I received a question on Twitter the other day, in response to my agreeing with a fellow atheist on the topic of enthusiastic atheists tending to know more about religion than the believers of the faith themselves.
“Why obsesses over religion if you care not for it?” The hashtag of #JustCurious warrants an answer. I am more than happy to take the time out to answer an honest question.
First, asking this question of an adamant atheist activist is akin to asking a cancer patient why he obsesses over chemotherapy if he doesn’t care for cancer. Or asking a diabetic why he obsesses over checking his blood sugar if he doesn’t care for diabetes. This comparison may sound absurd, but it really isn’t. Cancer patients undergo chemotherapy and other rigorous treatments at great expense to their well-being, hoping to one day return to normal life conditions. A diabetic who doesn’t monitor his blood sugar risks blindness, loss of limbs, and even death. A concerned non-believer who doesn’t attempt to keep religion in check risks the loss of his/her personal freedom, the stagnation of science, technology, medicine, or humanity as a whole, and – depending upon the religion – death as an infidel.
It has been said that not all religions can be right, but they can all be wrong. I can’t stress enough that all religions have their foundation in primitive explanations for how the natural world works, and are expanded upon by a basic human fear of one’s own mortality. Without the question “What happens when I die?” the need for God dissipates. I can’t speak for all atheists, but from my own perspective I view religion as a threat to every free person’s lifestyle.
If you are Jewish, Christian or Hindu (among many more), we can share the same common concern of Islam taking over and declaring Sharia law. Under Sharia law, the penalty for converting to another religion or apostasy is death. What this means for any non-Muslim is that you either convert or die. There is no tolerance for not accepting Allah as the one true God, and there is no opting-out. Commonly in Islamic countries, women have very limited rights. They must adhere to a very strict dress code, and many are frequently denied higher education, the right to vote, or simple privileges such as using a cell phone or going about in public unescorted by a male chaperone. Punishments are often harsh, and can include removal of body parts (Nose, hands, etc.)
Islam is said by many of its adherents to be a religion of peace, but as Sam Harris points out in The End of Faith, Islam has bloody borders. Islamic countries are nearly always at war with their neighbors, trying to spread out and expand their territories and increase their numbers. Just look at Belgium today.
Christians believe that Jesus was/is the son of God, but many Hindus believe the man called Jesus was just an avatar of Vishnu. “Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.” (Gita:4.7), so of course Jesus was Vishnu…It makes perfect sense! However, this conflicts with the Abrahamic God on which Christianity is based; therefore it is blasphemous and likely worthy of death in Yahweh’s eyes. So how does this sit with Christians? Hinduism has been around far longer than Judaism, and Christianity is an extension of Judaism (you can’t have the new testament without the old testament), and Yahweh strictly forbids worshipping other gods, because he is a jealous god, despite somehow being the ‘only god’. Worshipping other gods or false idols is a crime punishable by death in the eyes of Yahweh, therefore it’s your duty to Him to put those blasphemous Hindus to death* (Deuteronomy 13:12-16, and many others), right? Again, all religions can’t be right, but they can all be wrong.
I see religion as a wildfire. Imagine, if you will: one summer night in the middle of a drought, a man is driving down a desolate country road in the middle of the night, a road which only sees an average of two cars between 10 o’ clock at night and six the following morning. He takes the last puff from his cigarette as he zips around a curve, and carelessly tosses it out the window, paying no mind to the dry conditions of the roadside vegetation. As he speeds away, the wind pushes the burning butt off the road, and it rolls into the dry grass. The first blade ignites, spreading to its neighbors. It starts with a few blades, and moves into the brush, gaining momentum as it grows, burning ever hotter as the size increases. Not too far off this isolated road is a forest, and the fire is picking up speed and moving in that direction. Naturally, the forest floor is dry too, consisting of shed branches, bark, leaves – all in various stages of decomposition. It is quickly consumed by the fire, making good tinder to ignite the parched trees. As the trees go up, many animals are losing their homes, and those that don’t escape are consumed by the flames as well. By the time a large section of the forest is engulfed, it is burning brightly enough to be seen from a distance, and a concerned citizen places a call to the fire department. By the time the fire fighters arrive, the blaze is already out of control and moving toward the rural homes. They work quickly to try to stop the fire from reaching these homes, but it has quickly spread in all directions and is now approaching a densely populated area. Many people lose their homes, and the Fire Chief appears on the evening news the following day. Now try to imagine the interviewer asking “So you obviously don’t like wildfires, seeing as how you’re putting forth great effort to stop this one… so why do you care if it spreads? Why not focus on golf, or fishing instead?”
Is this an outrageous comparison? Maybe a little, but it helps to drive my point. Religion, like fire, continues to expand and takes out everything that stands in its way until it is extinguished or runs out of resources to burn. All hail the mighty fire/God! Religion moves in and eventually forces its way upon everyone and everything, and destroys whatever does not conform.
“But how does religion do any harm? I’m a good Christian who goes to church every Sunday, and I try to live a good life and not hurt anyone!” we often hear in protest. This is the problem with moderates. Moderates open the door to the tolerance that allows for extremists. We are told that we should respect other people’s religious beliefs because they keep to themselves and aren’t hurting anyone, but how can one differentiate between a normal quiet person from the likes of Anders Behring Breivik, or the recent Bulgaria bomber before it’s too late? Religious extremists are responsible for the deaths of doctors, the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, and are behind countless wars – providing evidence that religion causes irreconcilable differences between people and cultures. Religion stands in the way of medical and scientific advancement. With the world population already out of control and struggling to keep up with resources and food, religion wants to ban birth control while simultaneously squawking about scientists ‘playing god’ by genetically modifying plants and animals in efforts to keep up with demand. Stem cells can be used to grow new organs (i.e., save lives), and to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and heart disease… but religion stands in the way, proclaiming it as an abomination while currently-living people are suffering and dying because an organ donor cannot be found in time.
Religion tends to stamp out anything with which it disagrees. No doubt, religion and evolution are in disagreement. The theory of evolution has given way to understanding how diseases work and allowed medicine to advance. Today, we have mounds of empirical evidence supporting the theory of evolution, but it is vehemently denied by religion because it conflicts with the idea of creationism. Creationism is a hypothesis that was dreamt up thousands of years ago and has zero evidence to support it, nor has it ever aided in advancing science and medicine. Religion seeks to ban the teaching of evolution in schools, and replace it with the myth of creationism as ‘truth’. That’s a definite step in the wrong direction for the continued survival of our species. We will have a new black plague knocking down our doors in no time.
As done in 325 CE by Emperor Constantine and the first council of Nicaea, religion loves to rewrite history to favor itself. The Council inserted divinity into the stories of Jesus, borrowing heavily from other mythologies, and discarded the bits they didn’t care for, all in an effort to keep the people of Rome under control. Congratulations are in order for Constantine, as he has managed to stay in control of over 2 billion people 1675 years after his death. Today, we have Texas trying to rewrite history. There are attempts to remove Thomas Jefferson from the history books and replace him with Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone – simply because they disagree with Jefferson’s secular views. But on the other hand, we have David Barton claiming to have evidence of the secular history of Thomas Jefferson being a lie. This is religion desperately trying to deny the separation of church and state, labeling it as a conspiracy from the ‘godless leftists’.
Not everyone is going to see eye to eye on every topic. For example, I don’t smoke, drink or get high… I’ve outgrown that, but I don’t care if others do these things, provided they are A) of age and B) doing so responsibly without endangering anyone else. They know the risks, and they make their own choices. But if someone is giving cigarettes to a 13-year-old or getting behind the wheel after a night of binge drinking, then I draw the line. I’m a heterosexual, but I don’t care if someone else’s sexual orientation differs from mine as long as they’re keeping it consensual; but rape is always wrong, regardless if it is homo or heterosexual in nature.
The bottom line is that religion is mythology, just as dogs are canines and cats felines. Believers are trying to hinder advancement and suppress basic human rights in the name of this mythology – and that is wrong. Religion often discriminates against people (i.e., women), and attempts to control its followers with absolute obedience in exchange for empty promises of rewards in an afterlife. This in itself is brilliant marketing, because there is zero chance for buyer’s remorse!
Religion spreads like wildfire, consuming everything in its path, and attempts to spread as far as it can. If you disagree, then please do provide me with a valid argument for missionaries. Religion causes otherwise ordinary people to do extraordinarily crazy things, and to hurt themselves or others; things that these people wouldn’t do under any other circumstances.
So that’s why an atheist obsesses over religion. We care about religion in the same way every sane person cares about a knife-wielding psychopath roaming freely through the city streets.
*This in no way advocates that one believer should kill another, just pointing out what the bible says.
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