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February 27, 2012
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Religion: The poison in your ear?

On May 1st 2007, the late Christopher Hitchens released the book "God is not great: How religion poisons everything". Judging by his writings, the title was not just a sensationalist attempt at increasing sales, but the genuine sentiment of its author. Having immersed myself in the subject of religion contra reality, the influence it has, I lean towards Hitchens' side- religion appears harmful to me, doing more ill than good to society at large.

Religion is, in the world at large, probably the greatest yoke any country, civilization or ethnicity faces when trying to progress, to move forwards. It creates division, isolation between groups, inspires hate where there would be none before. Religion narrows the mind. It creates division, clouds judgment and endorses intolerance. To quote Richard Dawkins: "I oppose religion... because it teaches people to be satisfied with an incomplete explanation of how the world works."
In March 2009, Pope Benedict XVI announced at his visit in Africa that condoms make worse the AIDS problem. This statement highlights the magnitude of harm religion can cause. Pope Benedict XVI's words represent perfectly the destructive power irrational belief, superstition has. Simply because the Catholic Church considers semen holy, the Africans must suffer.

Or, to further my point on religiously inspired xenophobia, let us view the gaping sore that is Palestine. For generations now Jew has fought Arab and Arab has fought Jew, because both are convinced god promised them this land. At this point, Yahweh seems to have given no favour to either side- imagine how much easier the process of integration would have been if not for the mullahs and rabbis preaching their alleged absolute right to this land, as mandated by an unseen god.

The number of religiously inspired zealots who would go so far as to harm or kill you for the sake of their beliefs thankfully represents a negligible portion of the religious populations of the world. The dangers of religion are far more subtle, far more sinister. I would refer here to what may be the most immediate threat in terms of religious follies: creationism, and more specifically the attempts its adherents make to teach their unsubstantiated beliefs as scientific. Originally a phenomenon best known from the southern states of the USA, the creationist movement is active and alive, and insidiously snaking its way through Europe as well. Though they thankfully represent a vocal- if obnoxious- minority, the fact that they have any impact at all is worrying. Hiding behind the pretext of religious freedom, they wish to impose on the susceptible minds of the youth superstition as science. They reject the scientific theory of evolution, which is based on mountains of evidence, in favour of "Intelligent Design", based explicitly on the unfalsifiable idea of a creator. "Teach the controversy" is a common slogan. In my opinion, this is absurd- there is no controversy in the scientific community regarding evolution. The overwhelming majority of the scientific community adheres to the theory of evolution. The science classroom deals with science- the creationists can bring in only matters of faith. Whether god is real or not is irrelevant in such a context as that of a science classroom- only the tangible, the falsifiable is dealt with there. We did not advance to the point where we can send satellites into space by looking at the unexplained, going "god did it".

Religious people is by many said to bring comfort, that churches raise money for the poor. What of the many charities the churches boast, the money it raises for the poor? What of the sense of security it brings to those miserable and unsatisfied with their lives? Why would anybody wish them robbed of this? Commonly, the theists argue that without god, there is no greater purpose, no point to living or being alive. Further, the theistic apologists like to endorse the idea that somehow belief makes man more moral, more inclined to charity and kindness. Some even postulate that a lack of religious guidance leads to disaster- a common argument is that Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the heads of atheistic regimes that their lack of belief led to the atrocities committed.
These are interesting questions, and some of them may have some merit- but at a closer glance, I would say that this amounts to an appeal to emotion rather than a question of fact.

If we first address comfort: yes, the belief in a god can cause a very real feeling of well-being, happiness, even euphoria. Believing can make you happy. So can a security blanket. The reality of the joy you might experience does not make the ideas endorsed any more or less true. In the words of Bertrand Russel, "The fact that a believer is happier than an unbeliever is no more to the point than a drunken man being happier than a sober one".

The happiness, though real, ceases to be harmless once it causes people to judge others for not adhering to ones own personal beliefs. This is where religion creates division- by claiming it has all the answer, the perfect answers, that all other answers are inferior; that all who disagree are therefore morally inferior or simply corrupt.
What about charity, then? The various churches are responsible for much good- but this is not unique to the churches at all, nor do I need to be guilted into donating money by some god. I could just as easily donate to a secular charity. The church, with the tithes it gathers from its many believers worldwide, certainly has the resources. The humanitarian effort is just that- humanitarian. All religions, all people have an urge to help; it is an instinct. No church is required.

What about the idea of life being meaningful only with the idea of a god in it? This argument falls on its own arrogance- evidently, the atheist can live an equally fulfilled, satisfied life without even a hint of belief in the juju at the mountain. This can be, and has been tested. Perhaps the religious need a god to make their lives meaningful; to claim this is universal fails on logical grounds.

What about morality? This is possibly the most self-important argument the theistic side has to offer. If morality is derived only out of fear of being denied eternal bliss, then it is not really morality to begin with. We, as human beings, do right because it is right, not because we are afraid of what will happen if we do not.

In conclusion, I would like to assert that religion, though having some fine points- it is deeply linked to all of our cultures, responsible for much charity- does more harm than it does good. It provides comfort, but it also creates division, retards scientific progress, incites xenophobia and gets privileges for superstitions it cannot prove. I do not deny people the right to believe- indeed, religion will last as long as there are humans left to believe. However, religion must be kept private. It must never be given special treatment or allowances where other interests would not, and it should never be allowed a say in politics or education.
I was asked to write an essay for my university course in English; I chose to write on religion.

If you're religious, and this offends you, know that I don't care. At all. If you would like to discuss this though, I am all ears.
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:iconerikatheraindeer:
erikatheraindeer Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2012
I love it! It's beautiful! :iconiloveyouplz:
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:icongreatkingrat88:
Greatkingrat88 Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2012
Thank you :)
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:iconvogoshinki:
VoGoshinki Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2012
As far as I can tell its simple as this.

In the hands of a good person:Religon can do alot of good and bring pepole together.

In the hands of assholes and close minded pepole: Discrimiantion and death.
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:icongreatkingrat88:
Greatkingrat88 Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2012
And in the hands of an asshole, it can make good men do evil things. That's my main concern, because good men usually do not do evil things without a religious conviction.
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:iconmephistophilez:
Mephistophilez Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2012   Traditional Artist
Excellent piece indeed! I thoroughly enjoyed this. I find it amusing it was really an essay for English, you seem to have no trouble grasping the language, and at the same time decimated the complicated topic of religion. I like your well places quotes by notable atheists. And the Pope preaching lies about condoms in Africa, I was just re-reading that story not a few days ago in light of some new lovely Catholic scandals [link] . But what I really liked was the even temper, the matter of fact attitude, and relatively moderate examples for a topic that often spins out of control. You could have used more extreme examples of violence, of brutal history and oppression, outrageous quotes of politicians, etc., and while you hinted at those things a little you went a more reasonable and collected route. I find that admirable, and I think the argument is made stronger because of it. It makes those religious nuts seem even nuttier. Great job.
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:icongreatkingrat88:
Greatkingrat88 Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2012
Thanks!

I was given free choice of what to write, so I chose religion. English is my strongest suit, and religion something of a hobby, so religion it was.

The quotes... yes, I picked up a few. They capture the atheist zeitgeist quite well, I think.

I was quietly shaking my head as I read that article. It confirmed further what I already know: the vatican is a genuinely evil organization.

Well, it's a university essay, so I couldn't get too personal. I'm not really incline to go all Hitchens on religion, though- it makes one look strident and intolerant, and is more likely to aggravate than make a lasting point. I appreciate your kind critique :)
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:iconmephistophilez:
Mephistophilez Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2012   Traditional Artist
Even that your hobby is religion is interesting to me. Isn't about 70-75% of Sweden's population atheist or non-religious? But obviously just being atheist doesn't mean they necessarily study these things, and if they're not challenged by religion very much I would imagine there's not a strong feeling of need to read up on religion or atheist arguments. What gravitates you towards that topic, if you don't mind my asking?

As if I needed more confirmation about that, the Vatican just appointed a Fox News reporter as their media advisor haha.

I can definitely understand that. Though again, maybe the environment can play a part. I'm willing to live and let live, but often it is Christianity which steps into my life, so I feel the need to get a little...uh...outspoken on the issue hehe. Sweden is ahead of the curve on things like religion, you seem to have a pretty secular government (minus the whole Swedish Church thing and the Christian party). The whole issue starts to get muddled and difficult when laws are passed based purely off of religious reasons (not just abortion, homosexual rights, etc but in the US there are seven states which have laws that ban atheists from holding public office). Despite being harsh and perhaps a little bit of an asshole, I do try to be tolerant and respectful to individuals (unless they are intolerant and disrespectful to me then the gloves come off), but it's a fine line when religion would gladly take away my basic rights and they may have the power to do so.
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:icongreatkingrat88:
Greatkingrat88 Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2012
80% nonreligious. Atypically for a Swede, I was born and raised christian. I gradually left the faith when I was around seventeen. As I became more engaged, I learned more, and atheism and religion became one of my hobbies.

That really says it all.

We are, in some regards, the most nonreligious country in the world. The Swedish Church is incredibly mellow and wishy-washy, and is separate from the state. The Christian Democrats are an inch away from failing to reach the 4% voting minimum required to hold seats in the riksdag.
And, I should like to mention, the Swedish Church is officially pro gay marriage.

Given how organized religion cannot help but to poke its nose in places where said nose does not belong, atheists speaking out in criticism is more necessary than ever. We've reached a turning point in western history, where the religious bullying is tolerated far less than ever before. Because of this, people like Dawkins, Hitchens, are actually famous for their work for atheism.
We may sound strident at times, but we cannot keep quiet when ills are being done. I'm not going to pick fights with believers just because, but if they want their religion to be where it doesn't belong, I will protest.
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:iconmephistophilez:
Mephistophilez Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2012   Traditional Artist
Wow, 80%? So I guess there's no atheist groups or get-togethers, no real need? It's like the opposite of the US. Actually I know a few Swedes, I've been to Sweden a few times (men jag kan inte prata bra svenska), and ironically most of the ones I know well are Christians. You got out at a good time.

Isn't the Swedish Church being totally separate kind of a new thing though? And there's stuff like people are automatically registered with the Swedish Church when their born, aren't they? Oh I didn't realize the Christian party was hurting that badly. So are their voters just going to the Swedish Democrats instead? hehe. Yeah being pro gay marriage is a big one, I'll give them that. I only knew of one church around my home town that was friendly to homosexuals, and I don't think they would even go that far, and it was enough to attract the Westboro Baptists to protest at the church.

Very well said. Don't you think that will also cause a reaction though, that the fundamentalists will be even more extreme and lash out because they are afraid of losing ground? I feel that in the US, people are gravitating towards the real crazies (Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, etc) because they are afraid of change as well as afraid of losing their religion (or the next generation losing their religion). They're like a rabid dog in a corner.

Just as someone interested in Sweden, are there areas you feel that religion interferes there? Even though atheists are the majority, there is a rich history of Christian power there, and they may be even more wanting to influence things to regain that influence (I've heard of Christians from the US trying to start a church in Göteborg, like they feel they need to reach and "save" that unchurched place...not to mention US politicians sticking their nose in the business of every other country). Do you think you have to keep your guard up, so to speak, when it comes to religious interference with government, politics or daily life?
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:icongreatkingrat88:
Greatkingrat88 Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2012
We do have the humanist organization, although the multiculturalists have given us something of a bad rep for no good reason. Apparently, being openly critical of religion is islamophobia. (Not a case of religious power really, more a fear of offending anyone. PC bullshit)
There is somewhere along the lines of a 5% christian population- that is, counting actual christians, not just cultural christians.

Relatively recent, yes. And yeah, everyone who is born is registered into the Swedish church, which creates a lot of confusion. Until you de-register, you actually pay a voluntary church tax...
It's worth mentioning that every years, the Swedish church loses 1% of its members. Boo-yah!
It's possible the Sweden Democrats (aka racist party) get some of those votes. They do endorse a backwards set of values, including christian ones. They are at about 5% though, compared to the environmentalist who are at 13%. They used to be the underdog, but no more :D
Here's to hoping the christ democrats get kicked out next time around.

Initially there will be, and I think that's what happens. But as the older generation dies out, things will mellow out considerably, that's my prediction. America is at what, 15-20% nonreligious? That's a considerable minority.
The fundies are vocal, but not numerous enough to get the big time elections (as evident with Romney over Santorum, thank Darwin).

Religion has very little pull here. It would not be unrealistic to say it has none at all. A public declaration of faith is a social embarassment here, and appealing to religion will win a politician zero votes. There is a long history of christianity here, but the one thing that keeps it alive at all is tradition, not a strong culture of faith. Christianity as a power is long since emasculated here.
We do keep our guard up- that's what the humanists and their president, Christer Sturmark, are for; they are our watchdogs- but religion does not really pose any kind of serious threat. They do not have a wide support base, and most people of faith keep that to themselves. It's a secular culture.
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