“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, you will need religion.” – Steven Weinberg
About a year ago when I still taught, I settled myself in a quiet spot of a nondescript restaurant and prepared preliminary notes on the philosophy of basic morality that I had intended to teach someone with (after returning to school) when one of my colleagues decided to lounge with me.
Over a simple fare and light drinks, she told me she married her husband because she believed he would help her become a better Muslim. I congratulated her quietly. As an observer, I didn’t quite share her joy but I was glad she seemed happy.
You see, I always feel that while we should marry someone who helps us maximise our inner potential – and therefore love is both a highly educational and emotional process – I failed to see how a stern subscription to a religion would help pave the way to be ‘better’.
Someone who truly cares for us should always begin with a healthy dose of skepticism: how do we know this belief is worth having? What makes it true? Rather than assume something is undeniably true (without any evidence), one should start peeling away at a belief so that all that’s left is the core.
And does the core stand up to scrutiny? With religion, it doesn’t. Walking past the macabre graveyard of thousands of now deceased ancient religions, cults and tribal beliefs, it takes only some investigative effort and critical thinking to understand the problems that come with believing something (or anything) without paying close attention to evidence. A long time ago, people believed in Zeus and Hercules with the same fervour as they did now, and they were ALL wrong.
As Carl Sagan succinctly puts it: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” In his spectacular debate against Tony Blair, Christopher Hitchens once outlined in his closing statement that religion for everything it says, has the gall to offer not a single shred of evidence. It’s why religion is called the ‘leap of faith’ – belief without thinking. Seen that way, religion demands a surrender of the rational mind, a price which in my opinion, is too great a payment.
And now, with yet another ISIS suicide bombing (Brussels), I am still surprised at how people insist ISIS isn’t Islamic. They are, because they interpret the Koran word for word, literally. The truth that ‘moderates’ have to face up to is that the Koran (and the Bible among many ‘holy’ books) contains an unprecedented amount of stupidity and barbarism that’s incompatible with our modern secular values, and consequently, easy to distort and exploit by fundamentalists.
At least for the two main monotheistic religions, one only has to read their ‘holy books’ and you will find plenty of threats for not believing, examples of genocide, rape and explicit violence that would make modern day horror movies a lullaby by comparison. Those who see absolutely no contradictions (and many religious folks indeed don’t) have clearly surrendered (and lost) their rational minds. The eye of reason has been gouged out of them.
Modern religion has conveniently cherry-picked choice phrases from their holy texts, read them in increasingly abstract and figurative ways because a literal reading (which justified religious wars like the Inquisition) was for the longest time, considered the absolutely infallible way of interpreting divine directive. It would now be so laughably bad in modern times so some beating around the bush is needed.
It is worth noting that most, if not all of the moral principles outlined in religions were already known to us through very early Western and Eastern philosophy. With what happened at Brussels, though I won’t argue for religion to entirely disappear, I would say that now more than ever, we need to have a great deal less of faith and a great deal more secularism and skepticism.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) religion and its role in society?