User:Woozle/a spiritual argument against religion
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This is not about any particular person who practices or believes in a religion; most people draw their beliefs from a combination of religion and reality. I'm talking about the religious world-view as such, undiluted by secular considerations. Any brand of fundamentalism probably comes pretty close to representing this sort of pure religious attitude, so to that extent I am also talking about fundamentalist attitudes. I am also talking about religious ideas and attitudes to the extent that they influence any person's decision-making process, i.e. how they live their lives, in a direction which contradicts common sense and reason.
There is also a religious establishment, whose aim is not the supposed primary purpose of religion, i.e. making people's lives better and seeking truth. The primary mission of this establishment is to use religious teaching to maintain their cultural authority. This establishment exists in most varieties of religion, as it helps to promote and maintain the particular flavor of religion in its care, but the degree to which it exists varies widely. Some varieties of religion have very loose power structures, while others (such as the Catholic Church) are vast in scope and intensively hierarchical. Some others are smaller but more vicious in their enforcement of power, threatening death for those who leave the fold.
I am not necessarily talking about these religious establishments per se, but certainly I am talking about the ideas which have emerged from the self-serving enhancements, manipulations and distortions those establishments have applied to the simple, humanistic and personal concepts which are the heart of religious belief.
I'm also talking primarily about the religions I'm more familiar with, i.e. the Abrahamic variety (though of course I'd be interested in hearing how these arguments do or do not apply to any religion, Abrahamic or otherwise).
I'll use a capital R to distinguish this usage of Religion from other possible uses.
Religion says that God created the world, created us, invented language, and is is the primary director of our destiny. God always knows what's best, and if asked in the right way, will give us clues to help us make the right decisions. We are God's children, and He cares for us because He loves us and has a purpose for us.
What God does not do, ever, is explain the reasons for what he says... beyond assigning simple labels, such as "this is abomination", or making vague threats such as "those who do X shall never see the kingdom of heaven". God supposedly knows best, but He apparently believes us incapable of understanding His reasoning – or even of sufficiently following any arguments He might offer to the point of realizing that they are beyond our present understanding; not only does he not explain, he never even attempts to. We are God's children, and Religion is determined to keep us that way.
How religion is anti-spiritual
Religion prevents us from finding out more; it often prevents us from even asking the questions. Any curious mind who comes along is essentially told "here are the questions you may ask, and here are the answers you must find." This sort of mental strait-jacketing is anathema to the inquisitive spirit.
Further, the Religious view shows humans as basically uninventive and incompetent. We did not get ourselves where we are today; God created a perfect world for us (the Garden of Eden), and we blew it by being too curious.
Also, as God's children, we are never allowed to grow up. In real life, parents teach their children to become adults. Parents explain things; sometimes children don't understand yet, but eventually they will, so the parents keep trying. God, on the other hand, never answers any questions clearly or unambiguously; many religions state that God is no longer available for comment, while others allow for the possibility of direct communication through prayer – but in no case does God answer questions in a way that can be perceived by more than one person.
It's as if God hands us a guitar, and says we must never tune it. The guitar is perfect, and any tuning would merely be human foible applied to God's perfect instrument.
Or, to build a more accurate metaphor: it's as if we're introduced to the guitar and told that God created it, and therefore it is perfect and must not be altered or adjusted in any fashion. Trying to make our own guitars is sacrilege. Heathen from other lands who have guitars that look different from ours – some not even having the proper number of strings! – are infidels, and (at best) need to discard their unrighteous false-guitars; at worst, they should be killed for their blasphemy.
In reality, the guitar was invented by humans.1 Not only that, but we've created many different kinds of guitar – slapped-together cigar-box thunkers, multi-thousand-dollar twelve-strings, and even those new-fangled "electric" guitars (some of them with two necks – a fact which I'm sure would be pointed out eagerly by fire-and-brimstone preachers if guitars were actually considered sacred objects). We've even got lutes, mandolins, banjos, and sitars. They all sound different, because there is no one "right" way for a plucked hand-held instrument to sound. They also all need tuning from time to time (with the possible exception of MIDI guitars). Just as a guitar needs to be tuned – especially if subjected to changing temperature or humidity – so do social rules need to be adjusted to deal with the changing "climate" of reality.3
Religion hands us a set of doctrine, and says it is absolute truth and must never be altered. Some religions allow us to question that doctrine, but unless you end up agreeing with it afterwards, you can no longer remain part of that religion. The most crucial upshot of this, at least from a philosophical perspective2, is that it is no longer possible to engage members of that religion in meaningful debate about the doctrine; you either accept it (with or without reservations), or you don't. There is no possibility for saying "most of the doctrine makes sense to me, but I think this part here has to be wrong, and here's why" and being taken seriously.
Common sense tells us – now, at any rate, though apparently not in the 1st millennium BC – that many or most of the rules in the Old Testiment are cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary. Although they may have been necessary (or at least helpful) in keeping our distant ancestors alive in the desert with very little technology and few resources, we do not need to be enslaved by the restrictions spelled out in a 3000-year-old document.
Religion gives us fear, to keep us in line, and hate, to keep us from listening to different viewpoints. Fear and hate crush the spirit
It is true that there is no record of the guitar's invention, so maybe God did invent it. You could make just as good a case for the guitar having been invented by God as you could for language, since the histories for both go back about as far – guitars have been popular, in one form or another, for at least 5,000 years; our knowledge of language can only go back as far as the [[wikipedia:History of writing|earliest writing], which is currently dated to about the 4th millennium BC although symbol-like carvings have been found dating back to about 6600 BC.
You could also make just as good a case that the guitar and language were both invented by aliens, since aliens are at least within the realm of possibility (however unlikely) given our knowledge of the universe.
There are often more practical implications, such as losing the support of the church community. This is one of the survival tools often used by religion memes.
This is not the same as saying we can throw the old rules out when we feel like it; just as a ship should not be completely rebuilt while at sea (nor a guitar tuned or repaired in the middle of a song), changes must be carefully deliberated, and there are times and places where tampering with the rules may be inadvisable. As rational creatures, we have to use our powers of observation, memory, communication, and reason to come to the best possible decision about what changes to make, and when. Refusing to change the rules at all is, of course, rather like refusing to repair a hull breach on the theory that God must have made the hole, and therefore it is God's will that the hole exist.