The three ‘great’ monotheistic religions of the world, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam with their central figure being God, the Personal Lord and creator and sustainer of the Universe, have arguably had more influence and have perhaps shaped our world more significantly than any other system of thought. (Supposedly) owing their foundations to Abraham, these religions evolved in close proximity to each other in terms of their overall structure, although it is the detailing that has led to violent and severe conflicts. The three principle texts of the believers of the three faiths namely the ‘Tanakh’, The Bible and The Qur’an have also allegedly been sent to Earth, through means and in forms, by the same God, although the last in the list, the Qur’an, claims to be the final and superior among its peers in the sense that its necessity was validated because previous versions of God’s Word simply got corrupted (leaves one wondering why the omnipotent and omniscient creator Lord of the Universe, who assumedly fine tuned the entire cosmos and created the most minute to the largest and most complex forms of life and intelligence, could not ensure that this relatively trivial feat of ‘inspiring’ the perfect book was ensured in one go, if the passionate claims of many Muslims are to be given any worth). For instance, the Quran specifically denies Christ as being the begotten Son of God, and describes him as just another prophet, and even goes so far as to say that calling Jesus of Nazareth the Son is untrue and that Christ was never actually crucified(Quran 9:30, 112:1-4, 4:157, 171)The Bible, on the other hand, warns of eternal hellfire for those who do not obey this to be true (Thessalonians 1:8,9) and exalts God’s greatness by giving up his own Son for the benefit of mankind (including those who weren’t even born) in John 3:16. If I were God, I would have seen to it that such an important detail be clarified immediately, thereby avoiding much unnecessary disturbance and disagreements which the omniscient God most certainly foresaw and being omnipotent could have prevented. Sadly, neither happened.
All that aside, this being, the creator of the world, who allegedly willed everything into existence(Qur’an 2: 117, Genesis 1:1) and who is claimed as an entity above human intelligence and ‘ways’ (Isaiah 55:8-9 ) will be revealed upon a cursory reading of the texts and a perfunctory attention to the essentials of the religion(s) to the layman as one who behaves more or less like any human tyrant in a position of power would behave like. The Bible and the Qur’an are scattered with repeated assertions of this (very insecure) deity of being the one and only Creator and Saviour, and details consequences for not believing in the same (Isaiah 45: 21,22, Exodus, 20:2, 5; Qur’an 2:39). Now if a benevolent, wise and all powerful creator were indeed so, it is only to be expected that he would stop pushing this ‘fact’ down humanity’s throat every three pages. It would make us or at least me, very suspicious if a person who presented extraordinary claims kept repeating them over and over; it would make one doubt its validity and that person’s sanity. ( I am Santa Claus and if you don’t believe that you’re not getting any presents for Christmas) However, some would argue that these are the exact qualities that would make him a ‘Personal’ God, a God so interested in the welfare of humanity and with the full intention of saving us from Hell that he takes these great pains to remind us to not commit the sin of doubting his power or taking another God; this has a modicum of merit to its credit, but it would be expected of this grand designer of the Universe to at least abide by his own strictures, for example, the abstinence from two of the seven Evils, wrath and envy. The Biblical God’s wrath is all too evident in many instances (Numbers 25, Numbers 11: 1-3, Genesis 6:8, Leviticus 10: 1-3) as well as his envy when he famously commands his followers to have no other gods besides him and mocks the idols of the pagans. Even if one bypasses the Biblical value system, from an objective point of view one would think of this grand Being as being above petty human instincts of control and retribution. But that does not seem to be the case, as even the Qur’an testifies for God’s wrath multiple times and warns of consequences of disbelief (Quran 2:6-7, 2:39, 3:4, 25:7), thus casting the first shadow of doubt over this benevolent creator who instructs us to love Him and not question Him, making him seem more like an abusive bully than a loving, benign Father figure. In a recent exchange with a Christian1 just one day prior to writing this, I received an appalling reply when I raised this point. According to that person, it was God’s ‘right’ to kill people as and when he wanted because, well, we’re his creations. He owns us. He made us and thus he can snuff us out anytime he wants. It’s his game folks, you either play by the rules or… you play by the rules. No other option. However, that person gave me a kind justification of God’s killings as well, by saying that we were lucky enough to be still allowed to live and prosper despite being ‘inherently evil’. [All this was said more or less in the context of Noah’s Flood Story] That’s right; you are ‘born’ evil as well, according to Christian doctrine. (I do not blame that particular person exclusively. Talk to any Christian who has bothered to read the Bible and they are probably going to tell you the same thing. If not, just use the magic words ‘original sin’ and Voila! Out comes the bombardment of nonsense!)
Now that a rather short and loose introduction is done with, I would like to move on to the four key points which particularly go against the theistic version of the world. During the course of this essay I will frequently be using the word ‘religion’. That can mean the monotheistic religions, Islam and Christianity in particular, or religion in general, or even both. I will try to make the difference as clear as possible. Let me being with Big Brother’s office in the sky…
THE UNENDING CELESTIAL DICTATORSHIP:
The theistic vision of God explicitly propagates (what according to me is) a tyrannical system of constant monitoring by a higher celestial watchman from whom it is impossible to escape. He knows what you do, what you do not do, what you eat, what you do with your private time and even more sinisterly: what you think. He knows everything. Every action of yours is recorded to be used to decide your fate in the afterlife. A constant test; that is what life is according to both Christianity and Islam. I find myself not only disagreeing but also a trifle bemused. Many people love to thump the argument that ‘Religion provides comfort to people and gives them meaning in life. You atheists have nothing like that to look forward to’. In that case, I would like to ask whether the feeling being constantly scrutinized, of being made to constantly submit to something that isn’t even known to exist, on the pain of torture is the comfort that the billions of Christians and Muslims combined around the world derive from their religion [The Islamic brand of this ‘comfort’ takes it to a whole new level, by the way. By definition, Islam is submission to the will of Allah. All hail Allah! (Subtle emphasis on ‘all’)]. Apart from this very idea being outright foolish from top to bottom simply because it has no evidence to support it, there are people all around me who think that it is alright to believe in and praise an eternal despot who although claims to be full of ‘unconditional’ love, is quick to cast individuals into merciless and eternal torture amounting to unspeakable degrees of pain and suffering. Though this holy being of theirs claims to be full of affection and sympathy for the downtrodden, yet he folds his hands and does nothing when he observes horrific crimes like little children being tortured and raped. Tracie Harris said on the TV show ‘The Atheist Experience’: ‘The difference between me and your God is that if I could stop a child from being raped, I would’ No matter what theodicies [arguments justifying evil in a world with a perfect God] apologists may come up with (all of which may also be debunked easily), the simple fact of the matter is that if an all knowing and all powerful being had the power to prevent dreadful misdeeds, like in this particular instance of the rape of a little girl, he should. There is no humane rebuttal to this, except for saying that the child somehow played a part in God’s Great Plan or that this experience would turn out to be good for the child or even worse, that the child deserved it somehow (which was what one of the hosts at ‘The Atheist Experience’ angrily hung up on the caller for saying). There is simply no circumstance, no greater good that is worth the sexual violation of a child. An omnipotent being should use its power in this case to prevent what is a serious evil; being all good and all wise it should have the capacity and will to undermine the result of human ‘free will’ in situations like these. If that is not true, then God should also not be granted the credit for having ‘saved’ certain people in an adverse condition like a terrorist attack; after all, he gave the terrorists free will as well and yet is being praised for ‘saving’ the potential victims (thereby undermining the free will of the terrorists). The standard theist argument from Free Will takes little note of the free will of the victim as well, it seems as if the perpetrator’s free will is somehow more important than the victim’s.
Returning to the ‘big daddy’ in the sky, what one will find after a little thought is that this faith essentially degrades a human being’s worth, his/her aspirations, opinions, thoughts, actions, decisions etc. It devalues a person’s significance because at the end of it all, you and I as humans are essentially evil, imperfect and weak creatures (Romans 5:12, Romans 3: 23). Whatever we do is under constant inspection to see if it passes some divine standard or not. The morals that come to us intuitively, the opinions that we form independently, the choices that we make freely hold no value on their own: they’re only as good as how much they fall in the LORD’s, the everlasting condemner’s favour. Even the good decisions made, the significant things achieved completely by us are not ours to own or be proud of: they come from God and as such he must be thanked for them as well! That’s all your worth is, that’s all your life is: to somehow live so that you obey the principles placed upon the world by God. I find this tenet, which happens to be central to both Christianity and Islam (the former of which simply won’t have any reason to exist had it not been for God’s great sacrifice of having his begotten Son tortured and nailed to a long piece of wood) very corrupt indeed. Quran 51: 56 very clearly says that God created men and ‘Jinns’ (whom we are yet to see evidence for, much like God) only so that they may worship him. This, I believe, is the textbook definition of narcissism, conceit and arrogance. I am definitely convinced that had it not been for the smokescreen of hallowed tradition, coupled with indoctrination of children and intimidation of adults, this idea would have rightly been treated like the joke it is. Unfortunately, people take it seriously. When they are little children and most impressionable, they are fed this revolting idea that they, by themselves, amount to nothing. That God must always be worshipped and his tenets are to be kept hallowed, or else they go to this bad, bad place where no one can help them. This is the final authority, the jealous and wrathful God that all must continuously serve and appease, for if not, we’re all doomed. And to think that his adversary, i.e. Satan, is considered the manifestation of all evil!
I don’t see how this is different from the situation described in George Orwell’s frightening dystopian novel 1984. God seems to have achieved exactly what Big Brother had in that nightmarish world. It is binding on us to love him and to worship him without question. It is obligatory for us to not even think anything that goes against what he might wish. It is not necessary for us to even know if he exists, and it is completely forbidden to question him. There is no escape from him, he is everywhere, watching everything, knowing everything, punishing anyone who dares to dissent. Replace ‘he’ and ‘him’ with Big Brother or God and you will get the scenario of a nightmarish world which Orwell warned people against or the worldview of a billion plus Christians and Muslims (who do not treat this is fiction but as the final Truth), respectively. Isn’t this disturbing? God’s tyranny extends further; there really is no escape, even after death! As Hitchens put it: ‘… it’s a celestial North Korea; but at-least you can escape from North Korea when you’re dead’ 2. To me, this is very, very unsettling. And I’m positive that it would be to thousands of theists too if only they could really open their minds to think in this direction and dare to question their own beliefs for once.
THE EXISTENCE OF HELL AND GOD’S GOODNESS AND KINDNESS:
Quran 25: 11- 18 gives a disturbing and troubling version of the alleged place where the ‘sinners’ go to: Hell.
‘And they are cast, bound together into a constricted place therein; they will plead for destruction there and then (25:13). [Sadistically enough that destruction never comes]
‘And thou wilt see the sinner bound together in fetters-‘(14:29)
‘Their garments of pitch and their faces covered with Fire; ‘(14:50)
The Bible does not lag far in presenting equally disquieting visions of hell. (Luke 16:24, Revelation 14:11)
The surmise that this alleged deity who is the Supreme master of the Universe (but funnily not of his own instincts of hatred and envy) has entrusted himself with the job of ‘judging’ souls after their lives are over leads to the creation of yet another erroneous myth: a place of terrible suffering and torture known as Hell. I have touched upon this subject in the previous paragraph, but in this one I would like to elaborate a bit further as to why I think this serves to be another blemish on this perfect being that (alone) apparently deserves all the attention, love and worship in the world.
Hell is the place where the souls of those who are judged as having been ‘sinful’ on Earth are damned to. It is the antithesis of Heaven, a place of eternal reward for those who have been judged as ‘good’ in God’s eyes. The idea of Hell itself, for one thing, is not the domain of the monotheistic religions alone. It existed in other traditions much before the great LORD of the universe decided that it was now time to own for himself a nonspecific nomadic tribe in the middle of a desert. But when incorporated in the texts of the Abrahamic religions; and as is particular to this discussion; in Christianity and Islam, it is said to be the creation of a knowing deity who sends (directly or indirectly) ‘souls’ there as punishment for their ‘sins’ on Earth. Now, the term ‘sins’ is very different, in my opinion, from ‘wrongdoings’. For ‘wrongdoing’ itself is a very vague term, depending upon context and situation, and takes many forms over time as society progresses. We have an intuitive idea of right and wrong, ethical and unethical, good and bad that comes to us through individual and collective experiences and often through our own reasoning. This basis for demarcation between right and wrong is hardly relevant when God ‘judges’ souls, though. ‘Souls are judged’ after being viewed through very constricted, authority based criteria. This limited scope of religion however, tries to inflict this flawed idea of ‘absolute morality’ which in turn births this rather stupid impression that morality cannot come from outside religion.3
From the perspective of these religions (and ideally by extension its adherents), morality must come from ‘above’. And whosoever dares to toe this line gets chucked straight to hell. I ask: How is the existence of a place like Hell compatible with the existence of an all loving and all good God? How can he, being most merciful of all, condemn somebody to this method of punishment, lasting forever and ever? The punishment for ‘crimes’ committed on Earth can never be justified as being infinite, for the life of the ‘criminal’ itself was finite and so were the duration and degree of his ‘crimes’. That God lacks this instinct either means that his basic nature of empathy does not exist or that he is a vengeful, retributive and murderous entity. The ‘sins’ that can land one in Hell include doubting the existence of God, something that is only to be expected considering the great pains he takes to keep himself hidden, if at all he exists, and which can also be classified as thought-crime.4 (Again, a reference to Orwell’s 1984. Forgive me if it’s getting annoying now) That a loving and caring atheist is in full danger of hellfire but a selfish, dishonest Christian who cheats hard working people is not if he ‘begs forgiveness’ from Christ speaks volumes about the lack of moral validity of this conjecture. The point here is that hell which is pretentiously the best judgement for all wrongdoing is actually a dreamed up torture chamber for those who do not fall in line with God; that is primarily because ‘wrongdoing’ itself is defined as not falling in line with God! By the meaning of Hell itself, persons cast there are always not there because they were bad people (by the sense of ‘bad’ from a humanistic point of view) but rather they can very much be there because of events like working on a Sunday or by using God’s name in an expletive or having a drink with friends (Ta-dah! No alcohol, says Islam!), eating the wrong meat or even the misfortune of being born into the wrong religion and thus offending the Lord by worshipping ‘others’. You become liable for the kind of suffering that I believe not even Hitler deserves by simply doing what is written in the ‘TO (NOT) DO’ list? What kind of ‘divine’ justice is this?
Thus I arrive at the result that far from being a place where souls are justly, aptly and neutrally sent to be punished in proportion to their ‘crimes’ (and this is what prisons are supposed to be), hell is a place where the high handed despot again displays his domination by eternally torturing anybody who transgresses against him. In this stream of thought, it is the ultimate felony to not submit to God. It trumps all sense of good and bad, right and wrong. Like I said earlier, all good is only good as long as it is favourable to God. Taking my earlier example, all the goodness and kindness in an atheist will not save her from ceaseless agony not because she committed grievous errors, but only because she doubted God and thus transgressed, making her fully deserving of everlasting suffering. Again I draw a comparison: In Hitler’s Third Reich, disobeying Herr Fuhrer would have the exact same consequences as those of dissenting against the LORD of the Universe. Yet, Adolf Hitler is regarded as one of the most evil persons by many and Yahweh/Allah a spotless, benign and benevolent being.
When the Problem of Hell is raised to believers, they often come up with this:
‘In God’s world, He gave us Free Will to make our own choices. Those who make choices after knowing that they will end up in hell as a result send themselves to hell; thus God is not be blamed for that’ At face value this appears to be very correct, but then, consider this:
‘In colonial India, the British gave the Indians the Free Will to make their choices. Those Indians who made the choice to demonstrate against the British after knowing that they would be shot or imprisoned sent their own selves to prison and shot their own selves. The British are not be blamed for that’
Does that seem legitimate?
What is common to both Christianity and Islam is the illusion of choice when it comes to ‘Free Will’. Even if one considers that we do indeed have Free Will, the problem still remains as to the options really provided to us. You can either live by God’s standards or you can suffer a terrible alternative. The degree of dreadfulness of the ‘other choice’ is such that it all but negates even having another choice. That is akin to a hooligan extorting money from a shopkeeper telling him to either pay up every month or be murdered after he has every bone of his broken. By the ‘free will’ logic, the shopkeeper is perfectly ‘free’ to choose between obeying and not obeying the hooligan. So in all veracity there are two doors to the same room. True that there is a ‘choice’ provided but on inspection it is revealed that it is not much of a choice. An entity that controls the outcomes cannot be said to provide a fair choice. That is obvious. If I hypothetically had the power to control the result of a coin-toss, would you ever expect a fair result if you flipped it in my presence? The game itself is created by a being; its rules determined by that selfsame being; and its objectives too are decided by that entity. There can then be no choice with the ‘pieces’ on the board if those ‘pieces’ desire to not be roasted forever. It is not fair to pin the blame of going to Hell on humans and at the same time say that God offers them a choice. That is not true because neither does God provide an alternative for those who do not wish to live by every whim and fancy of his and nor does God damn one to hell by reasonable standards (those standards include not living by outlandish and dogmatic standards). That means in essence that there is no ‘final choice’. In the end, nothing escapes God’s will to be obeyed and worshipped. Neither the ones roasting in hell nor the ones serving him with single minded devotion and big starry eyes in heaven (which I’m sure they’d tire of pretty soon). What this means is that I as a sceptic will be damned to hell not as a result of my choice but because that is the compulsory end for applying my own reason and conscious thought (qualities which God very well knew I would possess and also endowed me with, as some would say) to question’s like God’s existence and his worthiness of being worshipped, and reaching to my own conclusion about them. As I’ve said before, the ‘alternative’ provided is so terrible that it isn’t an alternative at all to those who would simultaneously want to live freely on Earth and safely in the afterlife. This isn’t a holy being that I would look up to in love and affection. This ‘holy’ being displays the most repulsive characteristics of control mania and cruelty. If it was really interested in being worshipped, then either it should display qualities that would make him worthy of worship or at-least even show itself as the first step (NOT through unreliable accounts of people in a far flung corner of the world which have long since lost all authenticity) or conversely, rise above the petty instincts of always demanding attention and reverence. Doing neither and then spinning around to blame the ‘inherent evil’ in humans as the reason that’s not happening makes it look very asinine indeed.
MORALITY FROM THE ‘GOOD’ GOD:
I remember when I first met a friend of mine and told her quite casually that I was an atheist. Among the first questions that she asked was ‘how do you get your morals?’ Now I know that it was a pretty general question and a genuine doubt rather than an attempt to preach to me, but the experience got me thinking.
There is a prevalent unease with there being no regulation. Be it trivial things like a classroom without a teacher or serious ones like an Executive without institutional checks, we generally feel apprehensive in the absence of control, however much we mean to be independent. It is only my opinion that perhaps this is what makes theists uncomfortable with the idea of an atheist’s moral value system:
‘What do they base it on? Who’s watching to stop them from killing my kid? What punishment do they fear? What incentive do they have to be moral in the first place?’
Now aside from the fact that I find it pretty worrying to know that what I’m basically being told had it not been for a book that contains vague instructions like ‘Thou shalt not kill’ or fuzzier instructions (not necessarily from textual sources) like ‘God is watching’ or ‘Karma will get back to you’, the billions of believers around the world would go on a slaughter spree, what I find moronic about it is that it’s not true at all. Einstein very rightly said: ‘If people are good only because they fear punishment or hope for a reward, then we are a spry lot indeed’. Morality comes to us independent of religion. In fact, you aren’t being moral at all if reward and punishment are the goals you keep in mind while making your choices. The actions in this life of yours, which is in all probability the only one you’ve got, should never be determined by the results in the next, even if it exists. When you’ve succeeded in doing so; when you’ve succeeding in doing good for its own sake and denouncing evil by your own judgement, you’ve taken up the responsibility for your own actions and the credit for your own righteousness: that alone in my view makes a person truly moral.
Also, these religions serve as poor moral guides for two reasons. For one, they do not at all answer the various dilemmas that one faces in the quest for being good (here I talk about Islam and Christianity in particular; the Hindu text ‘Mahabharata’ elucidates in great detail this very topic5). Morality is treated as a black and white, do and don’t issue, the resolution of which should best agree to what God thinks appropriate. The Quran tells that Satan, originally known as Iblis was cast out of hell because he refused to bow down to Adam like the other angels. What is reprehensible about his refusal is not the act of not bowing down per se but that he displayed arrogance towards God by refusing to obey him. Thus, the greatest source of all evil in this world, the deceiver of all humanity, the antithesis to every good thing in this world, the personification of all evil, namely the Devil, owes his origin to simply not obeying God. In real life however, a person encounters situations in which what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is not apparent immediately (This is addressed with great charm in Gurcharan Das’ book, found in ]) . The entire subject and philosophy of ethics tries to deal with these very quandaries as the very relevance of morality is sometimes questioned; all while religion is happy to think that morality can be best defined as a list of Thou-shall-not’s.
Religion also attempts to dictate morality; it attempts to set it down in stone (quite literally as in the case of the Ten Commandments) and expect them to remain stable for all ages to come. It either wilfully ignores or is actually ignorant of the fact that morality is a fluid concept; it changes over time. What was moral a hundred years ago may not be moral now. No sane person can claim to derive morality from Scripture when the Bible, for one, contains varied instructions on how to treat slaves, the ins and outs of selling your daughter into slavery or prostitution, the stoning of women not found to be virgins at the time of marriage, killing children when they talk back to parents, killing people for working on the Sabbath (i.e. Sundays; beware workaholics!), denouncing homosexuals, etc. But this is termed as ‘absolute morality’; something which atheists seemingly lack, despite its obvious faults. What could be more senseless than to actually believe all this?
Let us however, come to the topic of God’ own morality. One would expect a decent standard of goodness from a Cosmic being who is responsible for the entire Universe and who is also the most benevolent and benign entity ever. In the story wherein the children of Israel fall into the ‘iniquity’ of making a golden calf to worship, helped by Aaron, God decides to embark on his favourite version of retributive justice to settle the matter.
‘Then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said: ‘Whoever is on the LORD’s side-come to me” And the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword to his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbour’’ (Exodus 32: 26-27)
‘So the LORD plagued the people because of what they did with the calf that Aaron made’ (Exodus 32:35)
[The entire story about God’s vengeance that he exacted upon the people for simply taking another god for themselves is detailed in chapter 32 in the book called Exodus6.]
The simple action of getting for oneself another god to worship merits this awful butchering, according to Yahweh. I don’t think that it would be fit to attribute such morals to even a lowly street thug, much less the Lord of the Universe.
‘Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images .For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34: 11-14)’
So apart from being the killer of those he chose to make a covenant with (incidentally, Moses had to coax him a lot to pacify his fury; the massacre of the Israelites was only a very mild outcome of his full wrath), it turns out that God is allegedly also an ethnic cleanser. War and bloodshed have always been an integral part of any form of human settlement, and the tribe of Israel seems to be no different. However, the granting of divine sanction to the eviction of peoples from their homeland just makes the whole sham fall flat; God appears to be no better than the humans he is always itching to judge and condemn. Indeed, in Romans 9:20, Paul preaches that humans are no one to question God. Though in that specific context he meant asking God why he created us the way he created us, this serves a general reprimand to not doubt God’s deeds and the motives behind them.
This is not to say that the Bible is totally devoid of any moral teachings whatsoever. Deuteronomy 15: 7-14 offers nice instructions on the value of giving freely, for illustration, and Jesus makes brilliant statements during his famed Sermon on the Mount:
‘But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps your right cheek, turn the other to him also.’ (Matthew 5:39)
‘Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away’ (Matthew 5:42)
And also, there is Jesus’ famed Golden Rule:
‘Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law of the Prophets’ (Matthew 7:12)
My entire point however, was that it is demonstrably false that one get his/her morals from dictated Scripture. People repeatedly protest against parts of Scripture that should not be taken ‘literally’ and they openly accept that the certain elements contained therein are not suitable for today’s life anymore. Raising Richard Dawkins’ point from ‘The God Delusion’:
“Apologists cannot get away with claiming that religion provides them with some sort of inside track to defining what is good and what is bad- a privileged source unavailable to atheists. They cannot get away with it, not even if they employ the favourite trick of interpreting selected scriptures as ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘literal’. By what criterion do you decide which passages are symbolic, which literal?”
Dawkins succinctly shows that for all the noises they make, the religious too employ independent morality in their lives. Where precisely they get it from is a separate matter, but that source most certainly is not religion. There is no reason for a ‘moral’ Christian to be horrified by the thought of stoning a woman; after all it’s there in Deuteronomy 22:20-21 provided she be proved to not be a virgin at the time of marriage. This order is God’s own, so why should any ‘moral’ Christian refrain from doing so? Doesn’t it mean that there another morality beacon flashing a red light somewhere inside them; inside all of us, atheist or theist? If theists are disquieted by the thought that atheists’ morality is arbitrary and thus not reliable, isn’t there morality ‘arbitrary’ as well? A personal sense of rectitude is about as ‘arbitrary’ as saying that ‘I will be moral because this book here says so’. No higher reason is being supplied in either case except for the implied: ‘I do it to suck up to God’ in the theist’s case. Some arguments go on to say that morality itself requires a moral lawgiver. In contradiction to this are better supported claims that morality may be intuitive to us, or that it may be a result of Darwinian evolution or a result of simpler yet meaningful causes such as natural empathy, altruistic desires, a desire for self esteem and respect, love, kindness, etc as well as from socially and legally enforced norms and systems, for example the judiciary and the police. The baseless claim that we must get our ‘good’ instincts from some higher power flies in the face of the simple observation of many avowed atheists and atheist organizations displaying those very same qualities; there are many atheists who are just like any other person in the world, they might provide shelter to an abandoned puppy, they may donate to charities, they may be regular blood donors, they may play their role in providing education to kids: all this without the a belief in God.
Returning to the subject of the ‘good’ teachings of the Bible and the Quran, it is easy to see that although they do contain some intrinsic goodness in them, there is nothing in there to suggest that it could have only come from a divine revelation. The strictures present in Scripture can very well owe their origin to a collective and individual sense of the benefits, both to self and society, of being generous, being honest in dealings, of treating others fairly and ‘doing unto others what you would have others do unto you’ and of displaying other forms of moral worthiness. It may have been gradually noticed and imbibed that a person who is kind and generous, for example, has a better reputation and social standing, has fewer enemies and more friends to help him in his time of need. He is less socially despised, and he attains a greater degree of self contentment. The origins of the emotions as a result of these actions are but secondary; the primary concern is that in no way can it be said that had it not been for religion, we would have been at sea as to how to derive happiness from them. All that can be said is that religion simply emphasized the pre-existing moral worth of these deeds by placing them in an alleged ‘divine book’ and saying that they were God’s instructions.
Various views on the origins of morality exist: numerous articles and studies suggest that morality is something that predates religion, i.e., religion is dependent on morality and not the other way round. Ayn Rand in her book ‘For The New Intellectual’ says that morality is ultimately derived from reason itself. Christopher Hitchens puts it in a few words in his book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything:
[There is extensive reading that can be undertaking on secular ethics and morality, if one is really interested in knowing about the viewpoint of morality being independent of religion7.]
Whatever the differing, or concurring viewpoints regarding the anthropological and well as historical origins of morality may be, it is certain for one thing that morality can never be dictated or absolute, and that there is simply no evidence that morality is necessarily a product, direct or indirect, of religion itself. In fact for me, the very idea that the critical decisions of good and bad should be settled based upon a higher dictation that primarily implies a method of intimidation and admonitions rather than on humanistic and secular, reasoned ethics is contrary to the very idea of ‘moral’. This is about the most immoral thing someone can say to me: that we as an intelligent species are incapable of formulating our own notions of right and wrong, that we must perennially depend on a celestial schoolmaster (of different names and kinds) and that our collective societies would have lost all moral grounds had there been no religion to support it. What is basically being said is that we are incapable of being good and seeing goodness if it is left for us alone to find the worth of being good. It is being said, again without much evidence, that ‘goodness’ itself must come from a higher source (Stephen Law, in his paper ‘The evil-god challenge’ even posits an alternate view of God being supremely evil; his claims stand on the same ground as any theists’ who claims that God is supremely good and by extension all goodness must come from him) 8. However, like I have said many times before, this is all but an assertion, coupled with the apologist’s attempts to justify such claims. At the end of the day, there is no reasonable evidence that a theist can provide, empirical or factual, of the existence of God and by extension the claim that there lies a divine source behind all goodness in the world and the apologists have had their fair share of refutations as well. There are evidential reports on this matter, and though there is no final consensus, the results shown therein are pretty interesting.
Wikipedia states that:
“On April 26, 2012, the results of a study which tested their subjects’ pro-social sentiments were published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal in which non-religious people had higher scores showing that they were more inclined to show generosity in random acts of kindness, such as lending their possessions and offering a seat on a crowded bus or train. Religious people also had lower scores when it came to seeing how much compassion motivated participants to be charitable in other ways, such as in giving money or food to a homeless person and to non-believers…”
“Phil Zuckerman’s 2008 book, Society without God, notes that Denmark and Sweden, “which are probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world”, enjoy “among the lowest violent crime rates in the world [and] the lowest levels of corruption in the world”
The theistic claim of a ‘higher source’ of fundamental goodness in the world as such, has no factual basis. In fact, some theists even get around this by saying that this is not something that can be addressed factually at all; after all how are we to assess and measure God’s intentions and plans to instil virtue in the world, and how are we to ‘factually’ prove that he did it? What ‘evidence’ can possibly be gathered about the works of a being that operates not in the mundane framework of humans but on a grand cosmic scale? For the average believer in God, all this has to simply be accepted as either true and unknowable without much plumbing into the matter.
In my view, what Christopher Hitchens succinctly put as: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence” holds true in this case. If the theist will go to elaborate length to either make claims or justify pre-existing ones, then he/she must also provide evidential support for it. You as a theist made the claim, now it is your burden to show that not only is your model of understanding correct, but that it is exclusively so; that there is no morality without religion is what you have to prove, disputing all data pointing to the contrary. For me as an atheist, morality is something that comes intuitively as well as a result of my upbringing to me; I do not require an other-worldly watchman as the reason for being good. The merit of a good deed is its goodness itself; virtue is its own reward. I have no qualms regarding lacking ‘an objective base’ for morality because the necessity as well as relevance of an ‘objective’ base for morality itself is very dubious to me. I can never discount the advantages of being a reasonably righteous person and my own grounds for being upright are more firmly grounded, I daresay, than that of a theist who having gloated over his prized ‘objective morality’ has really surrendered his basic human goodness to a black and white choice of reward and punishment. If some choose to live by that, I can do nothing. But to say that it is something that we all in fact live by is not acceptable to me; and neither should it be to anyone.
INTOLERANCE AND INTELLECTUAL BANKRUPTCY:
‘You shall know that: “There is no other god beside God”’ (Quran 47:19)
‘…we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah’ (Quran 3:64)
‘You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other’ (Deuteronomy 4: 35)
‘Thou shalt have no other gods besides me’ (Exodus 20:3)
‘ The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. (Psalms 16:4)
Like I mentioned earlier, both these books are filled with repeated assertions of this deity that he alone is the true and only God. Being one of the primary characteristic of monotheism (the word ‘mono’ implies ‘one’), it can only be expected that this supposed Almighty deity will find with very necessary to repeatedly remind everybody that he is the one true LORD; seeming, as I have said earlier, like a very insecure and fretful entity constantly on the alert for any ‘rival’ gods (‘Baal’, in particular, being a continuous nuisance to Yahweh) As much as the Christian or the Jew or the Muslim may find it normal, I certainly raise my eyebrows over this. I would be sure that the great designer of the Universe would be able to get over this paltry desire to be forever acknowledged and praised. If any person around us would do so; if they would demand constant respect and acknowledgement, even for the (hypothetical) grand accomplishment of creating new life itself, anybody would probably ask them to ‘get over themselves’ after a month. However, when the same arrogance is displayed by this supposed deity, nobody gives much thought to it. Why should they? He is the LORD isn’t he? Nobody has the right to judge Him by human standards. Well then, maybe it is time we stop praising him by human standards as well.If its arrogant of humans but acceptable for God to demand constant worship, then maybe it is all wonderful and mystical and grand for humans to see a fellow create the whole Universe from nothing but since he is GOD, not much can be said about it. Who knows if such ‘higher intelligences’ abound the cosmos and we just attribute everything to one of them who happens to be very regular? If the believers of the ‘Books’ stretch their imagination and stow away their rationality to believe fully in the fantastical claims therein, then this one shouldn’t be very hard either.
A return to the original point, both Islam and Christianity try a stab at ‘justifying’ why their respective God is the one and only true God:
‘If there were, in the Heavens and earth, other gods besides God, there would have been confusion in both! But glory to God, the lord of the Throne: (high is He) above what they attribute to him!’ (Quran 21:22)
What an incontrovertible display of logic indeed! I don’t really think that God is up for sharing his ‘Throne’ with anyone else anytime soon. The Quran further demands ‘convincing proof’:
‘Or have they taken for worship (other) gods besides Him? Say “Bring your convincing proof; this is the Message of those with me and those before me.” But most of them know not the Truth and so turn away’ (Quran 22:24)
What proof, may I ask, has God provided for his own existence? None, except for the ‘Message’ (with an uppercase ‘M’) which he ‘inspired’ in selected people. But God says that he is not be questioned as to why he did that, though he of course, can do so anytime (Quran 21:23) the unbelievers, who explicitly reject the Truth and disbelieve in the Prophet, are amongst those going to hell. (Quran 3:12).
A final example of double standards contained in these two books in particular is this, which is God’s case against the idols:
‘Present your case, says the LORD. Bring forth your strong reasons, says the King of Jacob. (God) Tell us what is going to happen; let them show the former things, what they were , that we may consider them and know the latter end of them ; o declare to us the things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; yes, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and see it together. Indeed you are nothing, and your work is nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination’ (Isaiah 41: 21-14)
Except for the last bit when God angrily declares all ‘idol worshippers’ as ‘abominations’ (in God’s lingo that includes my parents as well as millions of Hindus who I find to be very nice people; little did the writers of this ever understand what “idolatry” actually is supposed to mean) I find myself in agreement with God (if he ever had anything to do with this). His is a sound way of enquiring as to what power idols really have, but all this pugnacious reasoning and scepticism must be thrown to the winds when it comes to testing God itself, for we are to just trust that he exists or we are to accept whatever shoddy evidence is provided to us regarding this: (Isaiah 55:8-9) (Psalms 14:1).
What this results in is intellectual dishonesty. This is like a magician asking you to close your eyes before he performs his ‘magic’; and yet you do not question him.
‘I, who probably am as much untrue and fabricated as any other god I choose to disregard, deserve to be hailed as the One and Only simply because a compilation of percolated legends say so. You shall not doubt any further’ is what Yahweh or Allah is basically saying to believers. But then, faith is the one ‘virtue’ that most of them love to extol and eulogize and chastise the ‘heretics’ and ‘atheists’ for not having; so I doubt is any of this reasoning would make the slightest dent on the cocoon of ‘I believe’ that the believers wrap around themselves and others wrap around them.
The ‘intellectual dishonesty’ perpetrated by this belief system really stuns me. To further bolster and sustain it, one comes up with innumerable justifications, each one being crazier than the last. From incredulous propositions that all people are by default born sinners simply because a woman in a mythical garden was prodded by a talking snake to eat the fruit of a magic tree (which is a metaphor for knowledge of Good and Evil) in a surreal garden which figuratively represents the temerity of humans to think for themselves and their audacity to defy God’ instructions, forever leading to separation between Him and us; to another which proclaims that in order to ‘redeem’ us all, Jesus, the Son of God Himself had to be tortured and nailed to the Cross (and this supposedly entails a great ‘sacrifice’ by God who incidentally could have just snapped his fingers and forgive us all instead of having his ‘Son’ flogged, beaten and executed in a remote corner of the world to save ‘all humanity’); to crazier ones like ‘Evolution is a lie because the Bible teaches Creation and that Man was created from dust and not from apes’ and ‘the Devil planted bones to trick scientists into thinking those were fossils’ (to escape the question of why dinosaurs are never mentioned in the Bible); the list goes on. This in my view is one of the most serious wrongdoings of religious faith. I will purposefully not say that theists are stupid; they are merely deluded. Religion deludes people and purposefully feeds them falsehoods often born not from malice but from ignorance; but these untruths are then resolutely propagated for purposes of control manipulation and deception of common people; and I find this one the most heinous crimes of all. A Gallup Poll revealed that 53 percent Americans are Creationists: meaning thereby that they believe, among other things, that the Universe was created a mere 6000 years ago, which happens to be a full 1000 years after the Sumerians invented glue9. Such is the power that religious teaching holds to make complete asses out of otherwise normal people.
That billions of my fellow human beings, who could be devoting their energies to better purposes than to afflict their minds with this atrocious level of idiocy literally pains and frustrates me. That their beliefs play a major role in many tragic and unfair events of the world angers me; and yet, it is always put down to the person(s) who has interpreted the religion ‘wrongly’ while in actuality that person may be the only one actually doing what is expected of all believers word for word. Religion is never to blame for anything-no! The blame for denial of safe abortions, of spreading propaganda about AIDS prevention and birth control, of impeding stem cell research, of making little children flog their bare backs bloody, of mutilating the private parts of unaware babies, of rioting and killing people because certain forms of artistic and literary expression cannot be digested by certain people of a certain religion, of denying by theological doctrine the basic rights of women and homosexuals is never laid at religion’s door, though all these problems and more stem almost explicitly that very source. But no, it must always be ‘respected’ and ‘revered’ and it is people like me, the atheists and the heretics and the bellicose ‘offensive and rude’ fellows who should shut up because they are ‘no one to speak against God or hurt people’s feelings’. And this is the pill that everybody has silently swallowed.
The beliefs of the faithful take aspects of intolerance; both manifest in the real world and the subjective one of the believer. This more or less stems from the exclusivity preached by each religion. The Bible stridently asserts the divinity of Christ and the Quran, with equal vigour, denies it. (Quran 5:71-75, 19:30-38). The Quran promises hellfire to the unbelievers and the blasphemers; to attribute characteristics and especially offspring to Allah is a serious crime and thus by logical extension the most pious Christians are going to wind up in Hell. (That is, if Muslim and Christian apologetics don’t cook up a new ‘interpretation’ to somehow wiggle out of this). In the Christian’s worldview (except for the minority which have this ostensibly tolerant belief in ‘universal salvation’), the non believers in Christ are going to hell; since by their belief Christ is the only true path to salvation (John 14:6). Reading the opening of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, one can see that he mentions this fact that not all Christians are zealots with bigoted views regarding those who do not share their faith:
“There is, we are assured, a vast and beautiful terrain between atheism and religious fundamentalism that generations of thoughtful Christians have quietly explored” says Harris in that book. When I say I see quite a lot of truth in there I mean that I agree to the view that not all Christians are Bible thumping dogmatic pseudo preachers who run to every doorstep in order to convince people that their faith other than Christianity (or lack of it) is a gross mistake and that in order to redeem themselves they must follow their religion (and often their own denomination of it) only. Most of them are not that way and I would not be silly enough to say so. But what I’d most certainly want to point out with vigour is that even though Christians are not always obnoxious and dangerous, Christianity may well be termed to be so, just like all Muslims may not be violent and intolerant but their violence and intolerance is directly inspired from their faith and it is this one word, this one reality: faith that cannot be absolved of this blame. The few Muslims that I have met and talked to were perfectly normal people and in no way did I feel threatened in any way. But I’d hard pressed to say that in the presence of the Quran, which without head or tail fumbles and staggers in its way towards condemning any strain of different thought or belief apart from its own views (the sanctity of God, the supreme importance of his precepts, the absolute forbiddance on questioning Muhammad’s designation as the chosen Prophet of God, the impending doom that awaits all atheists and ‘deniers’) does not; even though in my sound mind I know all this to be just another compilation of mythology that just another culture from just another part of the world chose to give prime importance to, I find myself either laughing hysterically at the farfetched claims and the childish warnings that come with not believing in them or feeling genuine unease at the sinister content of the whole book. Moreover, it is with sadness that I realize that it is the contents of this very book, preached vociferously in mosques and madrassas to children and adults alike that convince them totally that strapping on a bomb or ramming through buildings leads straight to Paradise for they are the ‘martyrs’ of the ‘Cause’. Whether or not it is explicitly taught in that book to do so or not is a different question; I and others could (and probably will/do) spend huge amounts of time burrowing through a book with noses to the text and pencil in hand trying to ascertain the validity of this claim, but that hardly negates the reality that this is a potent and lethal tool in the hands of twisted persons to achieve unspeakable evils with. And the blame lies squarely on religion again, less than even the person who supposedly ‘misused’ it. For had not the perfectness and sanctity of faith been so deeply ingrained in the suicide bombers’ conscience, would they ever have agreed to blow themselves to shreds over promises of Paradise that are wildly unfounded?
A phrase that we have all seemed to learn by heart; willingly or unwillingly (since it is very politically incorrect to not agree); is that ‘All religions teach peace and tolerance’. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Most religions teach exactly the opposite (if you can finally get down to making the thousands of millions of believers actually agree on what one book is trying to ‘teach’). I have given earlier many examples of how God of the Bible hates anybody who worships idols, and he even goes on to tell the children of Israel, his selected people, with whom he ‘made a covenant’:
“But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars and cut down their wooden images. For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god…”
(Exodus 34: 13-14)
This is a Christian text, which if put into practice would violate every civil law that we have as a modern country; it would blow to smithereens any pretences that people make about religions teaching only love and peace. Even the missionaries who conduct charitable activities and ‘help’ the poor and the downtrodden do not do so without trying their level best to proselytize and ‘spread the Word of God’ to the ‘unfortunate’ people who have been ‘deceived’ by their native cultures against not following the word of the true living God. Christ himself asked the same of his disciples when he allegedly reappeared after being executed. In Mark 16:15-16 it is very clearly said that the disciples (who he addresses) must go out in the world and preach the Gospel. Whoever hears and believes shall be saved and whoever does not will be condemned. Simple and clear, just the way I’d like many theists to be about their own beliefs instead of perennially trying to mask them behind a goody-goody charade.
From a personal conversation with a Christian who happened to be a Minister of his Church, it was clear to me that he considered it not one bit conceited or arrogant to boast that Christ was the true path to salvation and that he wanted more and more people to be ‘saved’ by hearing the Word. In his view, people other than those who believed in Christ were in need of being ‘saved’ and that it did not constitute arrogance because he had ‘heard the good news’ (meaning thereby the story of a convicted self proclaimed god-man who was awarded a tortuous capital punishment as per law and whose disciples were perceived cult followers until their worldview was given royal approval and they spread it by means of war and bloodshed while proclaiming that the ‘Prince of Peace’ had arrived!) and wanted to share it with the rest of the world and bring the others out of their ‘delusions’. Similar certainty about the infallibility of their own religion may have led to the imposition of Islam is India by some Muslim rulers, most notably Aurangzeb. Here I must add that the Quran preaches tolerance for those who believe differently, at least in theory:
‘Say: O ye that reject faith! I worship not that which ye worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have wont to worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine.’ (Quran 109: 1-6)
Now this specific ‘tolerance’ could be reserved simply for those who had yet to accept Muhammad as the true and latest Prophet of God, since the Quran repeatedly tells the believers to protect the people of the Book. Through repeated instances the Quran is openly contemptuous of idol worshippers and tells with baleful poise that Hell awaits the Unbelievers, those who reject the message even after being preached to about it and miscellaneous people cast away from the sight of God. So this either means that the Quran is contradicting itself or it means that this acceptance of other faiths is very limited in its scope. Nowhere do either of these books throw open their arms to extol the virtues of every faith, nowhere are coherent attempts by the great LORD of the Universe, most merciful, most Gracious, most Wise, to explain to his chosen people the views of other religions and the cultures of the other people to whom the ‘message’ was supposed to be spread. An average reader of the Quran would take the various rituals of Hinduism at face value and would decry them as ‘idol worship’ and ‘polytheism’ (or to use the charming terms of the Bible: ‘a-whoring after other gods…’). What can be taught about ‘other’ people by God when his knowledge and scope itself is limited to the knowledge and scope of the people he chooses to address?
What impact does all this have on the real life of any believer in today’s world? Technically, a Muslim and a Christian should not be able accept each other’s presence for too long; for in their hearts they know that the other person regards that which they hold to be closest to themselves as false; the Muslim in his heart thinks of any person who rejects Muhammad as the true Prophet of God as despicable as the Christian thinks of any person who believes that calling Jesus the Son is blasphemy. But this does not usually happen. I have seen that for myself. Hindus and Muslims have been coexisting in India for centuries and barring some problems no community has tried to annihilate the other. Then what is the problem?
The fact is that the influence that religion has been allowed to wield has reduced significantly in a secular country, due to the intellectual labours of many people who strived tirelessly for this ideal. Religion no longer has the kind of influence in modern democracies as it did in times when it was acknowledged and accepted by the State. The potential of religious teachings to be interpreted as per the whims of the powerful and of the State machinery being used to implement those interpretations has lessened. This is why there are lesser cases of outright intolerance in accordance with religious texts, and those indulging in it are fashionably branded as ‘fundamentalists’, as if they picked out directives preaching intolerance out of thin air (when all they did was to adhere to their religion without compromising with what it says in any way) while the ‘moderates’ followed it true to its teachings. David G McAfee, author of Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings muses that there must be something wrong with the belief system if people following its bare fundamentals are violent, misogynistic bigots. I find myself in complete agreement.
Religion has realized, after a humongous effort by secularists that it needs to tone down its brazenness in order to be relevant to the changing, modern world. The ‘Perfect Word of God’ takes recourse now in phrases like ‘it is only a metaphor’ and ‘that is only an allegory’ and ‘it was only relevant to that time’ in order to keep afloat its relevance in a world that can do very well without it. Society need not conform itself to religion anymore, rather, that is required of religion now. It is being increasingly realized that doctrines which are considered to be eternal and transcending all boundaries of space and time when it comes to their significance are rightly pushed where they belong: confined to the personal lives of their believers, no more valid a world view than the strong conviction that the Universe is a computer simulation. The ‘moderate’ culture of modern religious belief can credit very little of this achievement to religion itself. In its bare fundamentals, the religions asserting some special divine sanction tend to be extremely insulated while at the same time annoyingly proselytizing, traits which have been curbed largely due to the spread of a secular ethic. It is the combined effect of secular education, progressive and democratic thinking and measures to prevent seepage of religious dogma into public life that had led to the ‘moderation’ of religion; it could never have been achieved by religion’s own volition! Indeed, the Dark Ages in Europe had only the strict imposition of Christianity and rule by the clergy throughout the land to blame for its existence. The misery of women and minorities in Saudi Arabia has only the burden of Islam in public machinery to blame. What ‘brand’ of religion is imposed, what ’interpretations’ are followed, what ‘sects’ are in power hardly matters. What matters is that if an assertive view of the world which crudely tries to imbibe every aspect of modern life in its ambit finds a way into the public sphere, it automatically creates trouble for all society. From withholding homosexuals’ right to marriage to impeding scientific education; from making it publicly acceptable for a woman to literally be treated as property of first her father and then her husband to making it politically incorrect to criticize honour killings perpetrated by a particular community (Muslims), religion does it all. Even though its power is much diluted in the current scenario, it still tries to brandish its repugnant self righteousness by impeding almost everything that stands in the way of its chosen view of the world. We must remember here that religion in itself is not an independent, living entity. It is a complex array of ideas that survives only because real individuals give value to it and hence enable it. It will die as soon as people stop believing in it; there is no inherent power in any religion to hold out all by itself; however vociferously it may state itself to be the ‘Truth’ or the ‘Word’. In consequence, the moderate followers of religion enable the extremists; by knowing full well that their chosen thought system has resulted and does result in the perpetration of much undesirable elements and yet standing with their heads counted as among the ‘believers’, they lend strength to the faith, which they claim lends strength to them. Make no mistake about it; there are children out there right now who are being told that the ‘other’ group of people are going to be chucked into hell because they don’t worship the particular God of their parents. There are children out there who are being told that it’s not okay to have anything to do with homosexuals because ‘God’s watching’. The rioters killing for their religion were once children and then disillusioned youth who went against their basic nature goaded by the taunts of serving their religion. Such is the capacity of divisiveness that faith infuses in a society and in a culture. ‘We are right and only the fools contest this’ is in essence the practical spirit behind all religion. And while in most cases in simply leads to self satisfied narcissism among individuals and groups, it also leads to violence and bloodshed. In no way is faith a virtue, and in no way is religion a proud part of our culture. Both religion and faith are incredulous at best and dangerous and their worst and as such deserve no place in the public sphere. (France in this regard is setting a good example to follow)
If a country and a society desires to progress and be modern, then it must first unshackle itself from the pretension that religion can somehow co exist, much less contribute, to its development in any way, particularly intellectually. It is time we realized that we as a species deserve better and grow individually as well as collectively out of our shared delusions.
There remains an entire plethora of points that can be further added against the God of Abraham and religion in particular. As the reader may have noticed, this essay covered only a general overview of some of the key points that form a cohesive argument against theism in the traditional sense. There exist a lot many opinions besides the ones conveyed here which may or may not convey the argument better. Polemics in the form of papers, essays, books and journals abound the internet and the market, addressing key points such as the problem of Evil, the harmful impact of religion, the censorship that religion causes, its role in war and conflicts, etc. At the same time, various defences of the theistic viewpoint exist as well: Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, the works of William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias and other Christian apologists and thinkers being some examples.
All in all however, what I have concluded is that the theistic view of the world suffers from a lack of factual evidence, which is one of the key reasons why many people chose to reject their version of reality. After the philosophical debates and the discussions over the moral worthiness of God are wrapped up, the average person would be left scratching his head if he can be provided with neither empirical nor factual evidence of God itself. The various Holy Books and ‘revelations’ that masquerade as ‘proof’ of God’s existence or his miracles cannot be counted as conclusive corroboration in the same way as the Harry Potter books cannot be treated as substantiation of the existence of wizards (though the latter is better written, in my opinion). The arguments from religious and/or spiritual experiences, personal anecdotes, and alleged miracles are at the end of the day only subjective claims which if not backed up by credible facts or research, do not really amount to anything for a sceptic whose sole aim is to ascertain and assess reality without the interference of the supernatural. This is the biggest failure of theism for this is where all arguments pertaining to God begin from: discussing his nature, purposes for various actions, the faults in his deeds, etc is meaningless if the entity does not exist in the first place. This is why I give more merit to the factual and evidential basis for Atheist vs. Theist arguments rather the philosophical and speculative ones. In my view, debating over the aspects of belief in God without proof of his existence is like studying in detail the various parts of a unicorn’s physiology, psychology, mating patterns, grazing grounds, etc without bothering to see if the unicorn exists at all or dreaming up certain ‘evidences’ supporting its existence.
Even as a belief system which technically requires little or no hard evidence, theism has little to offer and a lot to take away. There is nothing theism can offer that cannot be found elsewhere. Morality, comfort, love, sympathy, affection, protection, family values, guidance, wisdom and all that certain theists claim to be the exclusive domain of faith can be very easily obtained from our fellow brethren. Religion, on the other hand, has repeatedly been responsible for spewing hatred and causing untold miseries to people in a lot of instances. Theism teaches the essential subordination of humans to a higher entity, our basic imperfection when compared to a mythical manifestation of all goodness in this world, our constant accountability to that higher power and the perennial threat of eternal punishment looming over our heads. In real life however, theists are not tortured by these notions that they technically claim to hold (by virtue of being ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘Jew’) because many of them have simple been indoctrinated and fed cherry-picked doctrines and their inquisitiveness been mollified by ‘explanations’ of their religion.
Why then, I ask, should religion find a relevant spot in today’s world? When many doctrines are either unacceptable or outdated, when its moral values offered to us can be obtained humanly, when its claims are so incredulous that it is little doubt that they stand to no scrutiny at all, when it is directly or indirectly responsible for untold brutality and dogmatization of society, when it is to blame for many impediments to scientific advancement, when it tries its level best to put down criticism by outlawing blasphemy, why then should it be accepted as pertinent to our world? Why should it be accepted in our society to label children with beliefs of a magnitude they cannot possibly hold? Why should the value of critical inquiry, of free speech, of rational approach and humanist temperament be superseded by the value of blind faith, which is often coupled with obedience as a ‘virtue’? Why isn’t religion treated as a superstition to be removed, a lethal force to be combated or even a force to be brought under control?
Why is it not attempted to remove the blindfold of belief from thousands of eyes so that they can perceive and understand reality like the way it actually is? Why is not the simple point that belief in God is identical to any other unjustified belief that a person holds, i.e. a delusion, driven home with more force? Where are our anti-theists and our proactive atheists? Where is our awareness of obvious but mostly unaccepted truths?
These are the questions which every one of us should ponder over, and hopefully reach to a conclusion about. Meanwhile, the debate is on, and God, if he exists, is watching…
1. The Atheist Challenge (and for other skeptics) by ‘High Plains Parson’
[I am typing as Arjun in the comments]
2. Hitchens vs Hitchens at Grand Valley State University, 2008: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pvr9Cp2YVwA
The Existence of Hell and God’s Goodness and Kindness:
3. Morality from religion:
Atheist denied citizenship because her ‘morality doesn’t come from religion’:
Wikipedia: Morality and religion:
‘Does morality come from religion’ debate:
4. ‘Thoughtcrime’: (For Term used in George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’; see Wikipedia):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thoughtcrime
Freedom of thought:
Morality from the ‘Good God’:
5. Das, Gurcharan:
‘The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma’
Published by Penguin (2012), ISBN-10: 0143418971
What Mahabharata tells us about dharma:
6. Dawkins, Richard: ‘The God Delusion’ (Paperback) pp. 277.
Published by Transworld (2007) ISBN-10: 0552774294
[I had elucidated on this particular Bible incident after reading from this book]
7. Harris, Sam: ‘The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values’
Published by Free Press (Oct 5, 2010)
Secular Ethics (Wikipedia)
Secular morality (Wikipedia)
Secular Ethics: Intuitive Moral Knowledge
Secular Ethics: Goodness Without God
Universally Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics
8. STEPHEN LAW The evil-god challenge. Religious Studies, Available on CJO doi:10.1017/S0034412509990369
Intolerance and Intellectual Bankruptcy:
9. Quoting from ‘Note to the reader’ at the beginning of ‘Letter to a Christian Nation’ by Sam Harris (Sept 19, 2006)
I am Arjun Banerjee, a young atheist testing the waters of expressing coherently the ideas which are of immense importance to me. Among my other interests are playing and listening to music and reading, with particular focus being on learning about the phenomena of religion, even if I happen to disagree with most of it.
This is my first attempt at putting forward my atheistic viewpoints in a consolidated manner. I hope more will follow and that all head-nodding or head-shaking will prove to be constructive for me as well as my reader. Cheers!