Sometimes I run into some really lucid, spot-on comments and posts while wandering through the Atheosphere, that I feel the need to share. Over at Freethought Blogs, there are so many thoughtful, interesting posts that it’s hard to keep up with them. I like the idea of congregating much of the Atheosphere in one place, but on the other hand, it can be overwhelming, with much of the forest lost for the trees.
So I share this one tree for those that missed it. Let me set it up for you before I cut and paste the quote. JT Eberhard mentioned a debate he had with a physicist from Kansas on the topic of the irreconcilability of science and religion, complimenting his opponent’s humility in the debate, and the fact that he honestly admired him, despite the fact they were on opposite sides in the culture war. A hazard of the trade, so to speak. One commenter took issue with his metaphorical contention that “religions must die” and pointed out that even Stalin with all his resources and power, was unable to accomplish that, and failed in the end. Another commenter then posted this:
Because there was no possible reason anyone could have wanted them overthrown apart from atheism, right?
Or maybe their regimes self destructed because they were murderous lunatics. That happens to murderous theocratic regimes too. Atheism isn’t the deciding factor you seem to wish it to be.
But you’re right, trying to stamp out religion with a jackboot doesn’t work. Guess what? There are christians in Saudi Arabia, despite it being a crime. So if a fanatical theocracy can’t stamp out religions, what can?
Time, education, and patience will do it.
Religions can die. Where are the worshipers of mighty Zeus? Where is the temple of Mithras? Who calls upon the legendary wisdom of old one-eyed Odin? History is littered with the insubstantial corpses of gods.
Why did these religions die? Their followers stopped believing. Sometimes they found a “better” god, sometimes they were converted by the point of a sword (relgions are rarely happy to coexist). But lately, over the last few centuries, there has been an alternative. Atheism, and simple rationality are an alternative.
We don’t need Thor to explain lightning. We don’t sacrifice an animal to ensure the sun rises after the solstice. The role of gods has gone from movers and shakers of the world, responsible for everything around us, to touchy-feely things you have “other ways of knowing about” and as a catch all explanation of things unknown. Religion may not be dying just yet, but it’s sure getting feeble in this age of reason.
Your god can feed thousands of people with some loaves and fishes according to an unsubstantiated claim. Agriculture and irrigation can feed thousands of people for years – in the right circumstances, indefinitely. Your messiah can walk on water. Aerospace engineers can build machines that fly through the sky. Your god looks down on the earth and sees it all laid out before him. Satellites can do the same – and pick out signs of planets in orbit around other stars. Your god cast out demons. Polio and smallpox have been eradicated by vaccination.
Your god is so feeble even the “amazing tales” told in his holy book are exceeded so often we don’t even think about it. Religion might never die, but one day we might look back at your god and laugh that anyone was impressed by little party tricks.
JT also pointed out that this was “gold“. I agree.
More to the point, religion will “die” when people don’t need it anymore. That won’t come when the world is perfect, because a perfect world is somewhat impossible. And it won’t come when people find something better than their religion, like drugs, or sex, or even an alternative religion. It will come when people become educated to the nonsense, the fairy tales, the wishful thinking that comprises the essence of all religion. Education is the key, and it’s partly why most religions fear the educated congregation. It’s why we even have debates about the conflict between science and religion, because religion fears science and its clear explanatory power. Once people are educated in science, and understand that it has a track record of near 100% in explaining those mysteries of nature it has set its sight on, while religion has a 0% track record, religion will simply die away.
There is a correlation between relatively uneducated, third world countries and the propensity for religion, in such places as the Muslim world, South America and Africa. Conversely, the first world countries are less dependent on religion. This can be partly explained by education. The relative education levels in these countries means that people are more exposed to rationality, reason and science, and find that their religious beliefs don’t cut it any more. A clear exception to this rule appears to be the United States. I say “appears” because I think religion is working very hard to generate a false appearance of religiosity in America. It’s why the churches generate fake controversies (intelligent design v. evolution, gay marriage, etc) to keep the passions stirred up, when most people are secular in their day to day lives, while paying lip service to their religious affiliation. What we are seeing is not really a resurgence of religious belief, but the death rattle of a stagnate belief system. Knowledge trumps superstition and magic every time, and it’s only a matter of time before it supersedes the delusions of religion in this country.
So says my optimistic self.
H/T J T
[EDIT] And since it’s Valentines Day, I figured this would be appropriate:
You know what else, along with religious rituals, humans always have engaged in? Getting drunk or high. Escapism is too engrained in our being human for it to go away, but much like how those ancient gods got replaced, so to will the current crop by video games, Facebook, or whatever else comes down the pike. Whatever provides the better comfort or high, if you will, wins. It’s as simple as that.
Think about what religion has tried to crush, censor or regulate over its history (aside from sex). The theater, art, alcohol, music, dance, radio, film, television, books, the internet, games, see a commonality? Rival forms of escapism.
I wonder why those goddamned Trappist monks are such great brewers then. Full disclosure: I am on my second pint of Trappist ale…
Here’s the problem in regards to many people. While it is absolute fact that when it comes to the answers we DO have, science and reason are what provides those answers – there will ALWAYS be unanswered questions. If nothing else, new scientific discoveries also make space for new extended lines of inquiry. Unfortunately, a lot of people (no matter how educated) can’t seem to live with these unknowns and have to have the instant gratification of an answer – no matter how hollow. Magic has always worked at that moment. It will continue to.
The comment was as concise and perfect an argument as I’ve recently seen. It never occurred to me to argue that every individual Jesus botherer is capable by himself of far exceeding the miraculous bullshit attributed to Jesus.