Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A World Without Religion

My point is not that religion itself is the motivation for wars, murders and terrorist attacks, but that religion is the principal label, and the most dangerous one, by which a "they" as opposed to a "we"can be identified at all.
-—Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, noted atheist, and popular speaker,
The Devil's Chaplain

My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance—but for us, not for God.
—Albert Einstein [1879-1955], Nobel laureate in physics

Some people subscribe to the thinking that religion is the root cause of all the world's evils. Thus, as the thinking goes, and this is in its simplest form, if all religious belief and practices were eliminated from the face of the earth, then, ipso facto, hate and wars would be eliminated.

It's obvious that discussions revolving around religion cause a lot of pain and anguish in people. The reasons, I suspect, are always almost personal. (It's certainly true in my case, as I struggle with my religious faith and practice.)

To be sure, atheists have every right to broadcast their views, make them known and convince others of their merit. It's good for democracy. In an open democracy, debate is welcome, where opponents and proponents ought to be able to speak in a forceful yet courteous and civil manner on any discourse. Ad hominen attacks, however, do little to advance a point of view and only cause rancour and anger. It does little for democracy.

Yet, the atheist position is weak.  On the position of morality, for example, one could question whether atheists adopted a morality from the culture in in which they were residing, thereby benefiting from a kind of halo effect. That is, the surrounding culture informs everyone's morality. (Atheists, of course, argue differently.)

Equally important is looking at the history of surveillance, repression, and mass murder of dissidents in socialist states, such as the Soviet Union, the eastern bloc, and the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution, when atheism was the official state ideology. (There are many articles, books and papers coming out on this dark period in history, notably in Russia, as writers, journalists, historians and academics continue searching through the once-secret archives.)

Leaving the issue of morality for another time, I offer the following thoughts.  One can undoubtedly point at the atrocities committed in the name of religion throughout history. And it's likely that no major religion is immune from this charge. Yes, major acts of horror and barbarity have been committed in the name of religion, religious belief and faith acting as its justification.

No one of sane mind and sober intellect can condone such wanton hatred and violence. I join those who are committed to its elimination.

But, then again, the record of secular, or non-religious, leaders has hardly been worthy of honour or esteem. The list of mass murderers include the likes of Messieurs Hitler, Stalin. Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein, all devoted secularists, whose record of mass murder, destruction and ethnic cleaning is unparalleled in modern times.

One can easily summon a list of people—both of the faithless and the faithful—who have used their position of supreme authority to commit torture, mass murder and other evil acts. That only proves that hate and murder are universal evils that are extremely stubborn and difficult to stamp out.

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa: Leonardo  Da Vinci is the quintessential Renaissance Man.  What a poorer world it would be without such masterpieces. DaVinci's religious views informed his work, including one of the world's most-famous paintings.[This is a photographic reproduction done by Amandajm, June 2010. The original painting can be found in the Louvre in Paris, France].
Christianity remains the religion with the highest number of followers, claiming 2.0 billion followers, reports Adherents.com, or about one-third of the world's people. It's small wonder, then, why Christianity becomes a lightning rod for criticism: It's the majority. And this also explains why scientists, many whom were  brought up to some degree in the Christian faith, feel a need to attack it and dismantle its apparatus.

Yet, such thinking is without merit, and I say this as someone who is not a Christian, yet respect its culture and history. I say this, as well, as someone who has neither a particular axe to grind nor a religion to promote. Consider what, for example, the Christian world of art, music and literature has given us.

Would we be richer without such works as DaVinci's "Mona Lisa," or Handel's "Messiah" or Milton's Paradise Lost, to name only a few great examples? How about the great works of literature and poetry by Dante, Dostoevski and T.S. Eliot that bring so much meaning to people's lives. This argument ought not to be dismissed or easily discarded.

As for scientists who claimed Christianity as their religion, the list is too numerous to mention. Suffice to say, you can include Newton, Galileo and DaVinci among the leading lights whose work and thinking advanced science. Albert Einstein, who might not have been a man of great religious faith, was certainly no enemy of it either.

What I suspect the advocates of a world without religion want is an unfettered ability to carry out their scientific endeavors without any religious objections, and to reside in a world in peace. The former needs further examination and discussion, and any raised objections to scientific progress ought to be looked at judiciously, and not only by scientists, as there is too much at stake. The latter, on the issue of peace, I join them. I too long for a world devoid of hatred and violence. I too long for fairness and justice. I too long for a lasting peace.

Yet, pointing the finger at Religion is no solution. Even so, it is highly unlikely that religious belief would ever vanish, given that about 80 per cent of the world have declared some religious affiliation. And to use scientific language, the probability of success is low. That shows most people cannot find meaning solely in a rational materialistic universe. Most people need transcendence, and religion provides that comfort to many of the world, notably to the world's poor, beaten and downtrodden.

Even if atheists were somewhat successful in their campaign to eviscerate religion from its foundations or neuter it, such actions would add nothing to repairing or improving the world, even for scientific inquiry. It might result in a lot more harm, following the law of unintended consequences.

Truly, the problem lies elsewhere, and not solely at the doorstep of religion.

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