With increasingly frequency I see the United States referred to as “one of the developing democracies.” I suppose this is true if you extend the definition of “developing” to mean “plummeting headlong and on fire toward”–and define “democracy” as “fascism.” I’ve also noticed “one of” is often replaced with “most dysfunctional of.” Anyway, just something minor I noticed in the article I’ll link to in a moment.
A lot has changed in my lifetime, both internal to my worldview and external to the world at large, but there’s one core belief I hold today that I have held since I was a child: God sucks. Whether intuitively or through a process of anti-indoctrination, I’ve always known that religionâ€”both in the sense of a dogma of blind faith and the sense of the institutions that perpetrate itâ€”was one of the true evils of the world. And I’m not talking about the new kids on the block, the 21st century straw men of fundamentalism and extremism, but the general concept of organized religion. I’ve always felt that it constituted a level of institutionalized mass- and self-delusion that was truly astounding and offensive to the logical mind. It was impossible for me to be even peripherally exposed to the most innocuous flavors of Christianity without seeing huge, glaring internal and external contradictions, both in theory and practice. One of the saddest days of my childhood was the one on which I found out that many of my teachersâ€”including, astoundingly, my biology teacherâ€”were churchgoers. This was something my adolescent brain could barely process and something my adult mind can only provide the most cynical of explanations for.
Now comes this somewhat circular report of a study that correlates religious faith to all manner of social illsâ€”from murder to gonorrhea. I know what you’re going to say: “correlation does not necessarily indicate causality.” And I agree. Though the study would seem to indicate a high degree of religious faith causing these problems, it’s also possible our religious faith is caused by our collective genital irritation and the fact that people are constantly trying to murder us. If anything is going to make you pray, it’s an intimate rash and flying bullets.
But seriously, the problem with religion is that it makes one think of morality and judgment as something occurring outside oneself, somewhere far away in time and space. To make matters worse, reward and forgiveness are also located in this far-off mythical realm. In essence, some of the most powerful psychological factors humanity inheres are co-opted into this otherworldly hierarchy. Even if you believe there’s a god, what you really are dealing with is this deep structure of (usually) men who are each supposedly successively closer to that god than you are, all of whom contribute to the interpretation and enforcement of the religion. In reality, all you really have are those men and a hoary book or two a bunch of other old men slapped together a few thousand years ago to subjugate a gullible populace.
As long as we externalize both our morality and our punishment and reward structure to mystical forces and old men we have little reason to take the responsibilities of life upon ourselves. We talk a lot about the entitlement problem in this country lately. Well here’s the original entitlement problem: a bunch of people going around selfishly believing and acting like what happens to their purely-theoretical souls after they die is more important than what happens today all around them, more important than how they treat others. And people call me cynical and fatalistic? Two of the major religions on this planet (and definitely the major trouble-making ones) decree that what happens after death is more important than what happens in life. One says you will be forgiven no matter what you do in life. One says you will be rewarded for what you do in life. Both of these claims, though seemingly innocuous taken out of context, are hugely corruptible and can serve to release an adherent from the burden of establishing any personal moral foundation in reality. Even when not abused, these philosophies degrade the value of human life and all of its virtues, claiming they cannot be fully enjoyed, explored or cherished in the here and now. This failure to internalize a moral sense detaches us from our fellow humans and encourages devastating patterns of thought that steal our attention away from what matters and make us slaves to fictional gods and corrupt men. Personally, I’d rather not build pyramids.