The Atheist non-Utopia

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.

6 Comments »

  1. Colm Said:

    Well said. I think Dawkins himself was not completely enamoured with the title “The Root of all Evil” for his documentary, as it simplified things a bit too much.

    I agree: no matter what society you are dealing with, no matter what the group is: some people are just plain mean / bad / evil. People will always find an excuse to believe something that is irrational, and there will always be those unique people that can convince whole nations to jump off a cliff. You don’t need religion for that.

  2. freidenker85 Said:

    Colm,
    I don’t get it – why do people immediately assume that one has to be mad in order to be evil? Good and evil are relative terms, and despite the fact that I feel very strongly about my sense of “good” – no one can verify this “goodness” to me. I can give good objective reasons to follow my ethics, but in the end – people can be “evil” to me simply because they’re different.

    People don’t need an excuse to believe something that is irrational to be evil – they simply have to be self-absorbed or careless enough to do it – this kind of evil is probably a lot more common than religious bigotry.

    BTW – about Dawkins: I remember something said about his opinion of the documentary’s name, but I think it was that he didn’t want the question mark at the end of the title. I don’t think he really believes that the only reason people are evil is the fact that they’re religious, because he said it once himself: religious people don’t avoid rape and murder because they’re religious or because God tells them to, and this goes the other way around, too.

  3. Generally people aren’t prewired to rape, steal and murder. We are social animals who are prewired to hold doors for old ladies, and of course we being animals who are prewired for self survival and the survival and successful procreation of those closest to us, we might do things that appear bad to many in order to achieve these biologically based goals.
    We are also prewired to be susceptible to the supernatural, and supernatural explanations. Our ancestors couldn’t explain lightning, so they really needed to buy into supernatural explanations just to stay sane.

  4. freidenker85 Said:

    Well, I’ve read a bit about the natural explanation for rape and it appears to me that rape is not necessarily a preferred option -rape is a dangerous act even to a powerful individual male – a male who can persuade a female to copulate with him would do much better (also, he’d probably have a lot more descendants). However, rape seems to be common in situations where the rape is easy to achieve – such as in war or when the rape victim is a family member who’s too afraid to speak out.

  5. crazyasuka Said:

    Here’s something that Richard Dawkins wrote on The God Delusion about his documentary:

    In January 2006 I presented a two-part television documentary on British television (Channel Four) called Root of All Evil? From the start, I didn’t like the title. Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything.

    Now, leaving that behind, I’m not sure what to do about a word as difficult do define as “evil”. It starts with a moral judgment.

    Not to make it more complicated than it is, morality is independent of religion. The “good” or “bad” things that happen have nothing to do with it, so nothing changes in that sense.

    The advantage of living in a world with no religion, is that it is not going to hold us back from analising the world. Of having ideas that might benefit humanity. Of using our intelligence to solve problems. I would love to live in a world with no religion.

  6. freidenker85 Said:

    Asuka – did you ever hear of Darwinian ethics/morals? I think “evil” and “good” are not necessarily subjective terms – and can, to somewhat a degree, be quantified. Apart from serious whackjobs, in a society where it’s not neccessary to harm other people in order to survive, I predict that most people would find “good” and “evil” to be quite similar – and I can probably make ample use of evolutionary theory to predict what these things will be.

    It is true that if you get down to the nitty-gritty, no two people feel the same about what’s moral or not – but that’s just the way it is – in the real world, there’s a big, wobbly bell curve with all kinds of people in it.

    The important thing is to use our reasoning with rigor to try and make the earth the best place for everyone.


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