Most humanists and atheists such as myself take it for granted that religious claims are false. However many among us would classify ourselves as not merely a-theist, but anti-theist. The reason for this is that religious belief is not simply false and innocuous – as belief in Santa Claus, for instance – but has positively harmful consequences for society that must be actively combated.
The central problem of faith is that it produces the predisposition NOT to act to safeguard or promote the safety and well-being of oneself and others. This disinclination can apply to reactive situations where one fails to take action to safeguard against looming danger, or it can refer to a proactive failure of creative imagination to constantly improve our lives. Both must be accounted for.
The paragon instance of this deleterious world view is surely represented by the asininely negligent George W. Bush asking the nation to pray for New Orleans as hurricane Katrina bore down upon the pious city, while decades of engineering and scientific warnings to shore up the levees were ignored and millions of lives needlessly devastated.
Virtually all religions teach that some powerful being/force is acting as a hidden hand, guiding the events of our lives. The inescapable conclusion is that human beings are essentially powerless to shape our future.
This belief is reportedly a chief source of the psychological appeal of religion, however it comes at a striking cost to human esteem and dignity: it psychologically disempowers human beings, leading to fatalism, complacency and inaction where prayer and faith replace taking effective action to solve problems or safeguard the future.
By contrast those who reject blind faith realize that our future depends entirely upon the actions we take and the choices we make. Nature and the world around us impose consequences on us as a result of our actions and inactions alike, and those consequences affect believers and disbelievers without prejudice. For example, in 1884 a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit Granada in Spain, one of the most devoutly pious nations on earth, killing 800, injuring 1,500 and destroying 4000 homes on Christmas Day.
The key point is that religious belief provides false solutions that displace prudent and truly effective solutions from being implemented, or from even being invented in the first place. The religious edicts against the sinfulness of condom use is merely stupid within a first-world context, but when applied to the situation in AIDS-ridden Africa the religious discouragement of condoms is positively genocidal. Even more chilling, we now have the prospect of several Muslim countries steeped in the Dark Age world view of Jihad and Martyrdom deploying nuclear weapons, while Zionists in the constitutionally racist “Jewish state” of Israel and the speaking-in-tongues lunatics in the White House prepare their own nukes for the Rapture.
The obvious religious evils aside, if all the hours of human effort that have been wasted on ridiculous religious tasks had instead been used to study medicine, geology and engineering there is no telling what blights to human existence may have been mitigated over the centuries. If we take account of not only the well known direct harmful effects of religion, but also the indirect lost opportunity, then we begin to develop an accurate picture of what religion costs society and why it should not be merely tolerated as a quaint cultural relic of our intellectual infancy but outright opposed as a chief force for evil in the world.
Further Reading: Christopher Hitchens, ‘god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’; Sam Harris, ‘The End of Faith’; www.carpediembc.com.
(Edited version published in the Sept. 13, 2007 edition of the Martlet)