This is a guest writer post. Insightful.
Religion is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity.
So what is it about religion that is so harmful? I could make a long case about its destructive elements of plenty institutions, education, medicine.
Why is religion special and troubling?
What makes it different from any other ideology system of morality, community.
And why does its difference make it uniquely apt to be destructive in the society.
Debates about religion usually come in two different types. “Is religion accurate or mistaken” and “Is religion helpful or harmful? I am realizing on a daily basis that most things said or written about religion boils down to a simple thing; religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible things, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die. It therefore has no reality check. So it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning and self-correction. It is armored against what might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality… and extreme grotesque immorality.
But hey, do not chorus disapprovingly already… not all religion is like that; some religion adapt to new evidence and changing social mores. It is unfair to criticize all religion; as not all believers follow all extremists. Religion defines itself in the unverifiable supernatural entities. Sure it does have other elements – community, charity, philosophy, inspiration for art e.t.c. without that belief is not religion. And with that belief, the capacity for religion to do harm gets cranked up to an alarmingly high level because there is no reality check. Other ideology, philosophy or hypothesis about the world is eventually expected to prove itself true and/or useful, or else correct itself. With religion that is emphatically not the case.
Religion isn’t the only belief that leads people to neglect validation in favor of their settled opinion. Religion is not the only belief that inspires good people to do evil things; political ideology can do that nicely. But even the most mulish political credo will eventually crumble in the face of it. People can be told that they would eat strawberries and cream. A political ideology makes promises about this life, this world. If the strawberries and cream aren’t forthcoming , eventually it would be noticed. Political ideologies can be rationalized and excused for a long time… but ultimately, the proof is on the façade. With religion the proof is not on the façade, the proof comes from invisible beings, inaudible voices, from acclaimed prophets and religious leaders, who supposedly hear the voices and tell us. And the proof comes in the afterlife, after people die and can’t come back to tell us about it.
Religious extremists, whether the Syrian in the Islamic world or the Christian in Europe, don’t care about separation of church and state. They don’t care about respecting other people’s right to live differently from them. In very extreme cases, they don’t care about the law, or basic principles of human life. None of these matters on their path. What matters is making God’s will manifest- which I’m sure God does not approvingly agree. There is no reality check saying their actions are having a terrible effect in the world around them. Reasons are less important than faith; that “doubter” is a synonym for “sinner”… they become vulnerable to every cheater, con artist swindler who’s lucky enough to cross their gullible paths.
Quashing science and education
I cannot stress how much the untestability of religion and the idea that untestability is a positive virtue- undercuts science and education. Making people value science and education “less” way- but in specific, practical harmful ways; hamstringing various research. When religion teaches that believing in the invisible is more important than understanding the perceivable… that personal faith is more important than critical thinking… that letting go of questions is a liberal act of love and trust… that believing things with no evidence is not only okay but a positive virtue. Do I need to explain this any further? Do I need to explain how the “facts take a back seat to faith” trope hammers science and education into the ground.
If we prioritize this life, we would never terrorize children by telling them they’ll be tortured in fire forever if they don’t obey our rules. Not unless we were horribly abusive. I could go on, and on I could talk about justification for bigotry. By terrorizing our children with the infinite burning and torture of the afterlife we are directly or indirectly hindering them from achieving some life goals. Does moderate religion still do harm – now? Many believers will argue that the harm done by religion isn’t religion’s fault. Some will point out all the wars, fraud, bigotry, oppression, quashing of science and medicine, and terrorizing of children are done for reasons beside religion- though these are inspired by greed, hunger for power, selfishness… all the things that lead people to do evil.
I’m not saying religion is the root of all evil; I’m not saying a world without religion would be a blissful utopia where everyone holds hands and milk flows on the street. I know that the impulses driving evil are deeply rooted in human nature, and religion is far from the only thing to inspire it. I’m saying that religion provides a uniquely stubborn justification for evil, it is armored against criticism, questioning and self correction… and that this armor protects it against the reality checks that acts to a limitless degree and the long run, to keep evil in check perpetuating political oppression.
The unverifiability of religion leads to political oppression
It makes religion leaders and organizations uniquely powerful in the political arena – because their followers are typically taught to implicitly believe whatever their religious leaders say. They are taught that their religious leaders have superior virtue with a hotline to God… and that asking them to support their claims with evidence is a a grave insult even though their religious leader is lying through his teeth. And because religion has no reality check, it is very difficult to counter its flat out lies… because, its claims rest on an unverifiable belief.
Succumbing to oppression
Religious unverifiability means there’s no check on oppressing other people, it means there’s no check on people accepting their oppression in the hands of religion, or anything else. If people believe they’ll be rewarded with infinite bliss in the afterlife – people will let themselves be matyrs to their faith, to an appalling degree. More commonly if people believe in infinite bliss in the afterlife, they’ll be more willing to accept an appalling degree of oppression and injustice in life.
Justification for violence and war
The same way religion drowns out the reality check saying that oppression and injustice is wrong, it drowns out the reality check saying that hurting and killing people is wrong. And the untestable belief in the afterlife is the biggest obstacle to the reality check.
Vulnerability to fraud
When people are taught that believing things without proof or evidence makes you a good person, they become far more vulnerable to fraud, manipulation and deception. Not just from religious figures, not just from phony faith leaders and prosperity gospel preachers and authors of bestselling psychic self- help books, from everybody, every ponzi schemer and Nigeria email scammers and politicians in the country. When people are taught to not ask questions and trust whatever is told to them, that it’s better to trust their feelings than their critical thinking skills; that evidence.
Moderate religion encourages people to believe undetectable forces and events and judgments that happen after we die, and therefore it still disables reality checks – making people more vulnerable to oppression, fraud and abuse.
Authored by Chinedu Odoemenam