When I became an atheist, almost 40 years ago now, my young mind was teeming with the possibilities of science and research and evidence-based thought. I felt sure that my own awakening was something that could — and would — happen to everyone eventually. All they needed was a little nudge of reason. By the time I reached adulthood, having witnessed the sheer power of religious thought, my optimism had faded considerably. I had learned one of my first, and most important, life lessons. You cannot reason someone out of a position they did not arrive at through reason. If you could, there wouldn’t be any religious people.
But, even having learned that lesson, for decades I still carried around with me the notion that religion was something mankind would eventually get over, or grow out of. I don’t know when I stopped believing that would happen. It’s fairly recent, perhaps coinciding with my embarkation on the roller coaster ride that is middle-aged depression. (Or perhaps I am confusing causation and correlation.) Regardless, I now suspect religion is our fundamental, fatal flaw.
As someone on the intertoobz once said, the person who invented the water heater did more for mankind than all of the theologians who ever lived. Secular science and ingenuity have brought civilization to where we are today, dragging religion kicking and screaming and sabotaging along the way. We have made great strides, won many battles, but it is a seemingly endless war, one that we may in fact be losing.
After thousands of years, theologians have never managed to settle a single argument, yet religion remains mankind’s preferred antidote to the fears and futilities of everyday life. It is because churches sell the dream, the illusion of control, the happy ending. Follow the rules of some ancient sacred text and live forever in paradise. We can’t get past religion because we can’t get past our love for ourselves, the idea that man is special, and therefore deserving of eternal life.
But it is just a dream. You and I and every other living thing will die. Cease to exist. Death defines life by revealing it’s cost. The price of life is death and the price of consciousness is awareness of that death. An awareness that 90% of the world’s population just can’t face. They want the happy ending so bad they will ignore the contradictions of reality, as if they can will their god into existence. I believe it is this inner conflict that generates the anger, the outright hate, that spews from religious people when their beliefs are challenged. It is an internal flight from the uncertainty of life for the absolutes found only in fantasy.
Mutually exclusive religions clash violently because, logically speaking, in order for one of those religions to be true, the other must be complete bullshit. It is a recipe for eternal conflict. There can be no solution, no compromise, no peace because to lose is to render your invisible cloud daddy irrelevant. Victory is the ultimate confirmation of bias. The defeated religion becomes a “mythology” and the victorious god gets stronger. I watch the world fight over something that doesn’t even exist and I despair.
Although I now know I will never see it, I still often wonder what our world would be like without religion. Would we take all the excess human energy that gets channeled into divisiveness and false hope, and put it into something constructive? Would we take control of our destiny, and build a society that doesn’t thrive on conflict? Or would we just manufacture other reasons to hate each other?