Why I Hate Religion
To be clear, this is not one of those “religion is bad but faith is good” arguments. That argument is commonly used in Christianity, to somehow distinguish the Christian religion from other religions. The stigma of religions as entities that miss the original point is valid (case in point: the Vatican attacking American Nuns for choosing to help the poor instead of advance the rightwing social agenda), but not the negative point I want to focus on.
I’m also going to brush by the common, main problems with organized religion: the wars it has caused and continues to cause (only religion could cause the Israeli-Palestine conflict to last this long/be this bad), the bigotry it supports, and the influence it has in places it has no business in. These are all serious problems, and on their own are still enough justification for the condemnation of religious faith.
However, I want to focus on the idea of religious faith in general, rather than looking at the actions of any specific religion or religious person. After all, being religious does not make you a bigot, does not make you start wars, and does not cause you to force your beliefs on others-it is perfectly plausible to be religious and an outstanding moral human being, and it happens all the time.
The definition of religious faith is hard to structure without compromising the meaning, so I won’t. What religious faith does include is a belief in something supernatural, or out of the realm of physical possibility. In particular, I am addressing religious faith that includes an authority figure (ie God).
With all that being said, I want to show the fundamental evils of religious faith: 1. Valuing faith over critical thinking, 2. Becoming a servant to an authority figure, and 3. Replacing humanity as the final end in moral considerations.
1. Valuing faith over critical thinking
-Almost every religion requires its followers to wholeheartedly believe in the truth of its doctrine. After all, why obey a system if you don’t believe its justification is true? Religious leaders, in order to keep their customers, have continually emphasized the need for people to maintain their faith without question. Many religions have added supernatural punishments and rewards to further motivate people to keep the blind faith-as Pascal argued, it might seem better to accept blind faith and risk living in ignorance than to risk eternal damnation in hell.
This emphasis on faith has resulted in a mind-blowingly absurd social norm: religious faith is deemed a virtue; critical thinking skills, that would question religious doctrines, deemed a dangerous vice. If you seriously question any of the blindly held faiths, then you are “radical” if part of that religion, “insensitive” if outside the religion.
This is clearly a problem. Few people would defend, upon reflection, the acceptance of faith over critical thinking. In all other areas outside of religion, this would be considered lunacy. Imagine taking a math test and answering with blind faith instead of critical thinking. For each question, you make up a number and believe it to be the right answer (a process that is remarkably similar to the creation of religions, both in process and in the likelihood of success). Anyone advocating this system over critical thinking would be shunned and condemned. But why treat someone who advocates this system in math any worse than someone who advocates this system in science, metaphysics, or ethics? Religion attempts to answer the most serious questions in all three disciplines with the “make up an answer and believe it to be true” method. Why is this any less ridiculous than the hopeful math student who makes his/her answers up?
Some might respond and ask: but why can’t people just use critical thinking for areas we understand (like math), and accept faith for questions we don’t know the answer to?
The initial problem with that response is that it ignores the idea that truth has value, and we should only believe something if it is likely to be true. Perhaps rationality itself requires us to adopt this idea, and thus rationality would require us to reject all cases of faith (an argument I find plausible).
However, even if you don’t find that line of thought convincing, there is a deeper problem with the split approach (using critical thinking for some areas, faith for others). Very few truths live in isolation-the truth of one proposition leads to the truth of another, or to the likelihood of another. For example, the truth of almost any logical rule can be derived from the truth of the rule of non-contradiction (that claims that both “X” and “not X” cannot be true at the same time). So, if you start from the truth of the rule of non-contradiction, you are led to the truth of rules like Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens. Almost every truth or potentially true proposition exists in this way, connected with the truth of other related propositions. If X is true, then Y is true. If X is false, then Z is likely false. Etc etc.
Choosing to believe a religious claim as truth entails more than just accepting that claim. If you believe “God exists” is true, then you are also led to believe things like “God decides what morality is”, “God has authority over me”, “I should change my life practices to coincide with God’s existence/commands”. These entailed beliefs will vary depending on the individual person. Some go from “God exists” eventually to “I should help poor people”, others go from “God exists” to “God hates gay people”. Regardless, the initial acceptance of a religious claim entails the acceptance of other beliefs so long as the claim does not live in isolation and the individual does not preform cognitive dissonance (believing that the claim is both true and not true at the same time).
In summation, the deep problem with faith is that its blind acceptance is contagious to other ideas. If you truly believe one religious claim, you are naturally led to other beliefs that follow from the original claim. If you deny the new beliefs as true, you must either deny the original claim (abandon faith), or preform cognitive dissonance. Religious claims will always entail more, as they refer to general, broad questions that are relevant to almost any conceivable area of life. Evidence of this can be seen everywhere: people condemn homosexuals, reject evolution, avoid anything sex related-all because they think their religious faith leads them to those beliefs. Even if you avoid these particular religious pitfalls, you are still no exception to the rule so long as you maintain the original acceptance of blind faith.
2. Becoming a servant to an authority figure
-One of the first things religion teaches you is your place in the hierarchy. In Christianity, people are sheep following their leader. God is in command, and his word is law (both literally and morally). Obedience is not only a virtue, its required to avoid being tortured for eternity.
The extent of God’s authority depends on individual interpretation, but the basic point remains in all monotheistic religion: God is above you. You are naturally inferior to God, and accepting this inferiority will entail other beliefs. Most importantly, people are led to believe that God is naturally justified in imposing his will on you.
Recently I wrote a post about authority, and how people have more authority over themselves than they realize (http://fensel.net/2012/07/18/being-the-god-of-your-own-mind-a-talk-about-moral-rules/). Basically, the point is that natural authority does not exist; we are each the final authority over our own decisions and actions. It’s uncontroversial to claim that we are physically in charge of our actions, decisions, ideas, and opinions. If I decide to move or I decide to change my opinion, I will do so. The controversy is in the claim that we have normative authority over our actions, decisions, ideas, and opinions. I am the final judge on whether or not I should act, decide, or have an opinion.
Religion has, quite successfully, convinced people that they do not have normative authority over their actions. God has natural authority over us (either due to his power or his status as creator), and we are naturally subservient. Whatever God says we should do, we should do. It doesn’t matter what we want, only what God wants. God’s wants have acted as a quasi-morality for religious believers. To them, morality is simply putting God’s desires above their own. Obeying God is moral, disobeying God is immoral.
(Side note) There’s a lot to be said about the flaws of religious morality. For starters, God’s authority is not autonomous-people aren’t allowed to choose to obey. Further, the force of God’s commands is empty. If God doesn’t enforce his laws, why follow God? Finally, religious morality is dependent on the necessary acceptance of God as an authority. “Necessary” is the key point here, in that God’s authority cannot be conditional, or dependent on some other factor (such as God being in line with our moral intuitions). If God’s authority is necessary, and not conditional, then any conceivable God has that authority, even if that God commands the genocide of all people. (/)
Making people inferior to God is, on its own, already a terrible part of religion. People should not give authority to God, even if God existed. No amount of physical superiority can give a being normative control over another intelligent being. When people put God above themselves, they give up their most autonomous freedom-the freedom to choose which ends they value. This freedom, in my own view, is what defines you as an individual and further provides a basis for real morality (my view is largely based on Korsgaard’s interpretation and expansion of Kant). Faith should not compel you to casually toss away this freedom.
Deferring authority to God is more dangerous when responsibility is also deferred. If an individual believes that God wants an action to take place, then responsibility for that action is in God’s hands. George W Bush killed thousands of people with the justification that God supported his actions. George Zimmeran thinks that the murder of Trayvon Martin was part of “God’s plan”, and that he wouldn’t have acted differently because of it. Whenever an individual thinks God wants them to do something, God takes the responsibility.
The Milgram experiment explains this phenomena well (the experiment and explanation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment). When people defer authority to others, they also defer responsibility and are comfortable with harming other people more than they normally would. While most religious people haven’t killed people in the name of God, it is the same mindset (and same avoidance of responsibility) that causes people to say things like “I can’t accept homosexuals because of what the Bible says”. Only religion could get people to comfortably defer responsibility for their actions and beliefs to a non-existent being.
3. Replacing humanity as the final end in moral considerations.
-Common morality is primarily about values. There’s what I value, what you value, what we all value, and what we all “should” value. Determining what we should value is the main question in morality.
In academic ethics, the answer to “what we should value” is almost always “other people”. Utilitarianism values everyone equally, and the final end of all actions should be the happiness of people. Other ethical theories may complicate the matter, but they all ultimately come down to valuing other people. Even Kant, the lead deontologist who rejects consequential morality, uses the benefit of people to justify morality (although in a very complicated way).
Only religious doctrine changes the answer, most often to “obey God”. The final end we are pursuing, when acting morally, is the successful obedience of God’s commands, not the benefit of other people.
There are so many things wrong with this religious doctrine that I can’t include it all. As mentioned in the previous section, God’s commands must be necessarily obeyed in order for religious doctrine to have compelling force. If it is conditional whether or not we should obey God’s commands, then there must be some other reason for us to be sufficiently compelled to follow God (such as “because it benefits people the most”). However, this takes God out of the moral equation; rather than creating morality, God is simply the best available tool for determining what best helps us out. Therefore, religions are forced to maintain God’s authority as necessary, completely independent of any standards God must meet. Even if God is a ruthless tyrant (like the Old Testament God), we are necessarily obligated to follow God’s commands. Obviously, this view does not work, as it could justify a command of genocide.
The main problem with putting God’s interests above human interests is that it devalues ourselves. People aren’t as important as God, and people’s interests aren’t as important as what the interests of whichever God you think exists. This creates an entire field of empty morality, where anything that might please the invisible being is considered to be “moral”. Stopping gay marriage, limiting access to birth control, going to church, reading your religious book, prayer, avoiding pleasure-all have been classified as “moral” by religion, yet none of them actually help people. Even if the action actually hurts people, it is still “moral” so long as it is in line with what enough people think God wants.
The ramifications of this may not seem like much in daily life. Here and there people will do what they think is moral because God commands it, and will use time and effort to benefit nobody. In small numbers, this doesn’t really matter, as people can waste their time in whatever way they desire. There’s a problem when large numbers of people, or influential people, waste their time with empty religious morality. Because of religion, hundreds of millions of people have restricted their pleasures, spent countless hours in one-way conversations, fought against equal rights for minorities that their religion condemns, and fought against any progress that might threaten church teachings. Politicians waste time and money pursuing empty goals in the name of their God. Instead of working for the people and trying to help as many people as possible, politicians fight against gay marriage, contraception, abortion, drugs, and anything sexual they can get away with.
This is intolerable and inexcusable. We could have a government that’s entire public conversation revolves around helping people out. Instead, we have a government that’s more effective at passing legislation based in empty religious morality than passing legislation that could help people. At best, religion is a waste of time that infringes upon your autonomous freedom and weakens your ability to think critically. At worst, religion is a tool used by the powerful to influence people in a way that benefits them, and potentially kills millions through war and inquisitions. I hate religion because it spreads and praises ignorance, because it subjugates people to an imaginary God, and because it has deceived billions throughout history. Those billions, because of their willingness to accept faith without justification, were deceived as to what is moral, who we are, what we should be, and what is important.
I intentionally did not sugarcoat this post. Religion is organized delusion, and religious faith is a vice of character. There are plenty of moral religious people, and many that I respect deeply. However, make no mistake, their faith is a vice in their otherwise moral character. Religious faith should be no more respected or left alone than faith in ghosts, faith in mythology, or faith in unicorns.
No matter how bad religious faith seems, the elimination of religious freedom is never the answer. It should always be the right of any free citizen to believe whatever they want.
Finally, if this post offends you, please contact me either on a comment here or elsewhere. I am more than willing to defend any of my stances in this post. If you think you can prove me wrong, on any matter, then I would be very interested to hear it. However, if you cannot refute any of what I wrote and still maintain religious faith, then you should at least ask yourself: why am I so committed to this faith? Finding an honest answer to that will hopefully be revealing to you.