Religion is and always has been humankind’s greatest method of self-inflicted harm. The purpose of this essay is not to show how religion has been harmful in the past — there are too many examples already — but to show how religion continues to be harmful in the modern world.
Religion fosters backward and counterproductive thought, It’s an obstruction to progress, to equal rights and to all freethinking people. It inspires fanaticism, warmongering and disregard for the environment.
Religion is one of the greatest obstructions to scientific discovery. Stem cell research holds incredible potential to advance the biological sciences, but religionists condemn it out of fear that we will start “playing God” — selectively forgetting that cloning a human being is not possible with current technology and that research will go toward the much more attainable goals of growing skin grafts for burn victims and repairing damaged nerve cells.
“Pro-life” groups that fight use of fetal tissue don’t care that such tissue would account for a small percentage of the stem cells that scientists would use. The majority would come from failed in-vitro fertilization procedures in which tissue would be discarded anyway (so “pro-life” just ensures tissue stays in the trash).
There are Americans and people all over the world who are looked down on and condemned by religionists simply for being born. In Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous,” he interviews a man who lives in a town populated by evangelical Christians. The man is devout and sits in church crying with his head bowed. He listens to the preacher tell him that he is an abomination undeserving of life, and he believes every word.
The question naturally arises: Why doesn’t he just leave? The answer: The world where he’s hated and despised has everything he holds dear — without it he may as well just be dead, and so he hides his homosexuality. No institution that could make a man believe — truly believe — that he’s an abomination simply for being born could possibly have good at its core. It’s impossible. To believe such a thing would require extensive Orwellian doublethink, distorting the truth to make it acceptable. Doublethink is one of organized religion’s greatest weapons.
Another of its high crimes is justification of wrongdoing. Even though many religions have a law or tenet against killing, religious zealots still kill. One of the attributes that makes terrorists so frightening is their unwavering faith, twisted and distorted — instilled doublethink in its purest form — so that they believe, while committing heinous acts that go against their religion (murder, rape, suicide bombing), that they are doing “God’s will.”
There are people who are more than willing to speak for God.
Religion has formulated a way to inspire unquestioning loyalty and martyrdom at a level unmatched by any nationalism. Religion makes the mind susceptible to manipulation because it trains individuals not to think in terms of individuality. Religious people are susceptible because they are groomed not to question and to dedicate their lives to a “higher power,” a power that is utterly silent (whether or not “God” is deaf, he is without a doubt dumb). This creates a problem because there are people who are more than willing to speak for God.
In this way, organized religion is no different from any other unjust institution that tries to control people — it needs money, power and people and can’t ever get enough. The only difference, the most dangerous difference, is that religious leaders claim the right to govern stems not from the people but from a divine power. It should go without saying that that always starts trouble.
Justification of wrongdoing is not just for the fanatical. Common believers are just as guilty, although their crimes are less obvious. With a U.S. population that’s 76% Christian, it can be said, according to Harvard professor Diana Eck, “ ‘We the people’ now form the most profusely religious nation on earth.”
That explains several unsavory trends. America as a whole has always been reluctant to protect the environment, including admitting the growing threat of global warming. According to a 2005 study conducted by the American Lung Association, over half of Americans live in areas with unsafe levels of air pollution, and it’s getting worse. Most Americans aren’t concerned about the footprints they leave on the planet, or even how much they pollute their own bodies. This is because Christianity inspires a philosophy of “This world does not really matter because I have a better one waiting for me after I die.” That’s frustrating to atheists who believe “This is the only world my posterity and I will ever have, so I must take care of it.”
Warmongering also is rooted in the Christian faith. After 9/11, America was thirsty for blood and it didn’t matter whose. President Bush claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which was a deciding factor in going to war, but America continues to occupy Iraq years after the claim was proven to be false. Operation Iraqi Freedom had nothing to do with WMDs and everything to do with Christian warmongering. Christian TV and radio stations were supporting the war with fervent, illogical zeal and with extensive doublethink employed. None of it made sense. They demonized not only Iraq but all of the Middle East and the entire Muslim faith to the point where even today Middle Eastern people, Muslims especially, are subject to racial profiling.
Thankfully, religion is on the decline, and doublethink — the willful deception — along with it. Atheism is on the rise. Slowly but surely, atheists, the silent minority, are gaining momentum and a voice of their own. Religion has never halted the march of progress, only delayed its slow rise. Science and logic face a slow upward trek through mountains of superstition, snowy caps of spiritualism and gales of long-winded hocus-pocus.
The top of the icy cap that breaks through the clouds marks a new beginning, and the end of the obstruction that is religion.
Malachi Mojica, Woodland Hills, Calif., will attend California State-Northridge and major in English with an emphasis on creative writing. His interests include writing, psychology and music, including playing bass guitar and percussion (the African djembe). He turns to philosophy and the sciences for answers to life’s great mysteries and looks forward to helping unravel them.