When I was a young boy, my parents were not particularly religious. You might think of them as having been ‘Christmas and Easter Christians’ because those were about the only events that were significant enough to move them to attend a service at the local Anglican church.
My aunt and uncle, however, were much stronger Christians. They had been attending a modern evangelical church for quite some time. In 1996, when I was about 10, they finally managed to persuade my parents to go with them to one of these services. Before long, my parents ‘saw the light’ and were successfully converted to this new faith.
We began attending regular Sunday services at a young evangelical church that met in a school hall just around the block from our house. At the age of about 12, I ‘gave my life to Jesus’ by reciting a short prayer, guided by my mother. On a few occasions, we hosted baptisms in our swimming pool and our back yard would be packed with happy people from our little church community. I enjoyed the vague sense of being involved with something of importance that events of this nature gave me.
As I grew up, though, I became less interested in church. Not being much of a socialite, the community aspects didn’t fulfil me. I had far more interesting things to do than use up a perfectly good Sunday morning worshipping a god that I had never really felt or listening to a preach that just rehashed the same ideas in slightly different ways each time.
And so, at about the age of 18, I stopped going to church regularly. In a sense, I became like a ‘Christmas and Easter Christian’ – attending church rarely but continuing to believe in god throughout my early twenties. It was during this period that I started to notice how certain core principles of Christianity seemed a bit contrived and absurd but I continued to bolster my belief in god with typical musings on the infinite – “How could the universe just pop into existence?”
As I progressed into my later twenties, my naturally sceptical nature was maturing and my belief in god was fading. I just wanted to get on with my life and do the things that interested me and so I avoided thinking too much about the subject of god. I thought to myself: “If a god does exist, hopefully he’s a benevolent one and will sympathise with my natural tendencies.”
One day, while browsing Youtube for humorous Mitchell and Webb videos, I came across one where they were satirising some religious absurdity. Then I came across one where they were satirising Richard Dawkins. Not surprisingly, Youtube soon recommended a video where the actual Richard Dawkins was destroying some silly argument made by a Christian on a talk show. From there, I found myself watching many more videos featuring the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others. It was like brain food for my sceptical and critical thinking faculties. I watched dozens of lengthy talks, debates, discussions and documentaries over the course of about 4 months.
I soon realised that my apathetic, fence-sitting view on this subject was stupid and lazy. Not only was there no good reason for me to continue to believe in the existence of god but it became apparent to me that religion was doing much more harm than good to our culture.
I’m 29 years old and I vaguely regret taking so long to reach this point. I guess that’s what happens when critical thinking about a certain topic is suppressed.
Now that you’ve heard my story, it’s time to elaborate on the reasoning…
Evidence And Scepticism
The debate between religion and irreligion is broad, sophisticated and multi-facetted. However, when you boil it down, you are ultimately left with a very simple core contention – the religious see something good in faith whereas the irreligious regard faith as a subversion of intellectual honestly that compromises our minds.
Given this, the core argument against belief in god is very simple – there is no evidence to prove that god exists. In making this assertion, I am assuming a certain standard of evidence that I think is not unreasonable. For me, the bar would have to be set irresponsibly low before any of the traditional ‘evidence’ would make it over. When deciding on matters of political policy or healthcare, for example, such a low standard would not be acceptable.
There is not much difference between the way that religious doctrine is taught and the way that any other knowledge is disseminated and accepted throughout a population. The key difference, though, is the suppression of critical thinking within ardent religious circles. Within these communities, it is often regarded as virtuous to embrace the religious doctrine in spite of all the evidence and reasoning that might contradict it.
We live in a world where globalization has exposed individuals to myriad diverse cultures and ways of life. A wealth of philosophical understanding and scientific knowledge has been broadcasted. This has vastly eroded the authority of religious dogma. Before this era of globalization, isolated cultures wouldn’t have needed faith to believe their religious doctrines. Nowadays, it really does take a leap of irrational faith to believe them.
I argue that forcing oneself to believe in unbelievable things is a prostitution of the mind. Faith would not be necessary if religious doctrine made perfect sense. The excessive credulity and acquiescence that is expected of the devotees of so many religions should serve as an indicator of their doctrines’ falsehoods. There is no reason for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence. What kind of god would expect the contrary? Not a god at all, I submit.
The lack of evidence in favour of god’s existence is enough for me to justify my unbelief. As it so happens, there is also ample evidence that counts against god’s existence, provided that we’re talking about the type of god envisioned by theistic religions. This evidence is derived from the absurdities that exist within theistic religions. As a former Christian, I’d like to briefly look at some of the absurdities within that religion.
If we assume a completely naive, literalist approach to scripture, a veritable banquet of nonsense emerges and is effortlessly crushed by the gentlest caress of logic. The Noah’s Ark story, for example, portrays God as a bumbling, reckless tinkerer who tries to fix his flawed creation by mind-controlling animals to embark on impossibly long treks, commissioning an old man to construct an insufficiently enormous boat to carry said animals, and then cruelly drowning almost every living thing on the planet.
The Old Testament goes on to chronicle a litany of murders, rapes and genocides that are either directly ordered or tacitly condoned by God. It is scarcely believable that such a pitiless monster really exists, especially when you consider that this same being is also credited with creating the majesty of the entire cosmos.
If we move on to a less literal reading of the Bible, the picture becomes marginally more agreeable. Christian apologists assume a much more sophisticated interpretation of scripture and, in doing so, are able to glean a variety of interesting and often very poetic views of the Christian tradition. That’s all very well, but there are certain core tenets of the doctrine that you would be hard-pressed to explain away with poetry. You can’t really practice Christianity in any meaningful sense unless you believe that Jesus was really the incarnation of God and that his sacrifice really atoned for your sins.
I regard this core tenet as one of the most noticeable absurdities. The idea that god had himself sacrificed to himself is just … silly. Apologists will try to paint a rosy picture around this but it won’t cut it for me. It is unbecoming of a perfect, omniscient being to require any kind of sacrificial offering.
Possibly the biggest absurdity is the idea of revelation, which is common to all theistic religions. It is completely ridiculous to think that an entity intelligent enough to create the universe would choose to reveal himself to us through the occasional intercessor (prophets) and disseminate his expectations via the changing and fallible human language and writing systems (the Bible).
The Bible itself is a collection of man-made books that were selected from a wide variety of religious texts by a committee in whom we have no reason to place our trust. It honestly strikes me as idolatry even for a Christian to view the Bible as if it were the perfect word of God. The only way by which most Christians manage to maintain their faith is by remaining completely ignorant of its origins and choosing to ignore the mountains of dogma that simply doesn’t make any sense as soon as you approach it with a reasonable, rational mindset.
Religion Operates At A Loss
There are extremely few good things that can be credited exclusively to religion. Virtually all altruistic and charitable works are just as readily achieved in purely secular circumstances. If anything, religion just encourages people to fruitlessly pray for good things to happen rather than take action to make good things happen.
Religion seems to have garnered an undeserved monopoly on righteousness and morality. Many religious people take the astonishingly condescending view that non-religious people have no basis for their morality, as if to imply that humans are incapable of feeling empathy without God. I think that people who profess this view reveal an unsettling and suspicious shallowness in their personalities. How can a moral framework be superior if it’s predicated on paying homage to God rather than on reason? There are many good reasons to be nice to our fellow humans and the fear of eternal damnation is not one of them.
Fundamentalist and orthodox religious views exert a divisive pressure on relationships. The stakes are massively raised in any difference of opinion concerning religion because people have been lead to believe that the cost of being wrong might be infinite. I find it very sad to imagine the unnecessary worry that a religious person might endure when they believe that a loved-one is destined to hell.
The claims of most religions are completely incompatible with all other religions so, if one religion is right, most of the others have to be wrong. Pious adherents of one religion will often view other religions as demonic and this has proved devastating for intercultural relations for thousands of years. People like to say that religious conflicts are really just about power and politics but to exonerate religion entirely is to ignore the elephant in the room. Religion plays an aggravating role in intercultural disputes and is often used to justify a greater intensity of violence than would likely be seen otherwise.
Pious subscription to theistic religions comes at a great cost but almost nothing is gained from it. People remain devoted to their dogma through the act of faith, which is a way of irrationally believing a proposition without sufficient evidence or reason to support it. I therefore think that theistic religion is unjustified. People should be encouraged to think critically about religion and discouraged from taking religion seriously.
For Your Consideration
If you subscribe to some religion that claims revealed truth, I urge you to consider the information and arguments that may change your mind. This will be for your own benefit. Allow yourself to ask questions, think rationally and be intellectually honest.
The arguments in this post have been presented quite briefly. They form a small part of a much more comprehensive suite of arguments that I hope you will give your attention to. To help with this, I have prepared a list of content for your consideration: