, Salem, MA


August 8, 2013

Letter: Reforming religion isn't sufficient

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 affect. 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 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 World War II.

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