The Salem News
---- — To the editor:
Brian Watson has written of late on the topic of religion’s harmful effects on society, and has recommended that religious texts be amended, with those parts offending modern sensibilities excised. While I agree that removing violent, sexist, and otherwise immoral passages would be an improvement, I don’t think Mr. Watson goes far enough. Adaptation cannot solve the more fundamental problems that religions effect. Reforming religion isn’t sufficient; the whole thing should be done away with.
I’d like to make clear that I don’t advocate yelling such a thing on street corners, and I certainly don’t want government intervention toward this goal. I simply mean to argue for a beneficial change in the world — one which should come about completely voluntarily, through rational thought and dialectical discussion.
The foremost of religion’s fundamental problems is the fostering of blind faith and non-skepticism. Religions rest on leaps of faith, and holding fast to faith in the absence of evidence — and even despite contrary evidence — is seen as a virtue. While such obstinacy is not only seen in religion, there is a deeper issue at play here.
Religions are by nature orthodox. They present some doctrine and proclaim it to be the truth. This brazen attitude of consummate beliefs seeps down to the true believers, and leads to the aforementioned problem. Asserted perfection also becomes a problem when doctrine is found incorrect. Issuing errata would discredit the entire thing, so the idea of unwavering faith becomes paramount. Change is nearly the antithesis of religion, making reform an unlikely solution.
Prime among the elementary concepts of religion is the idea of an afterlife. Looking past the mundane example of joy and pleasure lost for a nonexistent reward, a focus on afterlife instigates violence far too often in this life. Violence advocated and advanced by Abrahamic religions abounds (Deut. 20:16-17, Deut. 25:17-19, the Crusades, violent jihad). Even the normally benign Buddhism led to the recruitment of kamikaze pilots during WWII.
Closely related is the fundamental out-group conflict religions sanction. The mutually contradictory nature of various religions often breeds distrust or dislike of those of other faiths. While the violence this causes is terrible, even the subtle schisms and discord obstruct peace and unified humanity.
One may claim that violent or judgmental people are not true believers — they’ve just been led astray. That, however, evinces another problem. Institutionalizing leaps of faith, steadfastness to beliefs, and reliance on ancient scripture, tradition and authority makes religion highly volatile. If a bad section of scripture is focused on, or doctrine becomes out-of-date, or a bad leader becomes prominent, bad actions easily follow, are accepted, and persist.
Ultimately, the only way to fix the problem of religion is to rid ourselves of it. Its benefits can be provided by social clubs, nonprofits, and philosophy; its detriments we’d be well without. This effort should be undertaken completely non-confrontationally, through the teaching of critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning. Over time, the youthful impulse toward inquiry will win out over devotion to faith.