I wanted to write this blog post in response to a post I read yesterday about the way children are often indoctrinated to religion at an early age and how people are encouraged just to believe blindly instead of doing their own thinking. I agree with the writer on all these points but I don’t agree that all religion should be abolished. I genuinely don’t believe that religion is the fundamental problem. The problem is people’s universal tendency to dig potholes and shoot, if not bullets, at least sarcastic comments, at each other.
I do believe religion as such can be dangerous. Religion is not logical but rests on faith and scripture that overrides any fresh evidence to the contrary. Any system of thought with that starting point is dangerous, religious or not. But does that mean we should abolish religion? Personally, I think we should strive to abolish ignorance and bigotry instead. Why? Because religion is to many people a deeply rewarding experience that absolutely harms no one. In fact, most religions promote decent things such as the Golden rule. If we take away religion and keep the ignorance and bigotry, we’re way worse off than we started. Even more importantly, history has shown us that denying people their chance at religion simply doesn’t work. Abolition didn’t work with alcohol, and it doesn’t work with religion. It only makes the potholes deeper.
I’m an Atheist but I don’t indoctrinate my children into Atheism. If they ask me, I tell them what I believe and what the basis for that is. I tell them different people believe different things. I believe my information is better than religious information since it holds up to logic and scientific scrutiny, but my kids have the right to form their own opinions. When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to choose, but I had the opportunity to grow into choosing. Schools here in Finland mostly teach science, not faith. What my kids need is access to all the information that’s out there, and the psychological freedom to make up their own minds. With those things provided, I’m confident their conclusions will be the right ones. And if they’re not the same as mine, that’s cool, too. They’ll be the right ones for them.
My parents believe in God, and I’ve always felt religion makes them happier, like it was a sturdy, dream-inducing hammock. Most of the time religion seems to help them live a better, more fulfilled life. Most people choose to believe in God not because of the immutable logic, but because religion provides them comfort. Religion makes sense of things that are otherwise incomprehensible, like death and evil. Religion makes people feel safe, since God is the ultimate helicopter parent. Or at least that is what the marketing department says. I don’t believe those things, but I almost wish I could. Escapism is popular for a reason.
Traditions form a great part of religion’s attractiveness. I like traditions, personally. I’m not sure I’d want to be an Atheist if it meant giving up Christmas (in this context it’s good to remember that Christmas is originally a pagan holiday). I’ve had my kids christened and the ceremony made me cry. I love these rituals, I even love churches. People in general have this primordial need to bang the drum and come together, form circles and lift hands in blessing. It’s deep in our genetic make-up and I don’t think we have to give that up just because we’re giving God up. Even if there is no God, the experiences we have of sacredness and holiness can be real. They can even be very important. They may be all in our heads, but you know what? So is happiness.
In the old days people believed in God since God was the only way we had of making sense of the world. But times have changed. We now have a much better idea of what and where we are. We float in space, a speck of material in an ever-expanding universe. The world is truly strange and mysterious, and we understand it better every day. I don’t think we’ll ever understand it all. We’re only human. But there is something magnificent about trying, and not just closing our eyes to the wonderful world out there.
I believe that bigotry, which is essentially lack of conversation, is one of the most dangerous human qualities, whether it’s linked to religion or atheism. Every time someone says: “I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s no discussion” we close up a bit. Every time we talk about things in a friendly, respectful tone, we open our hearts and make the world a better place. I know many religious people who are more than capable of doing that.
Now that I’ve written it, this text seems a little conflicted. It may seem like I’m defending religion on all counts, but that’s not what I want to say. Like any people-built system, religion can go both ways, to extreme good and bad. Instead, I want to support everyone’s individual right to think for themselves, supported by adequate evidence. If under these circumstances their thought process leads to God while mine leads to absence of God, what can I say. People are different. We will never change that, nor should we try.
I would love to have some conversation around this. Please, feel free to disagree. You don’t have to believe what I believe. You don’t have to like me. But I hope you’ll talk with me.