The Case Against Religion
Needs To Be Aired
Because of the recent events in the USA and the response of the rest of the world to the terrorism of Islamic fundamentalists, I've been feeling rather depressed about the fact that western governments all pay lip service to the fact that basically everyone believes in some sort of God, despite the patently obvious fact (to my mind) that religion is very largely trouble and many of us recognise this fact. It seems to me that all us true believers in the application and lessons of logic and science, and who reject comforting fantasy stories in favour of growing up and using our minds to determine fact from fiction, aid and abet this sad situation by not coming proclaiming our beliefs. In my country, it would is not deemed good form to introduce the subject of religion into polite society, and by pursuing it, would cause the company's toes to curl collectively in embarrassment. In America, a much more deeply religious society, religious platitudes are introduced at every opportunity, irritating in their apparent assumption that no-one in their right mind would not believe in a god.
Being not very brave, I limit my comments to scoffing at those who insist there is a link between morality and the practice of religion, finding that so absurd given the history of the world and its religious, that I cannot let it pass. All I have done in addition to that to support the cause of atheism (read: application of grey cells) is to encourage scepticism in my son, encouraging him to engage his thought process in all matters, shocking his non-churchgoing but "believing" step-father in the process! Again -- it shows the perceived link between the necessity of belief in fairy stories and the production of upstanding pillars of society! What utter nonsense. I hope that the evidence of my well-adjusted son, who is every bit as good a member of society so far (now a student at university), as one could wish for, may be food for thought. Somehow the description of "brainwashing" applies to what I did, but is not the case apparently with strongly religious (or even weakly religious) folk who insist their children believe what they in turn were told to believe. That of course leads us to a whole other branch of the nonsense tree -- with most religious believing they are the chosen people of god -- what immense good fortune to have been born into it -- and how sadly self-deluded are all the others!
Anyway, like I said, I'm feeling rather depressed at the ways of the world, and for the first time sought out people who share my viewpoint. The Internet was just the tool, and I stumbled across your site. The purpose of my letter is my increasing conviction that unless we atheists of the world stand up and are counted, very little will change. It's all very well to smile tolerantly in normal circumstances when we hear the comment that "religion does no harm". With all this nonsense of "holy wars" perhaps the case against religion needs to be aired, and this may just be the time when people will listen more carefully, and all people of good will might see the fundamentalists within their society for the threats to a peaceful, just and equal society that they are. This, as is being demonstrated constantly (read Northern Ireland) is so patently untrue even for those who know no history, that it needs to be said.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Frances Dobson" Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: October 09, 2001 8:09 PM
Science, like religion, is passed down to the younger generations. Of course: science is cumulative knowledge, we keep adding to it and pass the whole body on down.
Unlike religion, though, science has a built-in self-correcting mechanism. Every fact that we hand to our children is automatically prefaced with the notion, "as far as we can tell at this point in time," or, better yet, "subject to revision." The whole point of science is to address humankind's fallibility by making what we claim to know conditioned on our willingness to submit any claim of knowledge to the scrutiny of our peers, and to abide by that scrutiny. One of the greatest joys in science (I hear) is to have one's own pet theory completely demolished by a young whip-start graduate student. I can relate because whenever a reader has shown me something it's like a whole new dawn for me!
Also integral to science is the notion that anybody can challenge any claim to knowledge and, with good enough evidence, completely topple an entire branch of science. Nobody gets to be the arbiter of human knowledge, because all knowledge is subject to the scrutiny of all humans. This is what makes me chuckle when creationists whine about science being so closed off to the idea of creationism. Hey! Just bring on the evidence! If it passes muster, we'll toss ol' Charlie's work right into the Vandervoort Street Incinerator, and Charlie himself will help by tossing in the first few boxes! That's how science works.
Religion does not work this way; in fact, it's quite the opposite. At most, religion is a new meaning given to an existing passage or even, at times, a new passage of "revelation" which, once accepted into the canon, is never questioned again.
The problem with identifying as an atheist (or in any way as a nonreligious person) is that we are making our identity, as such, depend upon what others think. There really is no way to identify as an atheist without doing so in reference to the views of others ("I am not one of those"). As close as you'll get to this would be the Skeptics, the debunkers, but then, as I wrote in a prototype for the feature article in the August issue of Positive Atheism Magazine,
While there is nothing wrong with being "not one of those," there really is not much we can do, as atheists, to distinguish ourselves in a positive manner. At least, there is really no way to do this in a way that certain theists likewise can do. Theists can be rationalists, materialists, humanists, even secularists in the political sense, and the whole gamut of what we atheists have suggested as philosophically positive attributes of atheism. So, as long as we are prepared to fall short of being exclusively atheistic, I think atheists can and do get involved in a whole rainbow of movements that seek to better our world. (Incidentally, the name "Positive Atheism" is not derived from the philosophically positive use but means "proactive" as in putting one's atheism into action to make the world a better place.)
What I do, rather, is try to dignify the human whenever I can. The human is, after all, the most intelligent and most caring entity with which we can communicate (that we currently know of). I also try to emphasize responsibility and accountability, because since there is no "God" up there looking after us and guiding us in our decisions, we are on our own. Thus, we need to avail ourselves of every resource we can find in order to make this world what it can be and likewise to take care of ourselves -- and our fellows, if need be. Thus, any activity or group effort that seeks to move in those directions is, I think, worthy of our attention and our support. Distinguishing between theism and atheism, in the group itself, is way down on my list of priorities. Rather, I prefer to utilize solid methods for discerning truth and to approach everything on its own terms.
For a good collection of articles on reason, thinking, group-think, and logical fallacy, see our "Clues" Index.
For my views challenging the notion of atheist groups, see the letter, "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?" with Argentina's Skeptical activist Juan De Gennaro.
My views on why atheism is really no big deal are spelled out in two columns, "Atheism: But A Small Part" (April, 2001), and "To Symbolize That Which Is Not?" (August, 2001).
Thanks again for your interest and I would enjoy hearing from you again. If you have any response to what I've said here, fire away! That is, after all, the best way to learn and the only way to test one's ideas against the scrutiny of others.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.