Being a lovely chap I have a lot of friends who are either relatively harmless theists/woo fans, or reasonable and moderate agnostics and atheists. Many of them are upset or boggled that I – or anyone else – could be such a strident atheist. They’re often critical of Dawkins and the kind of people who, honestly, mistake Harris’ concerns over Islam for racism.
It can be hard to explain to people quite why you’re so strident and spend so much time fighting, arguing and raising awareness of religious issues and bigotry. They understand why things like opposing male and female genital mutilation or supporting the ‘extension’ of marriage rights are important but they don’t grasp the objections to what they see as harmless – if silly – beliefs, religious education or the comfort and charity supported by it.
Let me try to explain…
Religio-spiritual beliefs are just factually wrong. It’s really that simple. There’s no afterlife, no heaven, no hell, no such thing as sin. There’s no god watching over us or devil tempting us. There are no spirits, no ghosts, no monsters under the bed. The world isn’t designed and made with us in mind. There’s no ‘special’ way that we’re intended to live, no divine law, no miracle cures or curses. There’s no magic.
If you want to split hairs then strictly speaking I’m an agnostic atheist and a skeptic. It’s that there’s no evidence for any of these things, so that it’s irrational to believe in them. In lots of cases we can say ‘X’ doesn’t exist or ‘Y’ is impossible but really to all intents and purposes we might as well just say ‘this shit is wrong’.
It’s as wrong as smells causing disease. It’s as wrong as a flat Earth. There’s no reason to believe this absolute bollocks any more.
We know better.
Even if we strip away the specific, offensive, horrible beliefs that justify war, murder, torture, mutilation and oppression there’s the dark heart of every irrational belief system still there.
Faith is belief without evidence. The idea that this is somehow a valid reason to believe anything, let alone to act, is supremely dangerous. A belief held to without reason is – usually – immune to reason. A rational belief held because of data can be changed if the data changes or improves. A faith belief will be clung to in the teeth of the evidence and no matter how much harm it causes can rarely do anything but harm.
To be fair this goes beyond religion and into politics. Ideological faith can be just as harmful and just as rife for abuse. It is telling that in liberal countries the generational retention rates of both religious and political affiliations are practically identical. Politics and ‘religion’ would both be served better by the application of some critical thinking.
Accepting the idea that faith is valid allows all this toxic shit to persist. Couple that with either totalitarianism or uninformed democracy and you have a recipe for disaster.
We Can’t Afford it
It is an inescapable fact – unless of course you’re a person of faith – that the world is sliding into a confluence of several crises. Climate change, overpopulation, peak oil (peak energy really), damage to the seas, the forest, mass extinction, the end of useful antibiotics, a shortage of rare earths… the list just seems to get bigger every day. These problems are not insurmountable, with the proper will and sacrifice, if we put our shoulders to the wheel as a species.
The longer we wait to act the harder it will become and the more extreme measures will be needed. Technology, science, human unity, progress these are our ‘outs’ from this developmental bottleneck. So long as we deny we have a problem, or even willingly rush headlong into it as some right-wing religious conservatives in the US do, we have no chance of getting out of it.
Superstition has a very long history of slowing technological and social progress. From the Vatican to Al-Ghazali. Europe won out over the Middle East more because they were slacker in suppressing progress than from supporting it. While religion has held sway advances have been made in spite of, not because of it.
Even in modern times we see this problem in opposition to stem cell research and GM crops as well as climate change denial.
I don’t want to sound too melodramatic but honestly, this is a choice between grubbing in the mud and inheriting the stars and anything that lessens our chances to thrive and survive as a species is hard to justify indulging any longer.