours is a case in point.
A commentator said to me that it would do no good to eradicate religion. He said "then they'd just kill each other in the name of something else. Like which football team they support!". I still think we would be better off. Football teams do not claim to be divinely inspired. They do not force upon people any particular intellectual framework, nor link it to moral theory. Under footballism, people are still free to enquire about the world with a free mind. The fact that religions claim divinity, that they claim absolute truth and link morality, society, authority and philosophy all into one whole, makes people more likely to fight and die for them.
What is so weak about religious truths that they require defending with such bloodshed? It is this: People would rather cling to wishful thinking and false hopes, rather than face the complex realities of life. Simple answers appeal to people more than complicated scientific ones.
Because religious people secretly doubt religious beliefs, they do not permit them to be calmly questioned. They fear that their beliefs will unravel. Instead, they declare that faith is greater than intellectualism (in other words: they want to continue believing even though the evidence is against them). They declare that it is offensive to question their beliefs. They declare that questions are wrong! And if you persist in your questioning as a person, they'll declare you an intolerant bigot. If two such groups of faithful people meet, the consequences are dangerous for all in their midst. The starting point of this slippery slope was when individuals ceased to allow their beliefs to be calmly debated and questioned.
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“When [religious] groups get strong enough to "organize" themselves, they become ecclesiastical institutions with corporate ambitions of their own. The spirit of politics and the lust of dogmatic rule are then apt to enter and to contaminate the originally innocent thing; so that when we hear the word "religion" [for many it] suggests so much hypocrisy and tyranny and meanness and tenacity of superstition that in a wholesale undiscerning way they glory in saying that they are "down" on religion altogether.”
Everyone has personal beliefs, I would hazard a guess that no two people believe exactly the same thing. The only problem comes when you organize these beliefs into religions... then you get the conflicts that lead to violence and real evil. As soon as belief ceases to be personal, it causes great problems. If we removed organized religion, there would be no "them" to fight against. People can believe whatever they want about gods and sons of gods, it just doesn't have to lead to violence because beliefs do not have to be organized into official monoliths and defended. Resist organized religion, and you resist one of the greatest forces of evil in history.
“Those of us who have for years politely concealed our contempt for the dangerous collective delusion of religion need to stand up and speak out.”
“When they are not currently under attack, religious elites sometimes invent enemies to justify the institution's authoritarian structure.”
Those in charge often use religious beliefs to justify criminal actions. Sometimes they may believe their own logic, but what is more important that the general populace believe that those in charge can speak on behalf of God. That people accept this logic is far more common that the average modern person would guess; the Catholic Church relies on this psychological principle, for example. Lester Kurtz, who works in field of comparative religion, warns that the creation of 'enemies' is one of the greatest weapons of organized religion, and authors such as Sam Harris have argued that given the destructiveness of modern weapons and their proliferation across the planet, the irrationality of religion is a time-bomb waiting to go off.
“Words like "God" and "Allah" must go the way of "Apollo" and "Baal," or they will unmake our world.”
"The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris (2006)21
“[Religion] has always proved extremely beneficial to those in power - helping them to retain that power - from prehistoric times to the latest presidential election. [...] Even in modern times we see the remnants of this unholy alliance, with world leaders asserting divine authority for their actions and people still falling for it.”
"God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist" by Prof. Victor J. Stenger (2007)22
The God of the Abrahamic religions, so far as it is concerned in The Bible, The Koran, and in history, hates opposing Gods. The Israelites are described as being commanded by God, time and time again, to wage war against and kill nonbelieving pagans because they dare to worship icons, fake gods, and any number of unapproved things. Worshipping wrongly is prohibited in the traditional Ten Commandments, and is consistently one of the most punished crimes in the holy texts of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The emphasis on correctness of individual belief and individual salvation has led monotheism down an intolerant and often violent path in history. The development that "insiders are correct" and "outsiders are wrong" is not a feature of simple tribal religions23, but this idea of correctness developed alongside literacy, especially in monotheistic religions, finding particular prominence in Christianity of the first century24. It made the new monotheism sectarian, schismatic and aggressive; social and moral laws were deemed inferior to the new emphasis on textual fundamentalism. It heralded a new type of religion, fundamentally hostile to all other religions.25
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#antisemitism #christianity #germany #indonesia #israel #jordan #judaism #laos #morocco #netherlands #pakistan #philippines #religion #religious_violence #saudi_arabia #spain #sweden #turkey #UK #vietnam
Anti-Semitism is the world given to irrational racism against Jews. It is not the same as anti-Judaism (involving arguments against the religion) nor the same as anti-Zionism (arguments against Israel). In history, influential Christian theologians concocted the arguments against Jews that led, very early on, to widespread Christian action against Jews26,27,28,29. As Christianity rose to power in the West and presided over the Dark Ages, there were widespread violent outbursts against Jews of the most persistent and horrible kind. The Crusades were frequently aimed at them and the feared Spanish Inquisition paid Jews particular attention. The horror of the holocaust instigated by German Nazis in the 1940s was followed (finally) by the era of European human rights and a movement against racism in general.
The places that are the least anti-Semitical are a few countries of south-east Asia (Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam) and some of the secular liberal democracies of Europe (Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK). The worst countries for antisemitism are Islamic states of the Middle East30, which are undergoing their own Dark Age. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey see the most oppressive and violent actions towards Jews31,32. Jews in Muslim countries face a host of restrictions and "ceaseless humiliation and regular pogroms"33. In 2004 the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia reported on violent anti-Jew crimes in the EU and found that that largest group of perpetrators were young Muslim males34.
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It isn't just others who have been systematically assaulted in the name of God. Often, religions engage in a lot of internal suppression, subjecting their own followers to careful scrutiny to make sure that they are not merely believers, but, that they believe precisely the correct things. It is only religion that even has the concept of heresy; in all other disciplines, a variance of belief is seen as good and healthy because it fosters debate, truth-seeking and diversity.
The number of Christian groups, including all forms of early Christianity, that were eradicated by other Christians is long, including the Gnostic Christians, Ebionites, Arians, Marcionites, Cathars, Albigenses and Waldenses. They are unheard of today, because modern Pauline Christians succeeded in wiping them out.
The high child abuse and sexual abuse rates within the Christian priesthood highlight a problem that many religions face: We should not attempt to mould human sexuality around otherworldly religious ideals. Sexual dysfunction always results. Psychologists and sociologists have noted the association between extreme religious fervour and psycho-sexual problems (the former causing the latter), and the highly negative stance that many monotheistic religions take towards sexuality in general have contributed to a general malaise amongst their lay adherents, and a serious pandemic of abuse amongst professional religionists. The religious attitude towards religion is to behave like an ostrich and stick its head in the sand, hoping that theology can override biological truth, but merely making its victims unable to cope with adult sexuality. Witness the hateful and confusing statements that Christians and Muslims make about homosexuals, the anti-contraception stance that the Catholic church has in an over-crowded world ridden with disease, the harmful and simplistic rejection of abortion and the patriarchal dominance over women that has gone hand-in-hand with traditional religion on every continent.
Many religious practices are somewhat more positive towards sexuality than Christianity. The scholar Veronique Mottier gives the example of Judaism, which disapproves of abstinence35. Karen Armstrong reminds us that "Certain sects in Buddhism and Hinduism have used sex as a mystical activity. Everybody has heard of the Karma Sutra but not everybody is aware that this is not just a sex manual, but a method of achieving transcendence and spiritual enlightenment. Christianity is unique in having hated and outlawed sex and in making people feel guilty because they are sexual beings"36. But it is not just the subject of sex which is important to a discussion on sexuality - it still must be remembered that all traditional religions have normalized the dominance of men over women, and often obsessed over matters such as female dress.
In the modern world, many modern popular movements provide an alternative to traditional religions, and have enshrined normal sexuality. The secular world merely lets sexuality remain natural, and the New Age movement amongst many others, actively engage sexuality. The results have been much more positive and healthy than those of the classical monotheistic religions. This is one reason why countries that have liberal laws on abortion also have much lower rates of abortion than highly religious countries that restrict abortion heavily. An atmosphere of taboo and restriction serves limits responsible sexual behaviour. Rather than an ostrich, be a peacock!
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Most religious traditions have subjugated womankind37,38,39,40,41. The religious restrictions and taboos on womankind have ranged from the openly oppressive and inhumane, to subtle limitations. Women have been barred from leadership, prevented from religious learning and even from secular education, forbidden to hold power, denied fair inheritance and land ownership, denigrated, physically dominated, and sometimes even forbidden to speak42. All in accordance with holy texts, religious laws and guidelines. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam have been the worse; but also Hinduism and Buddhism have played roles in the long-term subjugation of women. In Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "The Woman's Bible" (1898)43 she bemoans that "all the religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible"44. The much more neutral scholar of comparative religion, Moojan Momen, normally writes positively on nearly all aspects of religion, but when it comes to women, even he is forced into a multiple-page criticism of the historical role of religion40. Although some of this stems from ancient cultural sources before it happened to be codified in world religions45, organized religion has clung on to patriarchalism long after secular society has liberalized. Feminist groups have frequently been anti-religion simply because it is religion that has presented itself as the most consistent oppressor of womankind. The problems from traditional religions are not just historical: even today, religious organisations and powerful international religious lobbies hold back gender equality across the world46.
There is good news. The most readily accepted cure for both intolerance, religion and superstition is widely shown to be education. The position of women improves as education improves and as traditional religions lose their grip on society. Modern society has come to either ignore their traditional texts (as most Christians do) or to abandon religion (as many Westerners have done). In societies dominated by male thinking, many women are convinced that men should beat them, often in accordance with religious texts: as education improves, fewer believe this47. Also many new religious movements and alternative religions such as Paganism, Wicca, the New Age and even Satanism practice full gender equality. As long as traditional religions continue to decline and secular society and new religions both grow, the situation of women continues to improve.
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Child abuse and paedophilia has been a particular problem for Christian institutions. Christian clergy have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of immoral scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they keep coming. It seems that the Church's teachings on sexuality lead to a development of sexual dysfunction amongst its priests. Christian Churches, the biggest example being the Catholic Church, have fought to conceal paedophile priests and move them from place to place when allegations arise. They have tried to deal with paedophilia by sending priests on sick leave or to rehabilitation centres ran by other Christians, but, it appears that Christian hierarchies are the last places you should trust when it comes to dealing with sexual abnormality. The scale of the scandals has led to various Churches declaring themselves bankrupt as they attempt to pay some of the court costs and settlement fees demanded of them. No other industry - even those closely associated with children such as boarding schools - has a rate of abuse anywhere near the rate found amongst Christian clergy. Counting is difficult, but, around 3% of all priests appear to be prone to recurring sexual indecency with children. Catholic Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi represented the Vatican before the United Nations Human Rights Council, and stated that Jews and Protestants have worse rates of child abuse, but still admitted that in the last 50 years "somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases". Police have called for routine checks of all priests, and a growing distrust of Christian religious professionals is finally beginning to become apparent amongst the general public.
My main recommendations are:
That Christian institutions cease running organisations that deal with children such as schools and orphanages. Secular managers should be appointment to oversee any institutions that are mostly staffed by Christians.
That Christian teachings on sexuality are viewed as a historical form of idealism, like communism or fascism, which has unfortunately proven itself to have failed on moral and pragmatic grounds.
Failure to seek medical help for children should be illegal and religious exemptions from medical laws should be removed.
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Abrahamic religions have contributed to the most negative and destructive attitudes towards sexual issues, especially homosexuality. Christian and Islamic communities and organisations are the most vocal assailants on any legal or societal moves towards tolerance and equality. The liberal wings of some of these religions have adapted to the wide (European) acceptance of homosexuality. Many traditional religions reject the scientific, medical and psychological knowledge that we have gained about sexuality and regard homosexuality as "unnatural", a "choice" or a "moral evil". These religions are themselves immoral and evil in their attitude, causing hatred, bigotry, violence and oppression in the name of God. Homosexual communities have become accustomed to the ranting of religious fundamentalists and traditionalists, and this causes a strong anti-religious resentment amongst them.
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“I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.”
The historical battles between religious institutions and science, such as those in physics, astronomy and biology, indicate there is something wrong with the religious approach to the study of reality. The underlying problem extends to negative effects on the individual intelligence of believers, and a related negative effect on educational achievements. Hardly any of the several-hundred Nobel Prize winning scientists have been Christians. Only 3.3% of the Members of the Royal Society in the UK and 7% the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, believe in a personal God. The more senior and learnéd the scientist, the less likely they are to believe in God. The children of highly religious parents suffer diminished IQs - averaging 7 to 10 points lower compared to their non-religious counterparts in similar socio-economic groups. As you would expect from these results, multiple studies have also shown that IQ is opposed to the strength of religious belief. 39 studies since 1927 (out of 43) have found that the higher one's intelligence, the less likely to hold religious beliefs.
The effect extends beyond individual countries and is visible inter-nationally. In countries where education is improving, younger people's uptake of religion is lower49,50, causing long-term trends towards secularisation. Countries with a higher rate of belief in God have lower average intelligence. All countries with high average intelligence have low national levels of belief in God. For countries where belief in God is over 80%, the average national IQ is 83 points. For those countries where stated disbelief in God (atheism) is greater than 20%, the national average IQ is 98 points. Instead of belief in God, countries with the highest IQs adhere to Far-Eastern atheist religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto.
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The damage to intelligence caused by religious beliefs, especially strong beliefs, has a knock-on effect for violence and imprisonment rates. Higher rates of criminal activity is associated both with higher levels of religiosity, and with lower levels of intelligence:
“Prison incarceration is linked with low intelligence. Intelligence is inversely linked to faith. Religious parenting causes a reduction in children's average IQs. Evidence for this is that religious types (notably Catholics) are over-represented amongst prison inmates and other nasty classes of human, such as drug addicts, alcoholics, compulsive gamblers and sex industry workers; not to mention the fact that sectarian religious schools promote the social divisions that hundreds of sociological analyses have proven to destroy community cohesion and increase violence and crime. If religion makes a person more likely to fall foul of societies' penal codes and moral judgements, and so does lower intelligence, and also religion causes lack of intelligence, then we have a self-perpetuating cycle. Two ways forward are an increase in non-religious education and the reduction of the authority given to religious ideas.”
“My contention that Christianity has brutalized men and kept them ignorant, rather than educating them and raising them up, is not based on some bold but false claim made by a handful of outspoken freethinkers, but on a historically demonstratable and bitter fact. This fact is not the result of the chance failure of a long succession of popes who were hostile to learning and limited in their vision to provide any suitable education, but of the irreconcilable opposition of faith to rational thought.”
"The Misery of Christianity - a Plea for Humanity without God"
Joachin Kahl (1968)51
“I have challenged several theologians to provide evidence contradicting the premise that theology has made no contribution to knowledge in the past five hundred years at least, since the dawn of science. So far no one has provided a counterexample. The most I have ever gotten back was the query, What do you mean by knowledge? From an epistemological perspective this may be a thorny issue, but I maintain that, if there were a better alternative, someone would have presented it. Had I presented the same challenge to biologists, or psychologists, or historians, or astronomers, none of them would have been so flummoxed.”
Improved education, especially in statistical sciences, is the best way to increase the general intelligence of the population and therefore, is the best way to remove superstitions and religion.
Faith Schools are those in which the ethos of the school is aligned explicitly with one particular religious denomination, with most of the teachers being dedicated adherents. They're an example of sectarianism, in which, starting from childhood, people are segregated into communities based on racial, ethnic or religious lines.
Social psychologists have consistently found across over 800 studies53 that segregating children by religion causes increased aggression and violence between groups54,55,56, "animating dangerous divisiveness" in the words of Amartya Sen57. The UK Government's review of early 2000s 'race riots' recommends mixed schools, not religious ones, warning that concentrating people together from one religion damages community cohesion57,58; a lesson also learned painfully from the long decades of 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland, and echoed in events around the world. Dividing children by religion prevents tolerance; Tony Wright, a UK MP, said that "before Sept. 11, it looked like a bad idea; it now looks like a mad idea"58.
“Religious schools... tend to divide society because, as a result of them, pupils become segregated by denomination or religion. The sectarianism, perhaps unwittingly accepted or encouraged at home, and reinforced at school often leads children to develop a circle of friends predominantly-even if subconsciously-chosen on religious grounds. This sets a pattern which can carry on throughout life and be transmitted to offspring, perpetuating the problem. [...] The more religious schools there are, the less the chance of eliminating sectarianism.”
When children share space with others from different backgrounds it reduces prejudice and stereotypes53,59; the United Nations reports that raising children without segregation is the key to combating intolerance60, as does the EU's racism and xenophobia monitoring centre61.
A programme of converting faith schools to secular ones has multiple advantages; (1) reduced social tension between different religions and ethnic groups, (2) increased fairness of school selection as religious schools have to accept poorer students, (3) increased experience of others, generating empathy and compassion in a multicultural world, and (4) less scope for fundamentalism, indoctrination and child abuse.
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There are countless tragedies in history where scientific discoveries have been suppressed, lost, destroyed, burnt and hidden, with scientists murdered, ousted, silenced and tortured. In nearly all cases, the antagonists have been religious institutions who are offended, scared, or outraged by new discoveries and by challenging ideas.
“The Ionians discovered the truth about the Sun, the Earth and the stars. But their era ended when their last great scientist, Hypatia, was attacked by a mob of Christians and burnt in 415CE. The center of science, the Alexandrian Library, was also burnt and destroyed. Scientists had to suffer torture, silencing, imprisonment and death at the hands of Christians who didn't agree [...]. Copernicus (1473-1543), Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642), Newton (1643-1727) and Laplace (1749-1827) all fought battles against the Church when they published scientific papers challenging religious orthodoxy. [...] The Church retreated... only to go on to fight similar ignorant battles, and violently impose dogmatic errors, in the arenas of physics, biology and philosophy.”
The Ionians also theorized that humans had evolved from earlier species and had changed form over time. In particular, Anaximander of Miletus "proposed the spontaneous origin of life in mud, the first animals being fish covered with spines. Some descendants of these fishes eventually abandoned the water and moved to dry land, where they evolved into other animals"62 - all, he said, without any need for god(s) to step in. Needless to say, it took science hundreds of years to rediscover the theory of evolution after an age of Christianity wiped it out.
If you were to doubt that religion, in particular single-god monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam, are as bad as I have made out, then consider what happens when these organized religions become dominant. Now, much of the Muslim and Arab world is enshrouded in an age of faith so dark that once again, religious police and theocratic regimes enforce forms of religion on the people. Widespread ignorance exists of science, human rights and comparative religion because it is unlawful to teach anything that contradicts the Qur'an. The Muslim world today is in a dark age, as was Christianity before it.
In Europe, the 'Dark Ages' refers to the barriers to human intellectual and moral development thrown up by a Christianity which sought to control all aspects of morality, justice, education and power; violently ending progressive morality and tolerance wherever it had the power to do so64,65,66,67,68 especially from the 5th century69 to the 15th70. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church stood as the most stable centre of European power and under its dominant influence science and scholarship was all but destroyed, replaced with Church dogma and doctrine, violently enforced71. Philosophical works were burned and lost, medicine and psychology set back hundreds of years65,72,73. In some areas of knowledge, over one thousand years of Human development was lost and education became controlled by the clergy and was often limited to them alone66,74. The entire Middle Ages was subject to Christian superstitions, torture, violence, the loss of education and knowledge and the denial of basic human freedoms, specifically as a result of Christian doctrine74.
During this time, the Arab world carried the torch of knowledge and surpassed Europe in its understanding of philosophy, mathematics, and the sciences in general75,76. Europe slowly emerged from the dark age amidst continued widespread horror at the abuses of the Church, and a gradual trickle of intellectuals and early scientists emerged from the 12th century. Although they were mostly imprisoned and tortured by Christian institutions, they eventually lit the spark of the Reformation in the 16th century, which broke the power of the Catholic Church (after large scale civil wars between competing Christians77,78), and allowed the seeds of the 18th century Enlightenment to be sown71, whereupon religious organisations' power was curbed, worldly knowledge was sought and basic Human rights were proclaimed and valued.
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It is apparent from the wide range of religions and their varied gods that it is not clear what god(s) are actually like, nor even is it clear how many of them there are (if any). The search for god is a rather insubstantial affair. The arguments are indirect. The lack of evidence has resulted in the concept known as the God of the Gaps, where some particular lack of knowledge (such as how the Earth formed, or how life started) has led people to believe that a conscious agent, a designer, is responsible. But as our scientific knowledge has increased no evidence for god(s) has been found and the old and indirect evidences for god(s) have been demolished. The gods no longer flick the switches to create lightening, nor stomp on the ground to make earthquakes. God shrinks as science grows.
Some theists will claim that because science cannot explain everything that God must exist. Many point out that explaining the unknown in simple terms is one of the great appeals of religion and one of the causes of its success79. Adherents plead that new facts may come to light that suggest gods exist and which will in the future bring god into the light of science. However historically the opposite has occurred. As Human understanding has increased, the role of god(s) in the world has drastically reduced. It seems that the more we understand about reality, the less there is need to talk of gods, spirits and other supernatural elements. God is that gap between imagination and knowledge, wherein we falsely detect signs of agency because we don't understand what's really going on.
All theories in science start with evidence, and on that evidence theories are built which match reality better than previous theories and, importantly, make predictions about future discoveries. Theories get stronger over time as evidence accumulates, or they are abandoned on the basis of a failure of evidence, or fail because of contradictions with newly discovered facts. The God of the Gaps is not like that at all. It exists in particular where there is no evidence. The theory that there is a God seems to retreat in the face of evidence and discovery; not get confirmed by them. This is the hallmark of the type of theory that should be abandoned.
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There have been several decades' worth of studies on the correlations between how religious a country is, and its overall stability. Gregory S. Paul compared 25 indicators and found that in developing countries, the more actively religious the country is, the worse its rates of crime, suicide, drug use, imprisonment, unemployment, income, abortion and public corruption80.
“Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College whose research looks at the link between religion and societal health within the developed world, agrees with that assertion. [...] Zuckerman says the findings are consistent with his own data, collected for his 2008 book Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment - a portrait of secular society in Denmark and Sweden - and his forthcoming Faith No More: How and Why People Reject Religion.
Scandinavian countries, in particular, have achieved high levels of economic strength and social stability, and yet the influence of religion there is in steep decline, perhaps the lowest in recorded history. Coincidence or not, those countries also rank among the world's happiest populations. In The Netherlands' Erasmus University Rotterdam's annual World Database of Happiness the same Northern European countries that score low in religiosity rank high in reported levels of happiness. (The U.S ranked 27th).”
“'During Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's efforts to separate church and state, Madison pointed to history and argued that whenever 'ecclesiastical establishments' had shaped civil society, they had supported political tyranny; never had they protected the people's liberties'.”
This is hardly news to many of those who now live in largely secular countries, looking on at the troubles of the world. In 2006 The Guardian reported that 82% of the British public say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree.82
“Wherever the religious neurosis has appeared on the Earth so far, we find it connected with three dangerous prescriptions as to regimen : Solitude, Fasting and Sexual abstinence.”
“Religion is a topic which should never be introduced in society. It is the one subject on which persons are most likely to differ, and least able to preserve temper.”
“The world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief; and anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”
Dr. Steven Weinberg85
“Religion has always been a disruptive force.”
"Fundamentalism" by Steve Bruce (2008)86
This is the first sentence in this book.
“Human Rights have had a powerful positive effect on the world, ratcheting humanity away from barbarism, political oppression, gender inequality and religious prejudice. Humanity has felt the need for Human Rights for a long time. The derivation of ethics from religious codes has been inadequate as either a source of governance or as a guide to personal conduct: too many old and archaic rules lead to needless segregation, sectarianism, suffering and pain, especially of minorities. Even the well-loved Golden Rule (treat others as you wish to be treated) fails as thugs indulge in dog-eat-dog competiton. Many have built secular (non-religious) frameworks. Immanuel Kant theorized on the categorical imperative88; but this required everyone spend an inordinate amount of time indulging in long-term strategic thinking when making any moral choices. John Stuart Mill in the 18th century constructed his under-appreciated utilitarian ethic89. But the most successful work in this area is by far the Enlightenment's push for human rights.
Human rights solves some of the "deliberation overhead" issues by stipulating some things you cannot deprive people of. One of the earliest Western legal systems that declares the existence of Human rights was created by Hugo Grotius in his book Der Jure Belli ac Pacis in the 17th century CE, based on reason and humanitarianism - and made famous for not needing to referr to divinity90. The wheels had been set in motion in the Enlightenment, as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau deliberated upon secular sources of morals in France in order to prevent the Christian abuses of the Dark Ages from occurring again91 and it was this that brought HR to the fore in the West92.
It is now widely acknowledged that "the source of human rights is man's moral nature"93 and the international Vienna Declaration states that "all human rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person"94. Governments, institutions and individuals are now held to account across the world for failing to respect basic human rights.”
If the secular Human Rights approach is correct, if it engenders good morals and civility and progress, then, there should be statistical evidence which can be consulted to support or detract from it. There is, indeed, such evidence.
The Social and Moral Development Index concentrates on moral issues and human rights, violence, public health, equality, tolerance, freedom and effectiveness in climate change mitigation and environmentalism, and on some technological issues. A country scores higher for achieving well in those areas, and for sustaining that achievement in the long term. Those countries towards the top of this index can truly said to be setting good examples and leading humankind onwards into a bright, humane, and free future. See: Which are the Best Countries in the World? The Social and Moral Development Index. The graph here shows clearly that social and moral development is at its highest in countries that are the least religious. As religiosity increases, each country suffers from more and more conflicts with human rights, more problems with tolerance of minorities and religious freedom, and problems with gender equality.
For more, see "Human Rights and Secular Morals: Ethics Without Religion or Faith" by Vexen Crabtree (2014).
Christian institutions put large sums of money into the slave trade, and became the biggest slave-owners96, boosting a trade that would have otherwise collapsed. Behind this stood biblical arguments for slavery. Conservative Christians hung on to their slaves for the longest and the American South was only forced to relent when legislators went against Churches and public opinion97. The UK's Archbishop of Canterbury "apologized unreservedly" for the Church of England's role in the slave trade98. The Qur'an was even clearer in its institutionalization of slavery, and the conservative Muslim world debated bitterly for the keeping of slaves. Surprisingly for a nation of people with a shared mythology involving escaping from slave-masters, Jewish merchants also ran slave routes99 and even owned slaves directly for hundreds of years around the beginning of the first millennium100.
Non-monotheistic and non-mainstream religion had a much better track record on slavery. The liberal Buddhist emperor Ashoka abolished the slave trade in India in the 3rd century BCE101, and another Buddhist Emperor, Wang Mang (born 45BCE), done the same in China102. In the West, the earliest institutional anti-slavery thinkers were those found amongst the pagan Zeno's Stoics (342-270BCE).
The most successful religious campaigns against slavery were those under the rule of Voodoo priests and practitioners. Such leaders showed the world that anti-slavery was valid, inspiring hope and valiant anti-slavery efforts, all relying upon the slaves' own will to free themselves. Later on, the Quakers (a non-mainstream Christian sect in America) were effective in pushing for abolition there, eventually leading half of Christendom into opposition of slavery. But in the end it was economic interests that turned the world against slavery.
For more, see:
World religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism all embody a traditional and sometimes bizarre set of animal sacrifice rituals in their holy texts. These practices, despite being borderline barbaric and not in keeping with modern ideas of animal welfare, are still in use today by religious communities all over the world, including in the most modern countries. Although it might seem reasonable in the West to allow butchers to sell halal food, at the core of this familiar label is weird ritualistic behaviour that belongs in the dark ages. The ideals of pluralism have blinded us to the stark reality that some religious practices are simply unacceptable. Animal rights campaigners have joined forces with moral activists to try and curb religious ritual slaughter of animals. The general public associate blood rituals involving animals with Satanism, not realizing that they were all invented, and are still practiced, by mainstream religions - and that Satanism does not involve animal sacrifice. Sikhs will specifically not eat meat slaughtered in accordance with Jewish or Muslim practices due to the unnecessarily cruel methods used103.
For more, see:
Religion is a contributing factor in the social response to climate change104 and the contribution of religious organisations and leaders has a potential to be helpful, but historically has also been problematic105. Over the last century the secular world has realized that our behaviour so far has been far too destructive, selfish and irresponsible, and has been engaged in an attempt to educate and encourage religious leaders to teach not necessarily the science, but, the need for us to be responsible towards the Earth, even if it's not strictly part of some major religions' doctrines. Conservative Christianity has, in particular, been particularly damaging towards our long-term future on this planet. Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior declared confidently that "we don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand"106 and in 2010 the Republican politician John Shimkus argued that we can't be in danger from sea levels rising because God said in Genesis 9:11 that It wouldn't flood the Earth again (also see ). Mary Evelyn Tucker, one of the most respected authors in the studies of religious responses to the environment, writes that religious world views need to be "re-balanced" to help bring Human-earth relations into a more sensible state107. Although religions like Buddhism are strongly environmentalist in nature, there is still a lot of work to be done to bring religious worldviews on the environment into a place where they are helping, and not hindering, our balancing act with nature.
The enemies of the gods are the friends of the oppressed. All can now find solace and security, protection and refuge in the houses of thought that make stands against organized religion.
The idols of the oppressed are ironically the demons and devils of theology. Successful Christian preachers turned the pagan God pan into a demon, turned the idea of a daemon into the idea of a demon, turned the good symbols of the oppressed into the devils of their own theology. The original symbols behind devils and demons are largely the remnants of defeated and victimised cultures. Beings and concepts that wish to destroy god(s) express the same sentiment as the oppressed masses through history who have had to fight and hide from religious authority. Most the time Satan itself is blamed for our existence and used as the excuse to allow Christians and Muslims to oppress free thought.
This Satan, this scapegoat, is the bad guy of organized religion: he is the saviour of the anarchist, the romantic, the fool who tries to cease human (and his own) suffering by removing the sheep mentality that allows powerful governments or forces to rule unquestioned; this Satan is the last strength for a strong moral person trapped in a weak and immoral world. The Satanic rituals, the calling on the elements to remove hypocrisy and corruption, stupidity and irresponsibility; is not the summoning of evil as white light religion sees it, and does not have evil effects, but is the single most important stand against the mindless tyranny of the majority of the Human race: it is a cleansing of the air around the Earth.”
Not only is Satan an ideal symbol for those who have suffered under religion, but the state of the natural world is evidence that if a god exists, it is evil:
“The existence of such large quantities of suffering, despair, pain, of natural disasters such as earthquakes, of the death of the unborn and the immense suffering of lovers & kind-hearted people means that god is evil and intentionally creates life in order to create suffering. That all life exists in a food chain means that life is completely tied to death, and such a barbaric biological cycle could only have been made by an evil god. Also, that such a god appears not to exist, or actively hides itself, is a source of confusion, conflict, war and stress and is again more likely the antics of an evil god. Given the state of the natural world, it is impossible that a good god exists. It is more likely that an evil god exists, but, it is sensible to assume that there is no god of either type. Even if there is not a god of either type, as the dominance of death and violence in the natural world, a result of nature being abused by life and not being designed for life, I think the evil symbol of Satan is the best representative of the state of reality and the universe, whether or not an actual evil god exists.
If God did exist and was evil, it would undoubtedly lie and tell everyone it was a good god and that it loved them. It would create maximum confusion by preaching multiple conflicting religions. It would create heaven and make it hard to get to in order to tease and torture people into making their own lives hell. As all of those things happen, if there is a God, it is doing the things an evil God would do!
Once I recognized and accepted this state of affairs and adequately called myself a Satanist, I could concentrate my life on happiness, love, stability and peace. Because I know and understand that death always wins, that life is temporary, I waste no time on short-term whims that reduce my quality of life, or of those around me, and I waste no time with spiritual pipe dreams. Recognizing Satan as the personified meta-figure of reality is self-affirming, life-affirming, positive, honest and clarifying.”