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Religion

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A Religion is a set of beliefs and, usually, restrictive rules for behavior, that involve supernatural explanations for life and the Universe. The system of beliefs is called dogma; religions vary in how much dogma they include and how strictly they define and enforce it. Religions also vary in how much they enforce their rituals and customs.

Irrationality prejudice war

—H. P. Lovecraft[1]

Bunch together a group of people deliberately chosen for strong religious feelings, and you have a practical guarantee of dark morbidities expressed in crime, perversion, and insanity.

Often, religion is used as an excuse for hurting people, for prejudice and racism:-

  1. For example, some Muslims use their religion to justify smiting Americans.
  2. Another example, some Right wing Americans use their religion to justify smiting Muslims.
  3. There are many similar events throughout history.

Religions make up rules, like not allowing priests to marry (Roman Catholic), or forbidding contraception RC's (Protestants, limiting contraception Judaism, [2] and more). The rules are irrational, they often worsen conditions in this life to please their imaginary god or gods. The different Sects and religions also contradict each other, creating a fertile ground for Religious war and violence.

Moderate religious people are often better.

Principal features

Most of the world's religions have several features in common:-

  • Mythologies with Supernatural themes including material about creation and man's place in it. Most believers of any particular tradition tend to see their own mythology as "distinct" and "unique" because they are "more or less" true, whilst all other mythologies are just myths. Hinduism is a specific exception to this rule.)
  • Imagined answers for some sort for life's mysteries and questions - what happens before birth/after death, etc.
  • A duty to have faith in the religion's dogmas.
  • Some sort of guidance (rules) for how to live.
  • Religions also try to predict what they imagine will happen at the end of the world.
  • Many religions do some sort of proselytising.
  • According to William James [3] symbolism to depict the unknown is central to all religions.[4]

Scope of religious ideas

Very few religions have so little reliance on superstition and dogma, that they are more like philosophies. At the other extreme, some are rife with superstition, myth taken as fact, and harshly enforced rules. People who are not their adherents call them "cults": those who share their dogma think they have the ultimate truth - giving the tenets of their religion priority over information from their senses.

Religion and its relationship with the supernatural

The supernatural aspects of religion presumably "evolved" to allow societies to deal with what were then unanswerable questions - why does it rain, where does night come from, why does it get cold in winter. As science has become better able to answer these questions, religion's role in society has reduced. Eventually consigning to it (and god) to ever smaller gaps.

Religion and law

Religion developed rules as a way to help societies to deal with and overcome problems thousands of years ago. Though these rules may have been useful in the past, they clearly have little to tell us about life in the 21st Century. However the idea of religion also undermines the law system as religion is sometimes used as an excuse to break or supersede the law in a system of warped morality such as Sharia law made by Muslims or Moslems.

Modern personal religions

Nowadays, many people create a "personal philosophy" that is a contradictory mixture of the religious, philosophical, and moral concepts that they feel is appropriate for them, see New Age-ism.

Of course, there are sadly still many people who insist that every teaching their religion promotes is the absolute truth - these people are called fundamentalists.

Religion and science

Historically, religion's needed to "explain" natural phenomena. As science has improved its explanations of them, the two fields have experienced friction. In some - perhaps rare - cases, religions have encouraged naturalistic explorations and explanations, but at the other extreme, they have severely suppressed these attempts. It is, however, difficult to imagine a religion which does not, at some level, rely on supernatural explanations.

NOMA

There are some attempts to rehabilitate religion by saying that it makes no scientific statements. The idea is that science and religion operate in fields so distinct that each one cannot examine, or comment on, or have anything to do with the other.

This idea is called NOMA, and it is mistaken. First of all, any interaction of a god with the physical world would most certainly be within the scope of science. The only way to remove god from the physical world is to assume some sort of deist god - and that is certainly not the god of most religions.

Furthermore, the supporters of NOMA seem quite coy about where their NOMA line should be drawn. Religious beliefs are the basis of creationism, intelligent design and theistic evolution. While many science-friendly NOMA advocates happily attack creationism, they then hold the NOMA shield up to defend other (their own) religious beliefs - a position which could seem a little intellectually dishonest.

Religion and sociey

Many modern societies function very well without the strong religious underpinning in the more religious parts of the United States. [5] [6]

Reasons for rejecting religion

There are a number of reasons why many people reject religion

Religion is anti-intellectual

All religions have in common that they are faith-based. People are taught to believe claims from some Bronze Age or Iron Age text or self-proclaimed spiritual leader, instead of relying on their own senses, evidence and critical thinking.

Indeed, as Christopher Hitchens said: "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

Religion is anti-scientific

Some religions try to appear "science-friendly" by avoiding statements that clash too obviously with modern science. This however only obscures the fact that the very concept of "faith" is inherently anti-scientific and cannot be tested by using the scientific method.

As all religions rely, at some point, on faith, it is easy to show that they are not scientific. A key test of whether or not a hypothesis is scientific, is the question of falsifiability. What evidence would the hypothesis' supporters accept as being able to falsify the hypothesis? By definition, as religions are based on faith and not evidence, no evidence can be presented which would persuade a religion's follower it is wrong - and consequently no religion can be scientific.

Religion needs a creation

The very concept of creation depends on time. Something that did not exist before a given point in time comes to existence through the act of creation and exists from that time on. According to some types of Cosmology the universe cannot have been created in this sense, because the universe is spacetime and thus there is no time outside of the universe itself.

Religion needs the God of the Gaps

Arguments based on "First causes" are ill-conceived attempts at "proving" the existence of a god - of whatever type - by suggesting that the universe must have come from "somewhere", or that something must have existed "before". The Multiverse may have existed before the Big Bang and may be eternal. In any case, it is unclear why something that comes into existence needs a cause, while something that exists eternally does not need a cause.

However, science suggests that time and space are intimately linked - there was no "before" for the god to exist in. To quote Stephen Hawking: "It's like asking what's north of the North Pole. It's an ill-posed question."

God and religion

It seems to be clear that a God in the sense of a miracle-working, interventionist deity does not exist - as no evidence of his miracle working, interventionist activity can be found. In this case absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence.

It is of course possible that some kind of completely and utterly non-interventionist "god" exists outside of our universe. But even if that were the case, it follows that a non-interventionist god cannot interact with the physical world in any way. In particular, he cannot write books, nor can he answer prayers or perform miracles. So whether or not a non-interventionist god exists, religion is wrong.

Religion and morality

One of the things which many (probably most) religions claim to possess, is the authority to give eternal moral (or ethical) guidance to their followers. However, the fact that religious beliefs have frequently been important factors in causing or exacerbating divisions between peoples - sometimes even resulting in warfare - rather devalues religion's claim to the moral high ground. Sometimes, religious people do harm in the name of their religion and insist that their actions are "righteous", because their religious texts say so. Al Qaeda, for example, believe that they are doing God's will.

Furthermore, it is quite clear that religion's ethical advice is not eternal, it is in fact all a lie, as many religions' ethics evolve with society. This is clearly not a bad thing, but it removes religion's ability claim absolute moral standards or to pontificate for all time about morality. Christian morality for example has evolved over time.

Religion and soul

Many religions claim that the Soul is some kind of Magical entity that every human is supposed to have,like a magic fairy, and which is supposed to survive when the physical body dies. But since this thing is non-physical, it again cannot interact with the physical world. So we have the same situation as with "god": a "soul" could hypothetically exist, but it can't have a connection with the physical world.

Respect

Finally, we have the suggestion that religious ideas should, for some reason, deserve a special measure of respect not given to, say, homeopathy, or UFO conspiracy theories. (The concept of NOMA, mentioned above, is part of this.) But why should religion deserve this special status of being "respected"?

If religions can make a forceful, rational intelligent case, then they would be respected for that. If they are unable to present a forceful, rational intelligent case, then whatever respect they get should be based on their failure to do so.

We are also sometimes told that we should respect religion because some sincere, intelligent people believe in it. This is simply repetition of the argument from authority fallacy, and may be dismissed without further concern. Indeed one could quite easily produce a list of sincere intelligent Atheists which would equally prove nothing. The question is where is the Evidence?

Reference

  1. Brainyquote
  2. [1]
  3. Varieties of Religious Experience
  4. Noam Chomsky has questioned how valuable this is as a defining characteristic, in any culture where language is based on symbolism at it's core.
  5. To the church, he’s public enemy No. 1
  6. Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look

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