Clarification: I’m not disputing or endorsing the existence of God. That is a personal belief and something that can’t be proven either way you stand. However, I can say that religion is a sociological phenomenon, a man-made concept. Thus, it is therefore, fallible, because humans are fallible creatures.
Religions are extremely diverse, have different interpretations of God (& Goddesses), have different opinions as to what people should wear and eat, how many wives they can have, what rituals they should follow. As they each take the view that they are the ones correct and that they vary dramatically in various respects, it is obvious why throughout the course of history, religion has burdened mankind with a great deal of conflicts and divisiveness. Instead of going into the differences between religions; let me point out a common recurrence: Throughout history and in most of the orthodox manifestations of religion, women are given 2nd class status (not being able to make independent choices for their body and future, not able to get the same education etc.), being hostile towards homosexuality and a severe opposition towards scientific progress. (AC Grayling, author of The Good Book and Ideas that Matter) First point is that religion usually endorses a patriarchal heterosexual version of society, to maintain control of the community and to continue the spread of their religion via children (which homosexuals cannot physically have); progress for progress’s sake must be stopped since the truth has been revealed a long time ago and relinquishing the hold of religious authorities would cause them to lose economic and territorial power.
Then there are those people who believe that without religion, there would be no morality. Of course, that is not true. Loving your neighbours, responsibility, concern for others and being a useful member of community: these are all shared by all people, regardless of religion, race or geographical location. About 16% of the world’s population (1.12 billion people) consider themselves atheists (Of course, this is extremely hard to judge since the term is interpreted differently and some people call themselves agnostics and to be honest, it gets quite confusing but suffice it to say, that these are the people who may have an individual belief system which is not part of any community or its rituals). It is incredibly narrow-minded and hopeless to believe that without the fear of authority or punishment, people will behave in a manner that is not conducive to a communal living. Where is our trust in humanity and our inherent sense of right and wrong? Can’t ethics simply be taught without the shadow of religion clouding our judgement? If you look at the Greek philosophers, all of them preached ethics and morality rather than religion and since no God told them what was right or wrong, it was simply reason and human experience.
Interesting point in the debate: Does believing in one religion make you an atheist in every other? Therefore, if we are to say that there are roughly about 20 major religions in the world and you consider yourself to be part of one religious community, you are 5% Christian (for example) and 95% atheist.
The current estimation is that 0.1% of people belonging to a religion sect are extremists (although I’m not sure how this is estimated, seems like a far-fetched statistic but for the purposes of the argument…) which is about 5 million people. But then you can argue that the rest, the moderately religious, are peaceable and usually approach a ‘live-and-let-live’ policy.
This is the part I’m not entirely convinced about: AC Grayling says that the moderately religious are prone to cherry-picking and they choose the best aspects of the religion they follow and the more awkward or embarrassing bits they leave to one side. He also argues that extremists are the only honest bunch of the lot because they commit themselves whole-heartedly to the entire religion and moderates are simply hypocrites since they follow only what is convenient. He then continues to say that, “If that is real religion, honest religion, then the world is very much better off without it. And if the world is better off without the true and honest form of religion, why not put the hypocrites along with them too.”
This doesn’t sit well with me, my interpretation of extremists is that they have misread, misinterpreted and abused their religious texts and are brainwashed to believe that they are following the word of God, when they are actually following the word of a few charming, authoritative enemies of humanity. However, even if what I’m saying is true, is there any way we can eradicate all extremist thoughts for eternity, realistically speaking? In that case, is it better to live in a world without religion but with ethics and morality instead?
To really drive this point home, “If religion made people behave better (and morally), then markers of social dysfunction such as drug addiction, ignorance, violent crime or teenage pregnancy would be lower in highly religious communities; in fact, the opposite is true.” (Matthew Chapman, Co-Founder of Science Debate - An organization seeking to get politicians to debate science policy issues). Austin Dacey, author of The Secular Conscience, says that “90% of Americans are religious but we have by far, the largest prison population on Earth, drug addiction is widespread, gun violence is grotesque, our education system produces kids whose maths and science skills are far lower than any in secular countries while our rate of teen pregnancy is far higher. And in a country so rich and Christian, it’s amazing how many people live in abject poverty. Religion is irrational, morally confusing and divisive…Making no reference to God, scientists have, among other things, rid us of the plague, smallpox and polio, dramatically reduced infant mortality, doubled the average length of a person’s life and is coming to understand how the brain works, including its capacity for empathy and moral decision-making.” All this progess, all this beautiful knowledge, all this alleviation of human suffering has been achieved in only a hundred years, while religion has had its chance for thousands of years to prove its supernatural effectiveness.
Again to clarify, I'm disputing the religious construct of society, not individual faith and believers. Institutions that support and propagate religion such as churches and synagogues seems to have an ulterior motive besides a common prayer area. If religion were to become an individualised ideal, where God existed only has an energy force to drive the world, subject to entropy in the universe, not as an authority figure who tells you what is right or wrong (We have parental figures for that!); I do agree that life and universe is a miracle, both a scientific and spiritual one but why does it cloud judgement of persons and prohibit progress. Why can’t humanity function without being told what to do? And if you want an understanding of the world’s nature and its laws, look towards science for answers. I’ll be the first to admit that science doesn’t have all the answers but it is aware of that fact and together with its conclusions, presents its limitations (which are gradually being eliminated as technology progresses). Why do we have to know everything at once anyway? Knowledge is a journey and should remain that way.
Sources: I watched the debate posted below, read up on each of the participants in the debate, read a few articles and the rest is my personal opinion.