The problem is religion.
I have no desire to enter into a debate over whether religion has been a net positive or negative over the history of our species. Too much evidence on both sides of the issue is suspect simply because of the lack of an alternative. Sure, much of history’s great works of art, symphonies, architectural wonders and so on were created by religious men who may have had a religious inspiration. But it is dishonest to chalk that up as a positive contribution of religion. For the greater part of human history, religion was the default. Our understanding of the world had not progressed to the point where we could offer explanations without resorting to supernatural influence. Kings ruled by divine right. Religious leaders had power that rivaled, if not surpassed, the power of the “secular” ruler. Expressing disbelief in God, belief in a different God, or in many cases just the questioning of a certain facet of the status quo could get one branded a heretic and punished in all sorts of delightfully diabolical ways. The reason the religious side comes out ahead when adding up and comparing religious artists with non-religious artists is, quite simply, there were very very few, if any, openly non-religious artists. It’s similar to looking at the same statistics, and deciding that women have no artistic talent because all the classic greats were men, without stopping to consider the limitations placed on women by society. We can learn much from history. Unfortunately for those of us who are science minded, history doesn’t break down into nice little random, controlled, double blind trials.
The debate I want pertains to now. Humans living in a modern society with the knowledge gained through history and the scientific method. And let me be clear what I mean when I say that religion is the problem. I do not mean belief in a higher power, a supreme being, or even God. I do not mean the belief that our “souls” or some part of our individuality, lives on in some form, either in an afterlife, reincarnation, or some other method. I am mostly talking about revealed religion. I am talking about “we are right, you are wrong and hell bound” religion. While I have no belief in a God of any type, those that do, the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, the “I believe in something” crew, and the encouraging “its all the same God, she just chose different forms for different cultures” gang, get no side eyed glares from me. My problem, humanity’s problem, is when it becomes “My God is the ONLY God, and all those who do not follow Him are wrong.” This is when religion becomes a problem. When you believe that your God is not only real, but the only God, then everyone else who doesn’t share your beliefs becomes wrong; potential converts that need to be saved, servants of the evil one who need to be eradicated, or the combination of the two where their refusal to convert then turns them into the targets of eradication. This is what starts Crusades. This is where Inquisitions are born. This is how Jihad begins. This is what fires up the ovens. While religion can have definite positive effects for in group members, with the community that comes from attending and belonging to a faith community, it also has definite negative effects, serving to “otherize” the out group members in a much more severe way than many. Instead of just being from a different country/town/city/state, instead of just having a different skin pigmentation, now the out grouper is also a heathen, a threat to the morality of everyone.
Rather than try to hold peoples attention for a 20,000 word blog “manifesto” on the subject, I’ve decided to instead write a series of posts dealing with the issue, breaking it down into small, blog sized pieces. For organizational purposes, I have a new category over on the right hand side of the page, “Religion is the Problem.” While these posts will be cropping up in the normal ramblings of Foster Disbelief, I will also stick them all in that category for easy reference.