Is religion holding back humanity?

I’ve been thinking about this question for some time, and it’s become evident through my interactions with many theists on social media, that their mindset and opinions aren’t relevant in the modern world. Allow me to elaborate on what I mean. Over the past 50 years, it’s become more acceptable to be LBGT, and employers, and society in general have been more accepting and accommodating towards people who’s sexuality differs from heterosexuality. Women have gained equality in the western world, and whilst there’s still work to be done, they essentially have the same rights as males. As society becomes more cosmopolitan, and culturally diverse, racial tensions are disappearing, and people are living in an equilibrium together. You can walk through any city and see many different people from many different walks of life, and you can hear many people speaking in different tongues, and they just blend in.

Many countries in Europe are gradually adopting secularist views, as religion has had a tight grip over governments for thousands of years, and things like humanist weddings and funerals, LBGT weddings, assisted dying, abortion rights, and civil liberties have become focused on much more, but beside it is religions attempting to drag everything back into the Dark Ages where literary, economic and scientific advancement barely gained any traction, and the church had absolute control over society. The more devout the people of faith are, the least likely they are to accept the evidence of the reality they live in, and because of their selfish intolerance, they believe that society should suit just their needs, rather than the needs of the majority.

FAITH BEFORE REASON

The more reasonable and rational theists openly admit that despite them having faith, religion, especially of the fundamental evangelical variety, is harmful to society. There was a case of an abortion controversy in America several years ago, and it involved a mother of four, who was eleven weeks pregnant and had pulmonary complications and was going to die. She reluctantly had the abortion to save her life, and allow her existing four children to keep their mother, but she was severely condemned by local preachers as why was her life more important that the barely developed foetus. Their religious faith got in the way of their reason, and if she hadn’t have had the abortion, both she and the foetus would have died, and the four children would have become motherless. There’s another story, also in America where a family denied their three year old child the medication it required as they believed a god would protect them, and he was the only medicine needed. It died a slow and agonising death, yet the society they lived in allowed this to happen as they were within the crazed Bible Belt.

SCIENCE AND RELIGION

It’s true that the scientific method was indeed formalised by a theist, Sir Francis Bacon, but does that mean that at no point throughout the history of mankind that a non theist would have created a fool proof way of studying science? This is an argument from ignorance, as at the time the majority of society was religious, as it was expected. It was the norm shall we say. The Catholic Church held back the advancements in science for years, and an Italian Catholic scientist, Galileo dared to put forward the idea that the universe was heliocentric and not geocentric, and he was charged with heresy. In the famous words of Yuri Gagarin when he became the first human to visit space I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.

IS RELIGION HARMFUL TO SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE?

In my mind there’s absolutely no doubt that fundamental faith is dangerous to society as a whole. God was created in a time when people were ignorant, it’s that simple. They didn’t understand the world around them. They had no concept of the universe, and of the science of physics, biology and chemistry. They didn’t know what evolution was, or DNA, or the laws of physics or motion. Anything they couldn’t explain they put it down to God’s will. If their crops had a successful harvest, they thanked god. If their child was born healthy, they thanked god. If their child became sick, they prayed, and if it recovered, they thanked god. God became a convenient answer, but how has this mentality survived in an age when we know so much?

Fundamental religions often take the words of their holy books literally, and interpret it in a way that suits their narrative. Take human rights as a perfect example. The Christians and the Muslims formed trade routes throughout Africa. The Muslims took slaves to the East, the Christians took slaves to the West, and even though society considered slavery unacceptable (eventually), it was many years after slavery was abolished, that African Americans were given suffrage and equality rights, and to this day, racism is deeply rooted within the Bible Belt. Women have had to fight for equality, which was held back by religious beliefs, as was rights for homosexuality. Then there’s the intolerance that many religions have for other faiths, where Islam consider anyone not a Muslim as an infidel. Some religions deny certain medical care, like blood transfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses, or exorcisms for mentally sick people. Flat Earth conspiracists, and anti-vaccers are mostly people of faith, as are child groomers and modern terrorists. Some religions normalise violence and support severe punishments like public execution by stoning, firing squad, crucifixion, hanging and decapitation. There is no place for this type of mentality in a society that is looking towards the stars. Superstition, and the occult is thankfully dying out in the majority of civilised countries, and I very much welcome a new age of critical thinkers where faith is replaced by fact, and superstition is replaced by science.

IS RELIGION A POLITICAL TOOL?

Undoubtedly and without question. Religion is about controlling the subjects of the land, through fear of retribution by god if they sin. Religion has always used its influence to manipulate and create laws that benefit them, regardless of the impact it has on other faiths, or non believers. Religion has been used throughout the ages to justify war, and the assimilation of land. When Christianity first arrived in Europe, many theologists claimed it was to promote Christianity, but this is nonsense. It was about power, controlling land and gaining wealth, just like the Crusades were. They waged wars, and left with gold and jewels which they robbed from their victims. The battles between Israel and Palestine is because fundamental Jews believe the land is theirs because Abraham gave it to them. American Presidents say God bless to their military before they send them into conflict, even when it’s about oil, or riches, or political advantage for America, especially when their agenda is communism, which they used as a ploy to support the Khmer Rouge after they’d committed genocide on Cambodian citizens. America uses God as an excuse to arm yourself to the teeth, as it’s your God given right to bear arms, and it’s a multi billion dollar business.

The theocratic revolution in Iran, and the destabilisation of Iraq due to the quest to remove Saddam Hussein and find weapons of mass destruction, has created a domino effect throughout the Middle East, where ISIL and ISIS are using the west’s involvement as a reason to justify world wide terrorism. The dreadful years of apartheid in South Africa was fuelled by white supremacy and racial intolerance, and the leaders of the National party claimed they were ordained by God to rule the lands, and this is how they gained their support for so many years.

“The Scriptures have been misused to defend bloody crusades and inquisitions; to support slavery, apartheid, and segregation; to sanction the physical and emotional abuse of women and children; to persecute Jews and other non-Christian people of faith; to support the holocaust of Hitler’s Third Reich; to oppose medical science; to condemn inter-racial marriage; to execute women as witches; to excuse the violent racism of the Ku Klux Klan; to mobilize militias, white supremacy and neo-nazi movements; and to condone intolerance and discrimination against sexual minorities.” – Mel White

A history of atheism

As we know, atheism is the rejection of Gods, and deities, and despite the term only really being in circulation for around 500 years, there have always been people, cultures and religions that don’t accept the idea of deities. Atheism is derived from the etymological Greek root word (atheos – ‪ἄθεος‬), which in its literal sense means ‘without gods’. In ancient times atheists had to move in clandestine circles, as many societies punished atheists by imprisonments, or even death. Early feminists who fought for suffrage were openly atheist as they believed that religion held back the rights of women, liberty and essential basic human rights like anti-slavery. Religion has always seen atheism as a threat, and none more so than Christians who are of the belief that a world without God is a world of corruption and sin, and without Christian values to guide you, then you’re morally bankrupt. Yet many atheists have become humanists as they’ve studied its philosophy and realised that it’s about the greater good, for everyone, not just non-believers. Humanism is about freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion, in its support of secularism. No one knows the true number of atheists in this world as unfortunately it has a stigma attached to it, and many people, in many cultures are simply too afraid to announce their atheism for risks of losing their family, their job, their friends and the respect of people they care about.

Theists will vehemently argue that man was created to believe in gods. That’s their purpose in life, and the majority are stubborn in their convictions, yet for several millennia academics have debated whether gods can exist, and whether they can provide morality and an ethical life. Archaic Greece was a notorious place for the birth of the freethinker even though they lived in a polytheistic society. Philosophy was an important part of their culture and the basis of philosophy is to question everything, so of course religion was heavily debated. Many people, including educated scholars are adamant that atheism is a modern idea that came about in the European Enlightenment, but this is simply not true. With the birth of modern science, and academics beginning to understand the world around them, atheism, at least for a while, grew rapidly as people rejected the idea that religion was a natural state of the human mind.

ANCIENT GREECE

“Men create gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form but with regard to their mode of life.“- Aristotle

One of the most outspoken sceptics in BCE Greece was ‘Carneades‘, who was the leader of the Platonic academy in Athens. He was adamant that belief in gods was illogical and rejected all dogmatic doctrines, and Protagoras‘ claimed that ‘what cannot be perceived cannot exist’, and the Sceptics (skepsis) which is the Greek word for investigation, claimed that ‘beliefs rest on shaky foundations’

“When I look upon priests, prophets, and interpreters of dreams, nothing is so contemptible as a man.” – Diogenes

As well as the schools of thought that include the Cynics and the Sceptics, the Sophists (sophistēs)who were a collection of professional teachers, were openly critical about religion, law and ethics. As a whole they were secular atheists who were openly critical of beliefs and traditions, and were extremely skilled at arguing their case. ‘Socrates‘, who was linked to the Sophists through his good friend ‘Chaerephon‘, was put on trial and charged with corruption of the young, and impiety, as he refused to believe in the gods of Greece. He was sentenced to death and was forced to drink hemlock, but this does not imply that Socrates was an atheist, but he was certainly brave enough to go against the status quo. Prodicus‘, however, who was a good friend of Socrates was a fully fledged atheist, who promoted the philosophy of naturalism, and he claimed that man was so primitive that he had to invent gods so he had someone to thank for the goods nature provides.Critias‘ had a different viewpoint altogether, and he was of the opinion that religious faith was a powerful political tool that leaders can use to maintain discipline from their subjects.

In Ancient Greece the word ἄθεοι initially began as a derogatory slur to describe someone who didn’t believe in someone’s god, or deity. The Romans who persecuted early Christians for not accepting their polytheism would have been described as being ἄθεοι. In Ancient Greece and Rome, you had to show respect to the gods, and if you were critical or held contempt it was wise to keep your thoughts to yourself to minimise the risk of being charged with impiety, but in spite of this expectancy of respect, atheism wasn’t outlawed, and people were able to believe, or disbelieve in what they wanted. It was only after the polytheistic views died away, and paganism became a target for Christian assimilation, that it became much more difficult to be an atheist through fear of being executed after being charged with heresy. Atheism, in a sense went underground for over a thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire.

THE DARK AGES

‪There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the Dark Ages.” – Ruth Hurmence Green‬

The reason it’s often referred to as the Dark Ages was because religion had a stranglehold over Europe, and there’s was a distinct lack of cultural, scientific and social development. The Dark Ages lasted until the ‘Age of Discovery‘ and the beginning of the ‘Italian Renaissance‘, where Renaissance humanism started, which once again brought about the discussion of moral philosophy not being exclusive to religions, like Greek philosophers discussed as far back as 2000 years prior. Throughout the Dark Ages, or Middle Ages if you prefer, there was no escape from Christianity, as it dominated every area of a person’s life. It had a foothold within governments and monarchies, schools were run by servants of god, and from the womb, until the grave, life was smothered by Christian doctrine. If someone was brave enough to announce their atheism, they’d get no support, as everyone was brainwashed to obey the church.

“Unbelief is the greatest of sins.” – Thomas Aquinas

There were many cases of people being charged with heresy and blasphemy, and much of the medieval unbelief stemmed from the common man being treated unfairly by the church and being of the opinion that God was being used to manipulate them, and justify the actions of the churches. It was expected that you believed, and obeyed God, and if you dared to rebel, you would more than likely face dire consequences.

“Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.” – John Locke

ATHEOPHOBIA

“A fear of atheists is also unwarranted given the cowardly nature of most atheists and their inability to intellectually justify their denial of the existence of God” – Conservapedia

As you can see from the above quote from the extremely biased, and judgemental website, Conservapedia that atheophobia is unwarranted, but mocking is perfectly acceptable, and their website mocks atheism at every opportunity, which is fine, as it’s only words from foolish people. Yet, atheophobia, or simply the hatred of heathens has been rife as long as atheists have been open about their disbelief. There are some vicious stories of atrocious acts that Christians have committed against atheists over the years, and I will share a few.

‘Lucilio Vanini‘ was an Italian philosopher and freethinker, who lived at the end of the 16th century, and the start of the 17th. He was one of the first people to suggest that humans and apes share a common ancestor, and in his second book, ‘De Admirandis Naturae Reginae Deaeque Mortalium Arcanis‘, he declared his atheism. He was arrested in Toulouse in 1619, trialed and sentenced to death. This involved having his tongue cut out, being strangled to death, then burned.

Domenico Scandella‘ was also Italian, and he lived in the 16th century. He was particularly outspoken about his atheism after studying several books on theology, and living during the Catholic inquisitions, he didn’t go unnoticed, and was eventually arrested and considered a heresiarch. Even at his trial he disputed that Jesus couldn’t have been born from a virgin mother, and he didn’t die to redeem us all. He was executed by being burned at the stake.

Casimir Liszinksi‘ was Polish, and lived in the 17th century. He was a philosopher who had studied as a Jesuit, but decided that it was illogical and declared his atheism through a paper he published. He was arrested, trialed, and charged with being a heresiarch, and the punishment was execution. This involved a burning iron forced into the mouth, his hands were burned slowly, and then his whole body was set alight. After he was pronounced dead, his tongue was ripped out and he was beheaded.

There are many more examples of why it’s been dangerous throughout the ages to admit atheism, and the reason there is much less evidence of atheistic movements than theistic movements throughout history is because history is always written by the victors, and many atheistic books have been systematically destroyed.

NAZI PARTY

‪Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. . . . And the founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of his estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary, He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God.” – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf‬

In 1933, the Nazi party in Germany began to rise into power, and at the time the majority of Germany was Christian with a mixture of Protestantism and Catholicism, and a small fraction, of minority faiths, like Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baháʼí were outlawed, as well as most paganism, astrology, witchcraft and the occult. The Nazi party were all followers of some form of Christianity, and saw any deviation from that as heresy, and this included atheism. Adolf Hitler, with the help of his advisors attempted to unite all the German churches, and create one German Evangelical Church. Hitler banned atheistic and freethinking ideology, and the Gestapo, his secret police persecuted them. He also closed down the German Freethinkers League, (which was in direct opposition to the German Orthodox Church), who had half a million atheist members. Later that year, Hitler gave a speech addressing the German public that he had officially stamped out atheism in their country.

‪”I have not tolerated an atheist in the ranks of the SS. Every member has a deep faith in God, in what my ancestors called in their language Waralda, the ancient one, the one who is mightier than we are” – Heinrich Himmler‬

ISLAMIC STATES

In Islamic states, atheism can be treated most severely, and even though it’s 2020, and we are allegedly in a civilised era, it can still be punishable by death in 15 Muslim nations. Denying Islam, if born a Muslim gives you apostate status, and can be punishable by death for men, and imprisonment for women. Whilst this isn’t always the case, it’s still a punishment that countries who adopt Sharia Law believe is their right, and they claim that being opposed to a Islam, and Allah is blasphemy, and blasphemers will not be forgiven. The countries in question include Egypt, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Libya, Pakistan, Qatar, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Brunei, Maldives, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. In Iran, atheists aren’t given legal status, or legal rights, and in 1965, in Indonesia, the army committed mass genocide against atheists, or anyone accused of atheism, and Saudi Arabia view atheism as a form of terrorism.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

In America some states deny an atheist the opportunity to run for public office, or even be part of a jury, and the Boy Scouts of America doesn’t allow atheists members or officials. This is because of America’s general distrust of atheists, and because they have no divine authority to answer to, they are ethically and morally bankrupt. The Freedom of Religion Foundation (FFRF) claim that religion, as in Christianity, has too much influence over the government. There have been surveys conducted throughout America about atheists running for public office, and an average of 50% of Americans would not vote for them, and as a rule, people in public office tend not to declare atheism due to the risk of career Kamikaze. Many Americans are of the opinion that an atheist politician cannot serve his nation as honestly as a Christian, as Christians behave much better when they feel God is watching them.

America has quite a large humanist population, and despite not gaining their morals from some higher power, they’re keen to put humanity as prime importance over folklore and superstition. Despite the importance of humanity in the minds of humanists, Christians still hold much antipathy towards them. Humanism focuses on liberty and philanthropy, and Sir Francis Bacon associated it with a ‘love of humanity‘. In 1933 the Humanist Manifesto was published in Chicago, America, and it was in support of social justice, and for science and reason to be the foundation of ethics, preferably not religious dogma. They weren’t in direct opposition to Christianity, they were just offering another philosophy of life. In 1941 the American Humanists Association was formed, with the aim of promoting secularism and social activism across America.

“I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”  – Kurt Vonnegut

ATHEISM ON THE RISE

It has been estimated by historians that people who identify as irreligious, or atheists potentially exceed half a billion people world wide, which is roughly just under 6% of the world population, which in itself doesn’t sound like a large amount, but if atheism was classified as a religious group, it would be the fourth largest behind a Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Atheism is hardly a trivial matter, so why has religion maintained its intolerance towards it? One of the reasons I’ve already stated, is distrust, but it’s much more than that. Many theists are of the belief that atheists have a hedonistic lifestyle, are more likely to suffer from depression, and aren’t able to maintain fidelity with partners. They also maintain the belief that atheists are unable to raise their siblings to become upstanding citizens, that atheism is the cause of autism, or makes people nihilistic as they think without a spiritual outlook an atheists’ life has no meaning or purpose. Also an atheist rejects God because their ego won’t allow them to accept that there’s a power greater than them. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is all speculation, and misguided assumptions. Atheists are unique from each other as they have no culture, no doctrines, and no dogma. They have no formalities, dress codes, prayer rituals or worship.

Many antiatheists object to naturalism, and cannot comprehend how anyone can accept that perhaps life and the universe around us actually did happen by chance, rather than being created. This is why the atheist’s association with science, or the ‘religion of scientism‘ as I’ve heard it called, is often one of the first objections that theists bring to the table. Their distaste of ‘Darwin’s theory of evolution’ literally gets their blood to boiling point, as how is evolution possible without the hand of God? Because many atheists embrace science, as do many theists, they see science as the enemy. Some of the greatest minds to have been involved with science have had religious faith, but by being true to themselves, and true to their field of science, they’ve managed to keep their faith and their studies separate. Yet many creationists, and apologists see science as an attempt to remove God.

“The more a nation gets into darkness, the more it’s going to hate the light. The more it’s going to run from the light. And we have a generation of people who have given themselves to darkness, and they’ve embraced atheism, because it gets them away from moral responsibility to God.” – Ray Comfort

We are primates, of the great ape collective, and we are cousins to chimpanzees and bonobos. This is an indisputable fact, but many theists find it amusing to call atheists apes as though it’s an insult, or refer to atheists as nothing but animals, when that’s exactly what we are. The thing they often fail to realise is that many animals, especially other species of apes live in social groups, that require them to cooperate to survive. They have no concept of gods, yet they still form hierarchies and care for their young. Humans, despite being in more complicated social groups work the same way as their cousins, and because atheists accept this, and don’t as a rule see us as a special and superior species, theists hold contempt and reject atheists from their society.

Why the Scientific Method is so crucial?

There’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding how science works, and it’s mostly from theists who are of the opinion that everything has been created, and completely disregard naturalism, as they are fearful of questioning their faith. I’ve said before that it’s much more honest to admit that you don’t know the answer to a question, than believing that an answer can’t be questioned. Accepting what’s written in your chosen holy book, and completely disregarding other possibilities is intellectual dishonesty, and is a common form of wilful ignorance, and confirmation bias, as the individual is unwilling to put their beliefs to one side and think critically. Many theists I’ve conversed with on Twitter are of the opinion that many scientists are biased and with agendas, but any scientist who wishes to have their field of expertise taken as credible, will use the scientific method, as it’s the only real way that impartial truth can be ascertained. Another fallacy is science relies on faith, which is as preposterous as it is ridiculous, as faith is defined as accepting something that’s not based on fact, whereas science, meaning ‘scientia‘ (Latin for knowledge) is about reaching a testable and repeatable conclusion.

Sir Francis Bacon

ipsa scientia potestas est” – Sir Francis Bacon

The above quote from ‘Sir Francis Bacon‘ meansknowledge is itself power‘. Bacon was one of the first to adopt the scientific method, and is regarded as the father of empirical evidence which comes about from observations experiments, and methodology. Francis Bacon was born in London, 1561, and as well as holding several high ranking government positions, he was well known for his philosophies of science and how to reach the tangible truth, which means reality, not spirituality. His new way of studying the reality we live in was greeted, as you’d expect with much scepticism, and although he was crucial to the scientific revolution, his methodology wasn’t adopted immediately. Below are the methods that Bacon proposed:

“The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.” – Thomas Huxley

Why is the Scientific Method so crucial?

The scientific method is an objective way to reach the truth, by avoiding bias, prejudice and personal opinion, and in science the results have to be reviewed and repeatable, so bias has to be avoided, and even whilst adopting the scientific method, mistakes can be made, but the margin of error is limited, and will be picked up upon by another scientist attempting to repeat the hypothesis, and once it’s confirmed by multiple sources, and it’s peer reviewed, it gets put forward to the scientific community as a theory, and this is where the confusion with people who don’t understand the scientific method begins. ‘It’s just a theory, and a theory isn’t fact‘. This is where they are wrong, and a scientific theory is very much a fact. The standard understanding of theory is guesswork, or an assumption, but a scientific theory is the result of an explanation which the scientific community has repeatedly tested its validity.