Religion isn’t harmless.
Of course, the vast majority of believers are peaceful and loving. They turn the other cheek and don’t stone a woman when she shows her cheeks. Most of them can tell the difference between the good bits and the bad bits of their religion. They cherry-pick the values and morals they want to follow, and simply ignore the outdated, misogynistic or murderous passages of their holy book.
But I think we should worry for a second about the people who believe not only the good bits, but also the bad bits.
And you may think: oh well, those people should know for themselves what they believe in, it doesn’t bother me.
But as soon as believers start practicing some of the bad bits in their holy book, we should all be bothered. Everyone knows the stories about terrorist attacks, faith-inspired shootings, anti-Semitic statements or those priests who touch children.
Consider all of the damage religion has done to women, people of other religions, people of color, the non-heterosexual community. When a god starts telling you to kill homosexuals or treat women poorly, it should be quite obvious it’s not harmless anymore.
In this article I would like to explain why we are better off without religion. Because even if you’re not religious yourself, religion does do damage.
Harmful Effects of Religion
You can debate the power that religions have and to what extent they interfere with our daily lives. Every believer is different, and therefore has a different affiliation with faith. Therefore, this article is not about individual believers and the harm some lunatic terrorist can achieve with self-devised assault. The ideology of a single, twisted person does not equal that of the entire faith.
Rather, this is about the harmful effects of religion as an institution and what it means for our society that religion is intertwined with the state, education and culture.
Religious differences have become root cause #1 for most conflicts in the world.
In the West nowadays, particularly the Islamic jihad is viewed as the most evil religious movement, but really no religion is exempt in this regard.
Christians went on bloody crusades in the 11th to 13th centuries to conquer Palestine from Muslims and Jews and further expand Christianity’s sphere of influence. A whole millennium later, tensions in Gaza are still ongoing.
Anti-Semitism is still very much alive, even after World War II. To ensure your own safety, it is usually a good idea to keep to yourself that you are a Jew.
When British India was divided into Muslim Pakistan and non-Islamic India in 1947, up to a million people lost their lives. The tense footing on which these peoples now live separately still causes casualties; a recent example being the 10 terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
Even if you both read the same holy book, you can differ greatly on interpretation. Since the 7th century, there has been an ideological dichotomy within Islam between Sunnis and Shiites (what’s in the name?) accompanied by much bloodshed. These tensions play a role in Yemen’s civil war conflict to this day. Christianity has also experienced similar clashes, where the Iconoclasm characterizes the bloody separation of Protestants from the Catholic Church.
So it is not even enough to believe in the same God; in some countries interpretive differences can still literally blow your head off.
I feel like a cephalophore.
– What?! Off with your head!
Subversive Laws and Censorship
Primarily in countries with no separation of religion and state, religious laws, norms and values play a defining role. In countries with Sharia law, Islamic laws take precedence over state laws. Generally, this does not have such a great impact freedom of religion and speech.
Now that Afghanistan is back in the hands of the Taliban, and the country is once again governed by Sharia law, women have fewer rights again, canings and stonings are carried out, and there are rules in place that go against the Convention of Human Rights. To give you an example:
“The punishments for hudud crimes, as set out in the Qur’an and Sunnah, are extremely severe. If we take the punishments for adultery or fornication (zina) as an example, the Qur’an says that those who engage in it must be lashed 100 times. Hadiths add that if the person involved is single and hasn’t been married, then they should also be exiled for a year; and that married men and women guilty of adultery should be punished by stoning to death.”
By Simon Perfect at Theos
But even when there is no official Sharia law, legislation can be directly influenced by the prevailing religion.
In Indonesia, for example, it is not explicitly forbidden by law to be an atheist. But the law only recognizes six religions, and therefore there is no place for atheism. So when you apply for an identity card, you have to choose from one of these religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Confucianism).
Nearly 87% are registered as Muslims in Indonesia, making it the biggest Muslim population in the world. Despite not officially having Sharia law, a man was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and a $10,600 fine in 2012. He made a post within an Atheist Facebook group stating that Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law and that he had sexual intercourse with his wife’s maid. You can question whether the post is tasteful, but the punishment is grossly excessive.
Secularization in the West has its origins in the Enlightenment, where philosophers like Voltaire theorized about finding the answers to existential questions within human knowledge and science. Let’s hope that Islamic countries in particular will undergo a similar Enlightenment.
Although the separation of church and state is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, the actual implementation leaves room for improvement. To date, all 46 presidents can be labeled as Christian. Presidential proclamations have often been loaded with religious if not explicitly Christian language. God bless America! Even within Congress, 88% identify as Christian, which is not a good reflection of religious affiliation within the population.
So the law can be completely impartial in writing, but once those carrying out the law are religious, religion will still seep into politics.
Indoctrination in the Classroom
Many positions on taboo subjects such as abortion and same-sex marriage stem from religious convictions. On both the extreme left and the extreme right, these views also creep into education, especially at small, local schools.
In these religious schools, children are deliberately kept ignorant of things that go against their faith. For instance, the theory of evolution is not taught, only their own holy book is covered, and books like Harry Potter are prohibited because they are chock full of black magic.
You’re a witch, Harry.
– I’m a WHAT?!
Sex education in religious schools can also be quite different and restrictive.
In 2019, an sex education book came to light in the Netherlands that was used within an Islamic school community of 44 primary schools. It stated that Allah abhors homosexuality, accompanied by a passage from the Koran stating that Allah once destroyed an entire nation because homosexuality was prevalent there. It also states that gender transitions are not allowed.
In addition, the book mentions strict behavior and clothing rules, especially for girls. In one assignment, children had to search the internet for pictures of girls who are not dressed appropriately, because they are wearing tight clothes under their hijabs. Subsequently, they were instructed to hang up pictures of how you should and shouldn’t dress in the girls’ toilets at school.
Boys and girls were also taught that from puberty onwards they must stay away from each other and must not even make eye contact. Eye contact is considered a form of “zina” (adultery), according to the book, and will be subject to “a great punishment in the afterlife”.
Thankfully, Christian religions are nowadays much more modern with their precepts regarding sexuality. But it was not very long ago that the pope discouraged the use of condoms, while tens of thousands of people were dying of AIDS. The more modern attitudes occurred due to a changing society, not because the Church all of sudden thought: gosh, that’s some silly advice to give people.
The young brain works like a sponge, that has to take in new information and learn, and parents are the prime source of knowledge. A helpless child has to trust its parents in order to survive.
Don’t touch the fire! Don’t try to pet that llama! Don’t steal anything from the store!
But if you then create another Father above your own parents, then that Father is always supreme. He is not only the head of the family, but at the helm of the entire world. You better listen to Him.
Don’t do anything bad, or God will see it! If you’re naughty, you’ll go to hell! You will have to pay for your sins!
Teaching children at a young age about religion is a form of mental conditioning. If religion is imprinted with the same level of credence by your parents and environment, as all the other dangers in life, then it is rather hard to undo. You might never get over the fact that this god you were told about for decades, is a man-made invention.
Imagine a world where it would be illegal to teach children about religion up until the age of 20. No word about God, heaven or hell. I’m certain there would be more atheists and less faithful; only a minuscule fraction of today’s believers would still believe.
Not only the brain is affected.
Certain phrases in the Bible or Koran allow for physical punishment for disobeying rules, such as whipping or chopping off fingers.
In some religions, it is normal to mutilate young children by means of circumcision shortly after birth. Not only the boys, in more than 30 countries it is also customary to circumcise women, for the simple reason that… well, what reason really? These girls are mutilated at a young age and will walk around with a damaged genital organ their entire lives.
Sometimes mutilation goes too far. In some countries, apostates of the faith are hanged. In Saudi-Arabia, Yemen and Qatar it is still legal to publicly chop someone’s head off with a sword.
Slowing Down Developments
Over the course of millennia, various empires have been technologically leading, with different religions as a dominant force at the wheel. The Islamic conquests during the “dark ages” of Europe were an important source of light, bringing advances in mathematics, sciences, and philosophy to Europe during the 8th until the 11th century. The conquest of Spain by Moslems in the eighth century was especially important, turning the Mediterranean region into a knowledge center from which Northern and Western Europe were eager to obtain knowledge.
We still reap the benefits of this today. Not only through the numericals we use, but also advances in astronomy, medicine, optics, geometry, printing, and geography. Even the philosophy of ancient Greece often reached Western Europe in Arabic translations, which were then translated into Latin or any of the other European languages. A few centuries later, the Renaissance would bring the Enlightenment that brought Western Europe a lead in knowledge.
Religion and its urge for expansion was often at the heart of communication across borders, and ensured that new discoveries were taught and commissioned. The entire Western Hemisphere, or half of the world, owes its development to the imperialism of Europe.
However, in today’s society, we see that religious bodies are no longer at the forefront of technology, but have instead become a constraint. This is especially true in countries where religion still plays an important role in the political system.
In the United States, conservative Christians are stonewalling scientific research on issues such as abortion, gay rights, gun control, and other matters with which they fundamentally disagree. In the Middle East, extremist religious groups like the Taliban keep the population under their thumb, while cultural institutions of previous regimes are destroyed, undesired books are banned and ‘impure’ opinions are punished.
Religion hinders open debate and obstructs scientific discoveries. Something tells me that we’re not going to see a female Nobel Prize winner residing in Afghanistan any time soon.
A threat to our culture?
Shifting Boundaries of Tolerance
In Western Europe, we proudly boast that we are the forerunners when it comes to gender equality, the right to marry whoever you want and tolerance towards other religions. In this regard we are ahead of countries in the Middle East and Africa.
But at the same time, through massive immigration from countries with a strong belief system, we are also bringing in people who do not support these three values, or who only support them to a lesser extent. This presents us with a delicate dilemma: do we choose for equality and equal rights, or should we also show tolerance for the intolerance of immigrants?
This phenomenon is called the paradox of intolerance. If a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant
So where do we draw the line of tolerance? In misogyny or religious freedom?
Disruption of Society
European society, with its noble core values, should be able to withstand inferior thinking. All immigrants will ultimately adopt our core values, through government campaigns and intermingling of our cultures… at least, that is the picture being painted.
But I can see some cracks emerging in this approach.
Populism reigns supreme in Europe, with far-right parties in government or with an expanding following. We’d like to preserve our European culture. But afraid of appearing intolerant, we seem reluctant to express our core values and stand behind them. This creates room for intolerant opinions and ways of living that do not actually fit into our society.
Moreover, dangerous situations arise on a national level, with foreign interference in politics by satellite parties, donations to fundamentalist mosques and schools, and residence permits for people affiliated with extremist groups. Importing more believers, be they fundamental Muslims, orthodox Christians or Scientology geeks, inevitably brings greater intolerance and tension.
For example, in many Islamic families homosexuality is still a taboo, the father is the (sole) breadwinner and head of the family, women and girls are required to cover up and dress chastely and anti-Semitism is instilled from an early age. Bringing these families into a secular, gay-friendly society such as Sweden, in which men and women are treated equally and their beautiful women like to dress up in tight, short skirts, obviously brings a clash of fundamental ideals.
When newcomers fail to adapt to the values of their new country, problems arise. Neighborhoods with large numbers of non-Western immigrants see an uptick in crimes, opposition to immigrants grows and the overall sense of security is compromised. Of course, one must be careful to attribute all of this to Islamic immigrants, but this is the sentiment prevalent among the supporters of right-wing parties. They perceive that their city has changed and made unsafe(r) for some groups in society, such as homosexuals, women and Jews.
Enough with the hatred
I want to end this article with a positive note.
I also see many wonderful things about the immigration of people from other backgrounds. And in a way, I am a bit jealous of people who do believe. After all, they have an answer to all of life’s difficult questions.
But still, I would rather see more people become less religious.
How to take this criticism
When people publicly criticize religion, it is often thought that people who are religious are being criticized. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The criticism is in fact about the system. And we feel sorry for people who believe, because they are victims of the system too. When the Islam is criticized, people think that Muslims are being criticized, but quite the contrary: they are the primary victims of Islam.
I hope you can also escape the oppression imposed by your faith. So I wrote a little plea to get you converted to my faith:
The world is more beautiful without religion
There are so many wonderful perks that you can enjoy if you are not a believer.
No afterlife means you can focus on living now. There is only this world. You do not have to crack your head over faith and spirituality, but you can instead be more in the present. There is no heaven or hell, so that saves a lot of confessing. No God means no Satan, no evil spirits, no pope, no compulsory lap around a big black box.
You can eat anything at any time, there’s no Ramadan. You can add some tasty bits of pork to your döner kebab, bacon to your hummus, tender beef to your Indian curry, and no one will stop you. (maybe your vegan girlfriend)
On Sundays you are free to do what you want. You no longer have to sit on wooden church benches for hours while chanting hymns with people that smell like adult diapers.
Your children get to keep some fine-looking genitals.
You are free to spend the religious days however you want them. You can celebrate whatever during Easter; resurrect a Christmas tree in the garden. Wanna celebrate some Satanic rituals? Sure, go ahead, heat up the oven.
Every day can be a celebration of life. Don’t forget to send your favorite Jehova Witness a birthday card!
“Freedom of speech gives us the right to offend others, whereas freedom of thought gives them the choice as to whether or not to be offended.”
~ Mokokoma Mokhonoana
What If We Find Proof of God’s Existence?
If there was conclusive, incontrovertible proof of a supreme being, it would actually pose a much, much bigger problem for the religious than it would for us poor, deluded, immoral non-believers.
If there is a god, believers from all other religions will feel embarrassed, because they dedicated their whole life to a different belief. They were convinced about the supremacy of Jesus, but it turns out they should’ve placed their bets on Vishnu instead.
In fact, proof for the existence of a god would be the greatest scientific discovery of all time. Scientists would celebrate.
And the atheists?
Would an atheist believe a god exists if he would given evidence? Of course!
They feel no blame. If it took this long for ANY religion to prove the actual existence of God, you cannot blame people for questioning or not believing. Now that there’s solid evidence, we will all believe in your religion. We will pray twice as hard for a place in heaven.
But as of this moment, we have no evidence for the existence of any god or anything supernatural. We never have, and possibly never will.
God, it’s good to be an atheist.