The idea of gods is bad for society, because it spreads irrational dogma that causes good people to do bad things. This affects three practical areas of our lives: the quest for knowledge, treating people fairly, and civic society.
Rational thinking makes the following more likely: Enquiry: an ongoing unbiased quest for knowledge and truth. Empathy: adult ethics, based on relating to other living beings. Equality: a secular society that protects everybody’s rights.
And irrational dogma makes the following more likely: Creeds: accepting, as truth, imaginary answers to big questions. Commands: childish ethics, based on orders, desire and fear. Control: unjust laws that are influenced by religious dogma.
Enquiry vs Creeds
Nearly four thousand years ago, a man gazed inquisitively at the night sky over what is today near Baghdad, and he started to record the movement of the stars. This scientific breakthrough was used to create omens, such as: ‘If in month one the Demon with the Gaping Mouth rises heliacally, for five years there will be plague, but it will not affect cattle’. Today NASA has mapped the oldest lights in the universe, the ancient Babylonian omens have evolved into vacuous horoscopes, and religions have embedded gods into seasonal celebrations of nature.
Throughout time, this is the pattern of the quest for knowledge. Inquisitive and rational thinking has steadily helped us to understand more about how nature works – the latest major breakthrough being the map of the human genome, the ‘book of life’ which will dramatically improve healthcare – while superstitious and dogmatic thinking has hindered and corrupted this quest for knowledge, by teaching imaginary answers instead of seeking the truth, with the odd stoning to death or roasting alive thrown in for people who dared to disagree.
Empathy vs Commands
When I was five, I knew that I had to be good coming up to Christmas because Santa Claus was looking down from the North Pole and judging the behaviour of every child in the world. For many adults today, an imaginary creator of the universe has taken over Santa’s job – God’s making a list, he’s checking it twice; he’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice – except this time, instead of a present or an empty stocking, you get the bliss of paradise or the torment of hell, for eternity, after you die.
Throughout time, religious belief has corrupted our morality, by extending childish thinking into adulthood. The reason that we should be fair to other people, and to all sentient beings, is because we relate to them as fellow living beings. This is known as the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. It is common to atheists, agnostics and theists alike. It requires no belief in gods, particularly gods that boast of drowning every living being in the world except the passengers on an ark.
Equality vs Control
In Ireland in 2007, an advert for slimming pills was banned because the company could not substantiate its implausible claim to ‘soak up’ fat from your food. This is how society protects vulnerable people from being conned. In the same week, the Pope announced an even more unsustainable special offer: if you visited Lourdes within a year, you would get a free ‘plenary indulgence’ and early release from Purgatory after you die, thus getting you to Heaven faster. But there was no legal mechanism to protect vulnerable people from being conned by this claim.
Throughout time, religious leaders have influenced the law and culture of civic society. Today, many States officially protect, subsidise, encourage or even enforce religious dogma at the expense of the rights of their citizens. In recent years, Islamic States have sentenced homosexuals to death and a female rape victim to be lashed. More subtly, an atheist would be almost unelectable as President of America. In a State that respects everybody’s rights, government should be secular, culture should be pluralist, and beliefs should be personal.