Six Arguments Against Religion III: Think For Yourself

The Master is content to serve as an example, not impose her will. Sharp but not cutting, pointed but not piercing, straightforward but flexible, brilliant but not blinding. Tao Te Ching 58

In the previous two parts of this series, I’ve tackled two arguments against religion — that it gives a poor return on investment, and that it encourages hypocrisy. In this part I look at another argument: that religion encourages too much reliance on doctrine, rather than experimentation or thinking for yourself.

If you’re depending on clergy, or any Wisdom Handed Down From On High, to save your soul, I have to agree:  this is actually a huge, huge problem. Too many people simply believe what they’re told — by people who have a vested interest in controlling them, in maintaining positions of power, in keeping people ignorant of the real facts and subservient. They want mindless obedience; they deliberately sow confusion; they undermine your belief in your ability to think independently. They don’t want you to question the beliefs you grew up with, or the decisions of those in power, the marching orders you’re given.

Wait, are we still just talking about religion?

Imagine if people were automatons who always followed orders. Who would gain from that? The clergy, obviously, but also the military, the government, the corporations, the banks…

Religion, as I said above, is like any other human institution: flawed and corruptible. This is not a reason to mistrust religion in particular, any more than any other institution. But a healthy suspicion is called for in all cases. Governments, corporations, and religious institutions like to set themselves up as “experts” who are in the know and whom you can rely on to make your decisions for you. Be suspicious when one government accuses another of being belligerent. Be suspicious when a corporation spends millions of dollars to fund scientific studies. Be suspicious when a religion says they are the only path to heaven.

But balance is required here. Should you be suspicious when a teacher tells you you have to learn calculus if you’re going to graduate high school? Maybe the teacher is in the pay of the all-powerful calculus corporations…

Teachers, food and arms inspectors, greenhouse gas studies, and spiritual guidance are all necessary — or at least, extremely convenient. We shouldn’t just give it all up and trust only our own instincts. There are people and institutions out there who are doing good work and are reliable guides. But know you are taking a risk when you trust them. Don’t believe them just because your parents did.

The most reliable teachers, I’ve found, are those who are not trying to teach — the ones who teach by example. If you want to eat healthily, don’t necessarily trust scientific studies (especially if you don’t know who funded them); find people who are healthy and eat what they eat. If you’re president, and you want your nation to be at peace, find a nation at peace and act the way it does. If you want spiritual guidance, find someone you respect and learn from them. This is how the greatest teacher, Nature, does her work.

Of course, it’s kind of hard to learn calculus ‘by example’, unless you’re Isaac Newton watching the flight of birds or something. But you know what I mean. Nature is an extremely patient teacher.

And for the record, there are religions who teach in just this way. The Buddha famously exhorted his ‘followers’ to trust no one — not even him — for only they could find their own way to enlightenment. The Zen Masters say little indeed, and what they say is often very cryptic. They tend to spend a lot of time gardening.


The monastery is closed and empty; no monks live there now, and its halls are silent. Only the smell of the peach blossoms in the courtyard comes down the mountain now. Who says the monastery is empty of wisdom? — Zen saying

4 responses to “Six Arguments Against Religion III: Think For Yourself”

  1. Re:
    “Imagine if people were automatons who always followed orders. Who would gain from that? The clergy, obviously, but also the military, the government, the corporations, the banks…”

    If *all* people “were automatons who always followed orders,” it might sound like a bureaucrat’s dream: for a while … but who would be left to give those orders? Clerics, soldiers, politicians, corporation owners, bankers, and bureaucrats are people too — if they and all other people became automatons, if it was “automatons all the way up” (with never a scintilla of free will or self-motivation or independent thought among the billions living on this earth), the billions would sooner or later stumble to a halt.

    Although the folks on top often seem (and likely enough are trying hard) to convert the human race to will-less robots — each robot depending on some other, higher-ranked robot to think for it, or at least to set it some example to mimic without the need for thought —
    this could benefit the folks on top only if they, or some of them — at least one of them — remained “folks” rather than automatons: if somehow, they had been spared (or had taken measures to spare themselves and their children) from the general robotization.

    Having at least some non-automaton people around would be necessary to command all (or any) of the automatons.

    What would the one (or few) actual human[s] end up doing, sooner or later, once they had to pull the strings of six billion will-less, automaton others sharing the planet? (or even if they merely had to pull the strings of a few robots, who would in turn command their robot subordinates, who would in turn command their robot subordinates … )
    Well, to judge from what we humans know of ourselves …

    … most of us have noticed that any human (even a very, very smart human) finds it quite hard enough, thank you, to be the decision-maker, the order-giver or sole owner or “driver,” for just his or her own life. (That’s why parenting is tough: children aren’t automata, but in many/most contexts they do need a “driver” of sorts until they are rational and informed enough to “drive for themselves.”)

    What sane human in a world of mostly automatons would freely choose to spend life as the automaton-driver: the sole decision-maker and order-giver for 6,000,000,000+ will-less automaton “people”?)

    What sane human would (even if s/he could) volunteer to “drive” even just 1,000,000,000 or 1,000,000 or 1,000 or 100 or 10 automatons through the motions of being people?

    A sane person wouldn’t do it unless someone forced him/her at gunpoint to do it — and just who would point the gun? (The automatons cannot point the gun & force that decision — they can only obey. So it would have to be a person pointing the gun: and what kind of person would force another into actions that nobody sane would voluntarily undertake on his/her own? Hint: the answer to that question is not the word “sane.”)

    Sooner or later, a world of all (or mostly) automatons won’t be anywhere near as comfortable for the folks on top as (it seems) they imagine. If they ever get what they’re asking for, they’ll regret it.


  2. I was reading a friend’s blog and thought of your recent posts on religion. Not his words – he channels.


  3. Kate, I think you’re right. 🙂 I think if you asked any of the movers and shakers, the ones at the top of the hierarchies, they’d say they didn’t want to control everyone really… but it sure would be nice if everyone bought our products, or if everyone would just follow the rules of the One True Church, or whatever…

    Michelle, that’s very interesting! And it certainly seems to be sound advice, especially since it agrees with my own thoughts. 😉


  4. Daily Spiritual Tools Avatar
    Daily Spiritual Tools

    I think there are probably more than six reasons to question organized religion. The difference for me is that when someone- priest, minister, rabbi, guru, or some other spiritual expert, tries to tell me that the only way to “enlightnemnet” is through him or her, I bolt in the opposite direction. Spiritual communities are healthy as long as they respect differences and have people thinking for themselves. In my own spiritul practice, I learn from interacting with others, but don’t “depend” on them. Thanks for the discussion. Namaste, Sherry
    I’ll be back, I’m mow a follower.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: