I’m an antitheist. I don’t think, on balance, that religion functions as a force for good in the 21st century. Seven reasons:
- Religion perpetuates women’s inequality. One element of religion that is quite bad, and that makes me an antitheist, not merely an agnostic or atheist, is the male gender bias that tends to adhere to it. Most religions are patriarchal: they conceive of God as male, do not let women into the center of their governing and theorizing structures, and condition members–female and male–to idealize, and submit their wills to, male authoritarians.
- Religion discourages independent thought and values. Religions encourage the outsourcing of thoughts and values to authorities. In other words, another good reason to be an antitheist is to avoid getting sucked into a dynamic in which you’re made to feel that your thoughts and values need religious sanction. By conceding this to a religious institution–by outsourcing your thoughts and values–your life gets hijacked to that institution and its agendas.
- Religion promotes homophobia. Don’t even get me started on this one.
- Religion sets one up for hypocrisy. Wherever a religion’s demands are high (such as with Jesus telling his followers to sell all they have and give it to the poor), believers are drawn into hypocrisy. They can’t live up to it. And where one can’t live up to something conceded to be “good,” one ends up looking for forgiveness; of being put into the role of the guilty petitioner seeking pardon from a “superior.” Not a good dynamic to get into with others. Not even with God.
- Religion sets one up to be shadowed by doubt. Wherever beliefs are absurd, as with Protestant fundamentalists who believe in young Earth creationism, intelligent believers are driven into cycles of doubt where they try to counter them by talking themselves into believing implausible and ridiculous things. This is done through practicing such bad habits as confirmation bias (counting the hits, but not the misses, in one’s pet theory), epistemic closure (not reading books written by those outside the faith, etc.), and cognitive dissonance (bracketing off beliefs from each other in such a way that they don’t cohere–and you don’t care or notice that they don’t cohere). Such practices corrupt the critical faculties. What is needed is not boosterism (“Get with the program, stay with the program, don’t doubt the program!”), but unfettered inquiry–and religion too frequently discourages or subverts unfettered inquiry.
- Religion sets one up for submission and servility. The failure to live up to the dogmas and the highest “ideals” of the institution, draws congregants into a psychological cycle of subservience, abjectly asking forgiveness of God for not valuing what God values, and taking cues from religious leaders as to how much hypocrisy one can get away with and still call oneself a “Buddhist,” a “Christian,” a “Muslim”–or whatever. And there are always a few people within a religious group who are especially “good” (they practice the religion with a high degree of consistency and believe without the least doubt even the most absurd of its doctrines). Their “good” example gives them power within the group, and sets the majority up for cycles of guilt and idealization in relation to this minority. But holding saintly subservience and childlike faith (stupidity) up as an ideal for emulation is not a good idea. It can open one up to manipulation by confidence men and hucksters (religious or political), and it discourages the questioning of authority. What the world needs in the 21st century are more critical thinkers and whistle-blowers, not head-covered saints, eyes directed at the ground.
- Religion motivates with a combination of love and threat. Religions can be highly, highly manipulative, motivating with powerful carrots and sticks. They love bomb new members, for example, then entwine them into a community (those are the carrots), even as they threaten shunning and hell for any who might give up on the community and cease to believe at some later date (those are the sticks). Such a system of rewards and punishments amounts to institutionalizing The Stockholm Syndrome, where love and threat are coming from the same source.
Better, I think, is to get to a place in life where you value what you value, and think what you think, and you don’t care what Jesus values or thinks, or God values or thinks, or your co-workers value or think, or the majority in this or that religion values or thinks. That is, you derive your values and thoughts from engagement with your own inner resources.
As an alternative to theistic seriousness, I like Emily Dickinson’s irony, play, independence, and blasphemy in the poem below. It nicely represents the emotional place one can get to where it’s okay to talk about religion in a non-cowed manner (call her an anti-theist if you like as well):
God is indeed a jealous God
He cannot bear to see
That we had rather not with Him
But with each other play.
antitheism _is_ independence. It’s a shame that more people do not realize that being independent means antitheism with regard to religion. You cannot be independent of thought without being antitheist. It really is that simple. To be other than antitheist is to subscribe to some form of religious tyranny.
Entertaining optimism and idealism, but like all the Quixote’s before you, you will not be much noted by the windmills. Choices and actions have consequences – those who chose no religion have been extinct thirty thousand years, those who chose Christianity have dominated the world for five hundred years. Today, the peoples and nations who move away from religion see their presence in the world wane. Largely non-religious Europe and Japan are shadows of their stature a century ago.
Rushed that – it should suggest that at a society wide level of no religion, not an individual level. individuals can function without religion within a religious community.
I think it’s interesting that you only address the sociological/economic consequences of not being religious. You don’t actually defend the (acurate) way I’ve described religion as functioning. How is it that such a bad tree produces good fruit (in your view)?
By aiming my pen at the real villains in this tragic opera: the brutal, inscrutable humans who will not behave themselves in the absence of supernatural coercion.
It is the malfeasance of man that makes religion necessary.
Now we’re making progress. You have a thesis to work with. We need the irrational terrors of hell and the carrots of heavenly reward to govern irrational apes. We simply “will not behave…absent supernatural coercion.”
Of course, the problem here is that the supernatural never intervenes. God didn’t stop Hitler, for example. And so I take it that you mean that some authority (the Catholic Church or some sort of Church wed to the State) is necessary to threaten punishments and enforce order to keep the apes in line.
But there are secular governments all over the world that keep the apes in line without religion. Japan is an obvious example, as are the Scandinavian countries of Europe. Even the United States has a crime rate as low as it was 50 years ago. Things aren’t getting worse morality-wise. Your critique is not taking into account social structures that don’t require religion to maintain order.
And if irrational religion (the sort I’ve described in this post above, the most common sort) is not necessary for maintaining secular order, then what good is it?
Why should we support institutions that promote faith over doubt, women’s inequality, gay inequality, servility before dubious authorities, and the terrors of hell to young and impressionable minds? Why?
Ever been to Japan? Hundreds of temples. Europe? Thousands of churches. Wherever there is no organized religion, there is no civilization. Never has there been an exception to that rule. You should support religion because you don’t want everybody living in caves.