The danger comes when you make a belief part of your identity – when the belief becomes the quiver itself. If you say “I believe in the Hindu gods.” OK. If you say, “I am a Hindu,” you’ve suddenly made it a part of who you are. Now you can’t remove the belief without some level of identity crisis. And, now, if someone says that they don’t believe in your gods, it’s no longer just a disagreement over ideas. You feel a level of personal rejection. You take offense where none was given. And if they present evidence against Hinduism, you feel personally attacked. It’s much harder to pursue truth because of the emotional walls you’ve constructed. And any evidence they present, no matter how true, hits a barrier of cognitive dissonance.
I’m not specifically anti-religion. I’m anti-cult, pro-science, pro-freedom, and pro-truth. Most religions in this world just have a nasty (and often subtle) way of using cult-like behavior to isolate people and manipulate them out of their freedom, in one way or another – to make the religion a part of who you are and then demand subservience (which is a nice way of saying slavery), in the most humiliating way – all out worship. I take issue with beliefs that twist the truth, denying science to support their narrative (to the detriment of us all). I am opposed to the idea that you can’t have purpose without worshipping some made up character in some man-made religion. You don’t have to grovel your way through life. Have more respect for yourself than that.
There are aspects of religions that I find admirable. For example, in Jainism, the focus of the religion is on extreme non-violence. In Buddhism, the idea of the middle way, avoiding extremes (e.g. extreme gluttony or extreme hunger) can be a useful guide to pursuing happiness. The concepts of extreme forgiveness found in Christianity would make the world a much better place. But as an atheist, I can rationally sift through holy books and accept these ideas without deep throating on your dogma. If our idea of spirituality was feeling one with the cosmos when we stare up at the sky with a sense of pure, unadulterated wonder at the scientific notion that we’re all stardust forged in the hearts of supernovas, then I’m totally down with that. And I have nothing against a code of ethics as long as it’s based on moral philosophy and reason and can be updated to keep pace as our culture grows. For example, the idea of do no harm to others but promote well-being is vague enough to evolve with society but clear enough to be powerful.
What I take issue with is moral frameworks that don’t evolve and keep up with society, that claim to be perfect, unchanging, final revelation and become a part of people’s identities, entrenching dogma and making it hard to pursue truth. Moral frameworks that inflict rather than prevent harm, like killing gays because an invisible sky-daddy might get so offended where they put their wiggly bits that he’ll nuke a whole city or jack with a nation’s GDP! Really?!
But religious moral frameworks are always left playing catchup, because they claim to be the final, perfect revelation and have to wait until the practitioners can find a new way to re-interpret the horribly backwards texts and for the conservative neophobes who disagree with the new interpretation to die off. Most religions have some kind of moral framework along these lines, and a great deal of suffering has resulted. No idea should be held as so sacred that it can’t be questioned in the free marketplace of ideas. Even ways of life like Buddhism, which seem pretty chill, should be questioned, because even though the Dalai Lama once said, “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims,” Buddhism still holds some spiritual/mystical ideas that have no basis in science and have way of propagating woo. And therefore should be questioned.
I’m not here to just rip something special or near and dear to people away from them. I’m here to show them the dangerous of turning beliefs into identity and refusing to really question these beliefs with a level of sincere, doxastic openness that we apply to just about everything else. I’m here to show that you can have a beautiful, meaningful life where you can learn and grow and pursue truth without blindly swallowing the religious dogma invoked on us as children. Because every idea should be questioned.
I don’t hate religion because I don’t live under a cloud of hate. I love truth, and I want to pursue it. Will you join me? You can be free, dare to be curious, and don’t drink the Koolaid.
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