Essay: Theistic Religion as a Fundamental Problem

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Theistic Religion as a Fundamental Problem in Society

In contemporary society, religion is presented as a tremendously important source of human of morality in human life, spiritual comfort for the individual, and as the basis of much that is valued in society. In fact, religious perspectives are considered so fundamental to meaning, value, and morality that it is considered highly controversial not to maintain any religious beliefs, virtually regardless of however many other indications should reasonably suggest the inference that the person without religious beliefs is, nevertheless, a "good person" by any objective criteria. When newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama gave an inauguration speech in which he acknowledged that the concept of religious freedom includes the rights and sensibilities of those without any religious beliefs, mainstream media covered the story as though the president had proclaimed something highly offensive to many people.

Undoubtedly, religion can provide benefits in some cases and it may very well be that religiously-derived moral systems are preferable to the complete absence of any moral rules. On the other hand, anything that can be accomplished through religion in the human community is capable of being achieved more effectively, more healthily, and at far less cost through entirely other means.

Moreover, the very fact that such a notion provokes either vehement denials or profound confusion at the suggestion is, itself, evidence of the manner in which religious dogma generally retards or paralyzes basic logical reasoning and rational understanding strictly secular understanding of the human condition and of fundamental moral values would be infinitely more beneficial to the worldwide human community.

The Long History of Human Tragedy Attributable Directly to Theistic Religion

Organized theistic religion in some form almost certainly dates back to long before recorded history and theistic religions completely dominates the historical record since the beginning of the Common Era approximately 2,000 years ago. Throughout antiquity, battles raged between Christians and non-Christians as well among myriad other tribes and sects whose primary conflict was a function of religious differences (Sagan, 1997).

Likewise, religious wars during the medieval period of European history lasted for several centuries at a time, during which crusaders from the European continent journeyed across thousands of miles of ocean to slaughter foreign civilizations expressly because of their religious differences. That period included a "children's crusade" as well. In that regard, in 1209 when reports sent back to Pope Innocent III from the Christian troops sacking Bezier requested guidance because so many Catholics were mixed in with heretics, the Pope is reported to have responded: "Kill them all; God will sort them out" (Egner & Denonn, 1992; Russell, 1957).

From the Late Middle ages and the Spanish Inquisition in Europe all the way into the middle of the 19th century in England, religious persecution, horrific punishments and torture such as disemboweling, "racking" and confinement in ghastly devises such as spiked "iron maidens" were the standard approaches of European government for dealing with those who failed to accept the state-sanctioned religion (Sagan, 1997; Russell, 1957). When Galileo publish his treatise about Copernican theory in 1632, only the fact that the Pope had been a long time friend of his saved him from the fate of fellow astronomer Giordano Bruno who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church authorities after the Roman Inquisition found him guilty of heresy in 1600 (Egner & Denonn, 1992). As it was, Galileo was forced to publicly recant his views and he was confined for the remainder of his life to house arrest (Hawking, 2001).

Throughout the modern era of world history, religious differences were, by far, the single most influential cause of large-scale persecution, atrocities, and wars of every conceivable scope (Einstein, 1999; Rooney, 2006; Russell, 1957). That is no less true today, as almost all major sources of human conflict still relate to religious difference and intolerance.

The Logical Problems with the Idea of "God"

Perhaps at the dawn of human civilization, it is understandable that man resorted to fantasy and mythical explanations for that which he could not understand. Today, it is nothing less than astonishing that in an age where astronomers can calculate the chemical makeup of stars trillions of miles away, and where physicians routinely manipulate human DNA and are on the verge of being able to create autogenic organs from human tissue that religious beliefs about Divine Beings still dominate human cultural thought.

At the most basic level, the notion that uncertainty about the origin of the first particle of matter or energy somehow suggests the need for a timeless "god" to explain the existence of the universe could hardly be more absurd. It is no easier to answer the question "who created God?" than "why does the universe exist?" (Egner & Denonn, 1992; Russell, 1957). Presupposing a timeless and/or self-created "god" to explain the existence of the physical universe whose origins are, as yet, unknown could not possibly provide a better example of circular reasoning at its purest. In the modern era of scientific knowledge where astrophysicists do understand exactly how the universe evolved since the smallest imaginable fraction of the first second after the Big Bang, the persistence of the belief that a "god" is necessary to account for creation is even more offensive to the logician.

The Role of Christianity in Undermining Healthy Human Self-Esteem

Were it the case that religious beliefs accomplished tremendous good for human society without corresponding harm, it would not necessarily be as much of a shame that moral values are widely perceived to originate from religious principles. Wholly aside from the issue of religious intolerance and conflicts arising from differences in religious beliefs, the predominant religion in the United States, Christianity, is incredibly harmful to the healthy psychological development of the individual.

Specifically, the notion of "original sin" teaches that human beings are inherently flawed, requiring atonement for the sins of biblical characters. Ignoring the obvious nonsense of the moral responsibility of an infant born today for the transgression of another individual thousands of years ago, the notion fundamentally contradicts the Christian belief in free will as the determinant of moral choices and responsibility.

However, the real damage to human welfare caused by Christian dogma is the manner in which Christianity preaches that: (1) an omniscient and highly critical Supreme Being is watching our every move and sharing every though; (2) immoral thoughts and desires without action are "sins"; (3) sacrifice is a virtue in and of itself; (4) spiritual worth is impossible to achieve without pledging allegiance to a "god"; (5) proclaiming such allegiance automatically absolves one of guilt for any immoral act; and (6) that life on earth is merely a prelude to eternal life with God and eventual reconnection with deceased loved ones.

From the perspective of modern psychology, this doctrine undermines the natural development of healthy self-esteem; it creates self-loathing for immoral thoughts; it retards the normal development of psychological self-responsibility; and it soothes the natural tragedy of losing loved ones with artificial beliefs that interfere with the normal grieving process through which psychologically sufficient individuals eventually overcome grief in a genuine manner instead of through childish fantasies (Sagan, 1997).

Societal Brainwashing of Basic Moral Reasoning

By far, one of the most illustrative and depressing consequences of teaching morality through arbitrary rules that must be memorized by rote rather than understood in principle is that doing so in early childhood frequently prevents the individual from leaning to engage in objective moral reasoning, even at the most basic level. It has been my personal misfortune to have had conversations with ordinary adults of normal intelligence who, in response to finding out that I do not believe in any "god" actually proclaimed the following sentiments: "If you don't believe in God, why do you care about being a good person? If I didn't have my faith and God's love, I would probably rape, rob, pillage, and plunder as much as I wanted to." I responded that even without any belief in a god, it should be easy to figure out that certain acts are absolutely immoral and that other types of behavior are probably morally good. Their answer to that was to explain that human beings cannot possibly determine what is moral or immoral without God and to give me examples of cultures with much different social norms and values than ours.

To me, the astonishing aspect of these conversations was that the individuals who made these arguments were well educated and held responsible professional positions that required them to make ethical decisions on a regular basis. That illustrates the problems with teaching young children (who, of course, will believe anything taught by their parents and teachers). Schopenhauer remarked that "nothing is so ridiculous that a child inoculated in this way will not firmly believe it (in Russell, 1957). In essence, therefore, a "Christian" nation is one populated by adults whose beliefs, values, and actions are functions of mythological fantasies taught to them in earliest childhood. To make matters worse, many of them… [END OF PREVIEW]

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