Alright, alright, I’m sure that this post might aggravate any bullet-headed “let’s burn all religion” atheists. Luckily, this species of atheist is fairly rare, but I do see it from time to time. Fortunately, this blog has very little readership, so the chances of it being attacked are slim.
Here I want to write about a hypothetical, improbable aftermath of a world that is devoid of all religion, indeed, all supernatural faith. A world with absolutely no faith in the non-empirical. A world in which every individual bases his beliefs on facts and evidence. To some, this might seem like a rationalist’s wet dream and the very definition of Utopia.
I think it most obviously doesn’t.
First all, let me say this: I believe that a world without religion would be a better world. This world would exclude suicide bombings by rather amiable, if quite poor and ignorant, young palestinians. This would completely abolish the murdering of abortion doctors and would probably considerably reduce a select number of hate crimes.
That said, let me also say this of the irreligious earth: It will still contain evil, and LOTS.
First of all, religion is a set of beliefs, irrational as they may be. But I’m afraid to say that as belief systems go, religion is not the only set of beliefs that is irrational. Let’s say we forget what I wrote about everyone being entirely evidence-based and say that even if religion was totally eradicated – there’s still enough irrationality to go around to produce miles of muck.
As an example that for some reason (well, we all know the reason for that) – a lot of theists place on atheism itself simply because it’s not religious, just plain human – many non-religious ideologies are known to have been quite nasty, in extreme cases, national socialism, fascism, and soviet communism. At least in the case of national socialism, even when taken literally to the letter, its ideals have a lot more to do with human beings (be the false premises of this as they may) than with any posited supernatural beings. The Germans in WWII were probably influenced by christianity, and so was Hitler himself (much-quoted for his Christian beliefs) – but the bottom line is, and I strongly believe that – Hitler wasn’t responsible for the killing of tens of millions of people because he was a Christian, or for that matter, because he was an atheist (!), he was responsible for these things because he was a megalomaniac, homicidal, paranoid whackjob with a huge, depressed, extremely well-armed nation under him. He was simply charismatic enough to lead a country full of gullible war-losers into the eradication of Europe. He didn’t need God for it. He just needed to press the right buttons. The right human buttons. If religion can be indoctrinated, then national socialism could be brainwashed into people. That touches a lot more buttons in people than religion ever could – simply because it uses much more sophisticated means of making people act irrational and cruel -to satisfy the power-lust of some deranged maniac.
Second, and this time, not forgetting that every one in this “planet rationality” is rational, let’s acknowledge yet another depressing fact:
Some people are just nasty.
Trivial? You bet. True? You bet.
Some people just act horribly because they’re psychotic, or mentally ill, or mistaken, or greedy, or jealous, or aggressive. People get hurt all the time, it doesn’t even take other people to get hurt. Life is sometimes cruel on its own.
Granted, a world without religion will allow for a much narrower scope of “evil” (in some subjective, vague, not-quite-defined meaning of the word, say, pointless killing) – but a bell curve containing rapists and murderers in one end and saints and heroes on the other will still exist.
So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that contra to what is easily drawn from the title of the wonderful documentary by Richard Dawkins, religion is NOT the root of all evil. People are the root of all evil. Religion just goes out of its way to make it a lot worse.
But we humans must humble down before a task as enormous as “making the world better”, and eliminating irrational thought when it leads to evil is just one gargantuan leap forward towards making the world that way.