Friday, May 18, 2007
My close friend often advises me to “not talk about religion or politics” with others. Usually, I laugh at his silly advice, knowing it's near impossible for me to not ramble about these two subjects I enjoy discussing the most; nevertheless, after numerous verbal skirmishes and debates with family, friends, and acquaintances throughout my years as an atheist, I think I can at least respect the good intention of his advice; besides, one cannot reason with the unreasonable. Moreover, when one is only able to talk about one subject, they accordingly become just as fundamentally narrow as those they wish to distinguish themselves from.
Admittedly, this doesn’t mean I’ll cease conversing about how I believe religion does more harm than it ever has any good; but now, I choose my battles wisely. Thus, instead of provoking others into such discussions, I instead calmly present my view when asked and, of course, place my position onto the page for anyone interested. There is no reason to lose control –let us reserve such immature fits and violent tantrums of religious zealotry to the childish convictions of the “moral majority”.
Christopher Hitchens writes in his most recent book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”, that “Our belief is not a belief”; meaning, unlike the faithful, atheists do not adhere to dogmatic persuasions but instead respect “free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.” Of course, this does not mean Hitchens renounces the rabble-rousing fairy tales of other’s personal faith, he’d just prefer they remain that –personal. A sensible request in a world plagued with fundamentalism, theocratic dictatorships, and the erasing of an increasingly disappearing boundary between church and state. In fact, although Hitchens stated at last week’s debate in the New York Public Library against Al Sharpton (which I’m pleased to say I attended) “religion’s time has past”; he also claims he has “nothing against other’s personal faith.” Rightfully, his concern is that others just keep this faith to themselves –“Don’t bring your toys into my house.”
Regrettably, such a request is not so easy for the devout to respect. We have all likely run into the crazy Jesus freaks who interrupt the peace of our morning commutes on the train and even more conscious of those who –animated by faith and economic injustice (but that’s another ramble)—decide to fly jumbo jets into the side of buildings. Yes the zealots of the world have not gone away and they will likely continue to expend much energy on not only trying to convince others their belief is the one “true” belief but are so obsessed with legitimizing this “truth” that they will even go so far as to kill the unbelievers. Unlike other recent publications against religious fundamentalism, Hitchens does not shy away from pointing the finger directly at the source –the belief in god.
Hitchens's argument is that the idea of god itself is “dictatorial.” All religion is founded on the idea of an all-knowing-all-seeing being, in which personal “guilt” perpetuates and solidifies such social stratifications. Many will, obviously, reject Hitchens's claims and argue religion has done many “positive” things for humanity. Not so. In fact, without religion, Hitchens argues, humanity—left to it’s own volition—would still manage to make morally just decisions. The idea of god, as it is attached to organized religion, only gets in the way of absolute enlightenment. He states, “No supernatural deity is necessary to see what is right” and that, if anything, “religion makes good people wicked.”
This week, one of America’s most revered bigots died. Jerry Falwell was not a great man (and I am offended by the federal government’s order for flags to be flown at half-mast for this “national hero”). The only thing Falwell should be remembered for was his racist, homophobic, and ridiculously ignorant views, which not only turned the clock of human progress back centuries in this country, but subsequently assisted in setting the stage for the fools controlling it today. Jerry Falwell also perfectly illustrates how “Religion is only used by those in temporal charge to invest themselves with authority.” Without religion, such depraved figures would be singled-out for the illusionists they are.
One of the most convincing arguments Hitchens makes against religion is the threat it represents to our physical and psychological health. Admittedly, his arguments against circumcision will likely be scoffed at by health professionals, but nevertheless his statements against the Christian Right (specifically the Bush administration) and Catholicism's renouncement of sex education (which it instead assumes to replace with the ridiculous idea of “abstinence”) and its crusade to prevent the distribution of condoms in AIDS plagued regions is nothing less than evil. Of course, this should come as no surprise; after all, “the relationship between physical health and mental health is well understood to have a strong connection to the sexual function, or dysfunction. Can it be a coincidence then, that all religions claim the right to legislate in matters of sex?”
Religion is a plague on intellectual inquiry, self-expression, love, and freedom –religion is dictatorial. Humans fear death and the uncertainty of this strange and, admittedly, volatile (unintelligently-designed) universe; thus, humans need to create some rubric to deal with this uncertainty (such as the Egyptians and Greeks needed their pantheon). Fortunately, chemistry replaced alchemy, astrology - astronomy, and religion shall one day be replaced with reason. Hitchens notes, “Religion comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs).”
“Religion has run out of justifications.” It is long past time for this child to grow-up and replace its juvenile (and often horribly destructive) “toys” with pragmatic ideals. I guess I give more credit to humanity than the devout, who are often ridden with so much guilt, they are unable to see the beauty and morality that has always been with them and that would still be there without the totalitarian illusion of god.
Hitchens closes his book by stating, “To clear the mind for this project, it has become necessary to know the enemy, and to prepare to fight it.” I presume this means I will have to not only ignore my friend’s advice, but will need to further prepare to trade barbs with anyone thinking they can drag me back into the darkness of their weak and misguided ignorance. No worries, I shall continue to choose my battles wisely, but make no mistake…
In reason we trust.