Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. - Blaise Pascal
D'Ma, of the always thought-provoking Gullible's Travels blog, left a comment on yesterday's post that asks a great question and inspired me to answer with this post.
First the meat of her comment:
What I'm curious about is this: is what really divides us a need to be right? If it weren't religion, do you think it might be something else? In other words, if we could remove religion as if it never existed, do we really think we wouldn't be fighting over something in it's stead?
Now of course I do agree with her (and Bruce, too, who also commented) that we humans for the most part have this fragile ego and sense of self that makes "being right" an all important matter. Most of us get rankled when someone presses hard against one of our pet opinions or biases because, in a sense, we see it as an attack on our intelligence. Poke fun of someone's religion or political views and you might find yourself with a fight on your hands. Often our opinions define who we are as people.
So, yes, because the human family has divided itself into tribes, there will always be much to disagree about.
But the reason I single revealed religion (as opposed to just having a spiritual outlook in general) out for special condemnation is because of the way those particular convictions are held. That is why I started off with Pascal's quote.
Most people are willing to submit to authority. God is supposed to be the supreme authority. God trumps every other authority. Personally, I prefer the scientific method of finding truth. It is verifiable, and doesn't require hardheaded faith.
For those who believe in God, well, if He said he created the heavens and the earth and all therein in six literal days some six to ten thousand years ago, then scientific knowledge be damned! If God says we humans were a direct creation of his for a specific purpose, then all scientific evidence that suggests we are only animals descended from lower animal life forms is just plain wrong! If God says that humans will have a post-mortem existence while science suggests that death is part of the natural cycle of life and is common to every living thing, so much the worse for scientific evidence. I could go one, but I think the point is clear.
In my opinion, it is this irrational, unbending concept of truth that creates the majority of our major problems. To an open-minded person, evidence will convince. To the person of religious faith, evidence is inferior to faith.
Holy Wars are fought in the name of God and are against God's enemies. If somehow this entire concept of chosen people and God's friends and enemies could be eliminated, if this whole notion that some invisible sky-god has an exclusive claim upon human duty, we would be in a better position to work towards peace. Even our disputes would have a basis for settlement in the basic equality of all people.
In the three major revealed religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the foundation is that humans are chess pieces in the God's plan.
If you read the Old Testament, you find God creating Adam and Eve and giving them commandments from the get-go. After their fall from favor, God continues to give his people commandments. When the story continues and God delivers his chosen people, the Israelites, from Egyptian bondage, he continuously rubs in that fact and continues to impose his will on them through some six hundred-and-some-odd commandments!
If you are Christian, you know that. And you know that it is the basis of Christianity as well. Jesus, the supposed founder of that tradition, explains it thus:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matt. 22: 37-40).
Got that? God first, then your neighbor.
And that, I think, is the problem.
What about Islam? The very word "Islam," we are told, means submission. That is, of course, submission to God and his commands.
The basis of any religion that claims to come from God is going to be something like this:
Hey, I'm God. I made everything and everything is mine, including you, puny human. I make the rules and here they are. Follow them. Or else.
Now once we puny humans have some idea of what God's will and commandments are (and we have lots of such ideas!) we are then free to go out and make converts of others and enforce this vision on everyone.
AND IF NOTHING ELSE I SAY SINKS IN, PLEASE NOTICE THIS: GOD NEVER SEEMS TO BE IN FAVOR OF HUMAN FREEDOM OR DEMOCRACY IN GENERAL.
This is why I firmly believe we should make our own rules, based on the idea of the basic equality of all humans. We can decide these things for ourselves. The civilization of humans has been a long process. In fact, it is a work still in progress. It can only be furthered by humanism or hindered by theistic morality.