First off, I am an atheist of possibly the logically strongest type. Not only do I not believe in the existence of god, but I deny even that the question of the existence of god is meaningful. In my opinion, the term “god” is a sort of glitch in our language. I may explain this view further in a later manifesto entry on truth and meaning.
That said, I do not share the view of the vocal minority of people who see religion as the source of all the world’s problems. This sort of view is common amongst otherwise progressive individuals, for example here:
I suspect that an world without religion would be peaceful and happy… As long as there is religion, there will be religionists who decide they need to kill others to fulfill their role within their religion
To be fair to the author, he does go on to say:
I include various patriotisms [Stalinism, Naziism, American Constitutionalism, etc.] under the heading of Religion
This view is deeply flawed, and surprisingly prevalent. First of all, it is deceptive of the author to include what he calls patriotisms under the general term religion. Religion is not a particularly badly defined term and this misusage of it is almost designed to cause confusion and misunderstanding.
The second problem is that this view marks out violence and hatred as the source of the world’s problems, and suggests that removing these problems would make the world a happy place. This view entirely leaves out exploitation, inequality, etc. Perhaps the author would argue that these are a form of violence, but even if we allowed this twisting of words, these sources of unhappiness do not flow from religion or nationalism, but from greed, capitalism, and so forth.
Finally, this view suggests that religion creates violence and hatred. In my view, religion is used as an excuse for war and hatred, but the determining factor is really something else (perhaps inequality). A correlation between the existence of conflict and strong religious beliefs has been observed, but this does not imply a causative link. Removing religion would not necessarily remove the conflict. The existence of major secular conflicts certainly suggests this. Nationalism provides a more accurate model for understanding conflict, but even this oversimplifies.
The view is a dangerous one. It makes it more difficult to understand what is going on in the world. If you are engaged in a conflict with a religious opponent and you take the view quoted above, you cannot understand the elements of rationality in their view. Differences become irreconcilable, and you are left with force as the only option. However, if the cause of the conflict were inequality or exploitation for example, other options become apparent. (Again, to be fair to the author quoted above, he concludes that “negotiation” should be considered, which is not the same thing at least as I see it. You “negotiate” with an enemy you cannot overwhelm.)
This view also makes communication more difficult. If atheistic progressives sneer at their religious counterparts, and the views quoted above certainly constitute a sneer, then dialogue is impossible. Is the atheist who supports his country’s football team or proclaims its culture superior to others really in a position to criticise the rationality of someone with a deeply considered spirituality?
So, while I personally believe that religion, founded as it is on the notion of god, is fundamentally flawed, I do not believe that we should set ourselves above those with religious faith. The way to solve our problems is not to seek the elimination of religion. (Again to be fair to the quoted author, he agrees with this sentiment.) Solving our problems requires that we look at the politics underlying them.
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