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.