After my “Evil Christianity” post a few weeks back, I’ve continued to think about issues of religion and belief. While my own ideas haven’t changed much, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss matters online and offline with a number of friends, both pro- and anti-religion. These six arguments against religion are ones I’ve personally found the most intriguing and compelling.
There are other arguments, but they are mostly variants or derivatives the ones in this list, or are simply blatantly wrong. A couple of quick examples of the latter:
Science Says There Is No God.
The argument here is that Science can find no evidence of God, hence he does not exist. This argument shows a misunderstanding of both religion and science. It’s true that some religions still make claims about the world that are demonstrably false — that everything started less than 10,000 years ago, that evolution doesn’t happen, etc. — but the larger purpose of religion is to provide answers to universal questions about purpose and meaning, and a framework of moral belief and action. For this, the history and structure of the universe is not necessarily relevant. Modern religions rarely claim history, biology, and cosmology as matters of faith. And God is, by his nature, not something you can perform experiments on; so science simply has nothing to say about him.
An Omnipotent God is Logically Inconsistent.
Can God create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it? Why would an omnipotent God allow evil into the world? These are great questions. The first, simplest answer is that God isn’t omnipotent. I subscribe to this view. Another is that God is omnipotent, but can’t do things that are logically impossible (like make 2 + 1 = 4, or create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it, or give humans free will while preventing them from doing evil). Another view is that God is omnipotent, and our little biochemical brains just don’t know all the answers.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s tackle some harder ones. I’m going to progress from the simpler ones to the subtler ones. The arguments are:
- If your religion is false, you’ve wasted years of your time, money, and life.
- Religious beliefs are frequently inconsistent.
- Religion discourages independent thought and encourages submissiveness.
- Religion encourages violence and disrespect of others by dividing people into the “in” group and the “out” group.
- Religion discourages true virtue by setting up laws and punishments.
- Picking just one belief system and sticking with it is not the best path.
Religion: A Poor Return on Investment?
What if your beliefs are wrong?
Most religions require a significant investment of time, money, and effort. Besides learning all the rituals, the stories, the histories, the laws and regulations, there’s all the sermons you listen to. Most religions require (or at least very strongly suggest) that you support them monetarily, as well, and trust that the money is being put to good use.
If your religion is wrong, then… well, it’s a huge, huge waste. Add up all the wasted time and money from one person, and multiply by billions of believers, and it’s a staggering total.
Pascal’s famous wager (you might as well believe in God, because if he’s real you gain tremendously, and if he’s not you’ve lost nothing) doesn’t take these costs into account. Perhaps they’re a small price to pay in exchange for your soul, but it’s still a significant part of your life that you aren’t getting back. And if you’ve chosen the wrong religion, you’ve really lost out. How can you know which one is right?
It’s like you’re standing outside the gates of the City of God, and to get in, you’ve got to buy the right badge. And there are a bunch of people standing outside, trying to sell you badges. Which is the right one? Is it the most expensive one? The shiniest? The one you personally like best? The one sold by the most trustworthy face? The one your parents bought?…
This is a serious issue. But this problem isn’t unique to religion. For any human endeavor — whether it’s trying to find breakfast, or trying to go to the moon — there are risks involved, and the possibility of losing everything. The difference here is that the churches of the world have raised the stakes considerably, by claiming infallibility, and by saying that your very soul is on the line. The stakes have become so high that violence tends to erupt between factions.
It is essential to realize that religion is a human construction, a tool for reaching and communicating with Spirit. Like any human construction, it is fallible and faulty in some places, genius in others. Recognize this and know the risks before you enter into it; and look with understanding and compassion on those who work with different tools.
Of course, knowing this just makes it even more difficult to choose a badge, doesn’t it? So consider these questions.
Why do you think you can’t you make your own badge? After all, you want something done right, you should do it yourself. For something as important as this, you want the highest possible quality.
Why do you think you have to wear just one badge? The people selling you badges tend to frown on that, but if they’re like most people, they just want all your money, and your children’s as well.
Why do you think you’re outside the City of God?
In the other posts in this series, I’ll tackle the other arguments. Next up: inconsistency.