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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
In examining our current social order through the dual lenses of careful reasoning and genuine self-awareness, it becomes readily apparent that much of our civilization is indeed rooted in primitive and animalistic belief systems that hearken back to the days of foraging for food in the jungle, living in caves and utilizing archaic stone tools. Little by little humankind has managed to weed out various absurd assumptions and beliefs about the world the derived from an era before science and, indeed, even before the development of written language. Slowly, painfully, we have managed to cast off some of the ridiculous notions that had dogged human cultures around the world since time immemorial: the earth is the center of the universe, blacks are inferior to whites, slavery is tolerable, the world is plagued by ghosts and demons. What absurdities still lie unchallenged at the foundation of our society today? What beliefs do we cling to today that, hopefully, we will laugh at tomorrow?
The profit motive, I believe, is one such notion that our species will eventually outgrow. It might take another 500 years, but inevitably humankind will mature to the point that such an unjust and unrewarding system is not only undesirable but indeed highly impractical; although a fortunate few may seem to flourish under such a system, in reality everyone is harmed.
But let’s look even deeper, beyond the political and economic issues of our day. Let’s examine a notion that is so deeply ingrained in our cultural belief structure that it remains, by and large, outside the range of issues that are even open to critical analysis and logical criticism. I am speaking, of course, about religion.
It is said that ours is a nation founded on the principle of freedom of religion, and indeed to certain extent this may be true. It is further claimed that our founding fathers were devout Christians, and however dubious this fact might be, it is hard to argue that the United States does have a decidedly vocal Christian population, and Christian beliefs are generally well-represented amongst our elected officials. The pledge of allegiance, which I was entreated to recite every day as a child in school, includes the words “one nation, under God.” Our coins contain the phrase “In God We Trust.” Most elected officials claim to adhere to Christian beliefs; George W. Bush even claimed that God personally spoke to him. The “theory” of evolution is openly and aggressively challenged, and the proposition of teaching the Biblical creation story in our classrooms is routinely proposed, in all sincerity, by ordinary civilians and elected officials alike.
The following graphic displays, startlingly, the percentage of religious adherents, county by county, across the United States. The lighter shades represent lower percentages, while the darker shades represent higher percentages, with the darkest hue representing 75% and above. The first thing one notices in observing this graphic is how dark, overall, the country appears to be; indeed, religious adherents appear to comprise the bulk of our nation’s population. Interestingly, the bastions of lighter hues seem to coincide with those states and areas which are typically blue on electoral maps, but that is an issue to be examined in another post.
At this point, one might ask why religious adherence is such a bad thing. Is it really harming anyone? To this I would answer, emphatically and unequivocally, yes. Religious beliefs have caused perhaps more harm to humankind than any other single notion in all of history. I would argue that religious indoctrination of the young is a gross violation of human rights, and those parents who subject their children to such indoctrination should be held liable for child abuse. I was raised a Christian and have seen first hand the psychological and emotional trauma that a religious upbringing can cause.
But beyond my personal experiences, we can simply look at the world around us to see the harm that religion is causing. As mentioned previously, Christians are actively fighting against the teaching of evolution in schools, in favor of the teaching of “creationism.” Let’s think about just how backwards that is, and just what the consequences of such a course of action would entail. Evolution is not a “theory” in the sense that most associate with the term “theory.” Evolution is basically law; we know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that it took place, and that it continues to take place. The theory of evolution is based on solid scientific evidence, gathered and refined over the last 150+ years. Challenging the notion of evolution is akin to challenging the very concept of science itself, which unsurprisingly, is precisely what many Christians aim to do.
The fact is, we live in a society based on science and technology. Everything from the food we eat to the cars we drive and the medicines are derived from science. Computers and the Internet, cell phones and iPods, all come from science, and virtually every Christian in the country enjoys these fruits of science on a daily basis. And yet these very same Christians, who utilize the benefits of science in nearly every aspect of their lives, wish to challenge the validity of science as a way of examining the world, and return to a primitive state based on an ancient document that was written some 2,000 years ago – far more, in the case of the Genesis creation story.
And this is but one example of the damage caused by religious adherence. Last year, I had the misfortune of spending some seven months in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Before my time there, I did not term myself an “atheist,” nor did I have any serious qualms with the world’s major religions. I believed in the principles of freedom, and thought that people should be allowed to believe whatever ideas they wish – however ridiculous such notions might seem to me or anyone else.
The simple fact, however, and I was made painfully aware of this during my time in Riyadh, is that religious adherents are not content to keep their beliefs to themselves, allowing others to live in their own way. Religions throughout history have always strove to push their views and beliefs on others; religions have always sought to expand, and always squabbled with alternative belief systems and lifestyles. And while the percentage of religious adherents who actively engage in attempts at proselytism today might be relatively small, it is a historical fact that that percentage, however small, always exists, and is always fanatical and vocal. We have such Christian fanatics in the United States today; the Middle East is strewn with Islamic fanatics, as my time in Riyadh amply demonstrated.
Religion is but one more example of an ancient and instinctive belief which predates the dawn of science and the widespread application of critical thinking and analysis. If one thoroughly examines any of the world’s religions, at its core one finds only ignorance, fear of the unknown, and intellectual laziness (Buddhism is, in some cases, a notable exception). There is nothing positive about religion that deserves to be preserved, nothing that should be protected or prolonged.
It is high time we as a species outgrew the shackles of primitive religious beliefs, just as we cast off the notions of slavery, the earth-centric universe, and the ubiquitousness of ghosts and goblins.