I am at the moment writing a book on religion and its influence. What follows is a brief snippet of the thought that serves as a starting point for the thesis of the book. And since I haven’t received much hate mail this week, I thought I’d get some going….
Religion and Religious Intolerance: a Redundancy
What we might now call primitive religion was first employed as an explanatory model for the mysterious and baffling world inhabited by our primitive ancestors. Killing earthquakes, capricious weather, the sun and moon in the sky, the vastness and incomprehensible power of the ever-changing ocean; all these were beyond the grasp of the earliest humans, so fanciful stories were told to provide plausible accounts for the otherwise inexplicable. Existence itself was the greatest mystery of all, and consequently gods and creation myths were developed as existential explanations.
But where it all went wrong was when clans grew and diverged, resulting in separate societies and different cultures. As societies and cultures differed, the members developed and held firmly to their own mythologies and prized their distinctiveness as part of their cultural identities. These mythologies, which became entrenched, helped the societies coalesce and they solidified the uniqueness of each group; as a survival mechanism, those differences were grasped with increasing fervour. It was the gods and the legends of each individual society that served to distinguish them from other, alien cultures. Each society clung to their religion in the way a football team or an L.A. gang adheres to its colours or other distinguishing characteristics. The logic or rationality of those characteristics is irrelevant; it is the fact that they separate the members from the non-members that is important.
The primary social role, therefore, of religion is to guarantee the separation and distinctions among people. Its most basic purpose is to ensure that each religion and each member of that religion feels simultaneously different and superior to those who are outside of the group. The purpose of religion is to create division and therefore conflict among people. But that is only one of the reasons that a truly enlightened civilisation would treat all religious belief with a sort of contemptuous tolerance, much the same way we might treat a person with a harmless but mildly revolting and grotesque sexual fetish.
However, modern manifestations of religion don’t stop at merely emphasising and perpetuating the differences among human beings; the truly religious don’t believe that they have done their duty until they ensure that their religion predominates. Religion doesn’t stop at holding other beliefs in contempt; it seems to require that its members do whatever they can to eradicate other religions.
North American Christians are proud of demanding that their beliefs, no matter how absurd,
are taught to all children as literal truth in the place of genuine science; some true believers don’t even hesitate to kill those with whom they disagree…just look at the various abortion providers who have been murdered in the name of some Christian’s idea of what his god demands. Islamic jihadists blissfully die in their efforts to kill those with whom they differ. Apologists will insist that those are aberrant fringe elements, fanatics…that they don’t represent mainstream religion. But it is important to recognise that this sociopathic behaviour is only aberrant in a statistical sense. These murderers and lesser fanatics are only carrying out the primary purpose of religion. They are standing up for their tribal icons.
And it is for that reason that simple contempt and disgust at the concept of religion is insufficient. While it is possible to be tolerant of, say, a person whose sexual proclivities run to bestiality (providing they keep their perversions to themselves and don’t talk about them), it is not possible for a rational person to be tolerant of one whose basic principle of life is a religious one. That person, rhetoric and rationalisation aside, espouses the superiority of his cult over all others, and tacitly, if not explicitly, advocates the eradication of those who do not share his perverse worldview. That travesty must be seen as profoundly corrosive in a modern world and simply should not be tolerated in normal society. While legally prohibiting religion is neither just nor likely to succeed, religion…all religion… ought to be seen as an obscenity within a global society.
Because of the vile nature of all religions, a person who publically espouses a belief in his personal cult, by public prayer, by invoking his god’s blessings, or by wearing the symbolism of his cult, ought to be seen by the rest of us in much the same way we would look upon someone who, in a restaurant or other public place, decides to drop his pants and defecate on the floor. His beliefs and resulting behaviour are deeply offensive to humanity and that offense should be shunned by anyone who believes in human equality and justice.
Intolerance and tribal hatred…the very lifeblood of religion…should never be acceptable to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It is time religion is ended by the simple expedient of the rational people on earth choosing to stop tolerating its evils.
I will have much more to say on this subject when the book I am writing on religion and its pernicious influence is published.