First, I’d like to welcome my new blog followers. We have some new Christians of some type or other (some quite sure that they are the only TrueChristians), so I invite you to ask questions of me, a real live atheist. 🙂 I’ve addressed a lot of common theist claims on this forum so you can use the search function if you’d like to see if I’ve commented on something you find important. I have no problem with you using my blog for fodder, but if you do think you can rebut my points, please do have the courage to let me know.
The following is a bit of a rewrite of a couple comments I posted on another person’s blog. (a similar post to this is here (back in March 2013), some points the same, some different, some expanded on, some not).
A question I’ve seen many theists and agnostics ask atheists is: don’t you think that religion has at least some merits? Even if no religion is true, that they present only human stories and myths, don’t you think that they can serve any positive purpose? Now, most theists will try to broadly frame this question, so their particular religion’s failures can’t be mentioned. So, I’ll try to answer the question considering all religions that I know about, and even the ever-so vague versions of god and religion that modern theists have invented to avoid the problems of their religions, rather like how Oprah Winfrey has just recently declared that all religions are wrong, and how atheists simply can’t be atheists (a couple of good posts on that particular bit of silliness here and here.)
I think there is some truth that humans are inclined to believe in nonsense. Our brains love to see agency behind action e.g. for something to happen, something else must make it happen, and to take it one step further, must *intend* on making it happen. That likely helped us to know to watch out for shaking bushes that had tigers in them. So, we have the ideas of gods, demons, genius loci, angels, devas, efreet, etc, invented. These beings are powerful, powerful enough to cause and control things like hurricanes, but very identifiable as humans writ large. They are just as proud, petty and stupid as humans can be, often even more so.
However, this tendency to see agency is just that, a tendency, and one easily ignored when facts are involved (willful ignorance, as always, will counteract this). Yes, millions of people believe in supernatural beings, but they believe in millions of different ones that have millions of varied and contradictory attributes (and they disbelieve in millions too). There is nothing that shows that any of them are even remotely correct in their baseless assumptions. And, of course, there is the simple existence of atheists and there are plenty of happy decent people who were raised without believing in anything fanciful and who never came up with their own gods. It seems that, rather than humans being all inclined to believe in the supernatural, humans are inclined to believe in what they are told by those who they trust. Then it comes down to what evidence can support either concept. There are a lot of theists, but that does not mean that anything that they believe is true. It just shows that they learn what they are taught and have reasons to keep believing in such things.
Another excuse for religion is the claim that it is more “spiritual” than science, that humans need something else than science to interact. Well, that is indeed true, in that science is a way to describe the world by using the scientific method based on objective information. But no one needs religion to love one another, socialize, empathize, etc. Being human allows us to do that. Atheists are not logic machines like caricature of Mr. Spock (who wasn’t emotionless at all, says the trekkie J ) nor do most of us want to be. Emotions are human and by and large they aren’t “irrational”. Unless suffering from one of a number of mental illnesses, we do feel emotions for very real reasons. They are not bad, just occasionally inconvenient. 🙂
The usual denouement claim is that belief is harmless, so why does this mean ol’ atheist go after it with hammer and tongs? Belief can be harmless, especially if it’s just within one’s own thoughts. However, belief is usually followed by action. In my experience, no one has a belief that does not manifest in action and in reality. There can be positive and negative actions. One can argue that religion brings people together. One can also argue that religion tears people apart (take a look at my “origin story”). One can also show that it directly causes people to do awful things, including to kill children. It seems that the negative effects always outweigh any supposed benefit that religion can bring.
Religion is claimed to satisfy a lot of human needs and desires, appealing to emotions for example, so why oppose it? Humans do want anything that makes us happy, and that might mean fulfilled, contented, loved, etc. But our intellects can override those base urges and our humanity takes care of the rest, since humans can be demonstrated not to *need* religion. In my observations, religion is thought to fulfill a lot of wants, the want to believe that we have some knowledge of how the universe works, that something big and powerful cares for us and that this being will also do our bidding. Humans love to believe that they know everything and that other humans hold them in esteem. But those beliefs are wrong and can be harmful, for instance doing something stupid, like denying medical care to your children because you think your imaginary friend will heal the child. If people are taught that religion and its promises and claims are false, which they are, people will cease to place value in religion when they see it does not fulfill any wants at all. Science doesn’t promise what it doesn’t give, like religion consistently does.
It is my opinion that religion may have served some purpose, but, like tribalism, does no longer. We do not need a small group of people who will keep us from being eaten by tigers because they believe that their magical spells/prayers will keep the tiger away. We also do not need to think that the “other” is always a threat, something that tribalism and religion are based on.
post script *10/18/13 4:06 EST) – many theists want to claim that they have no religion, only a “relationship”. They run away from the term religion since it has such bad odor thanks to the actions of theists, and try to redefine a word for their convenience. They do have a religion and it is defined as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices” Merriam-Webster. This is the religion I speak against.