‘A virtue out of ignorance’

organized religions of all stripes breed intolerance and inhibit human progress

Matthew Puddister, ArtSci ’08
Matthew Puddister, ArtSci ’08

For anyone who still has doubts with regards to the destructive effects of religion on humanity, 15 minutes of CNN should do the trick. Horrific as it is, the current Sunni-Shiite bloodletting in Iraq is merely the latest in humankind’s long history of religious wars and atrocities.

The pointless nature of the killing—a revenge cycle essentially rooted in 1,000-year-old theological
disputes—is enough to make any rational person lose hope. Yet as we have seen time and time again,
reason and rational thinking tend to have little bearing where religion is concerned.

By its fundamental nature, organized religion tends to make a virtue out of ignorance. Where the scientific method is based on continually questioning accepted data and constantly revising theories in the wake of new information, faith is built on the unquestioning acceptance of archaic and often unreliable religious texts. Unlike science, which discards or embraces theories on the basis of empirical
evidence, each religion trumpets its own deity or scripture as the lone path to truth.

Acceptance of other religions can vary, but in extreme cases, the consequences of this perceived monopoly on truth can be catastrophic.

The inhibition of human progress by religion is perhaps most laughable in the Christian fundamentalism of the United States. Given the overwhelming evidence for evolution, the pressure of creationists to impose intelligent design, which is an anti-evolution belief that asserts that naturalistic explanations of some biological entities are not possible and such entities can only be explained by intelligent causes, according to washingtonpost.com. Advocates of intelligent design believe that school curriculums constitute a betrayal of scientific principles in favour of the Bible, a Bronze Age text stating that the earth is 6,000 years old. Opposition to evolution recalls the Catholic Church’s attempts to brand Galileo as a heretic for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun. In each case,
empirical evidence advancing human knowledge of the world is fought on behalf of a text written by ancients who had little to no scientific knowledge of the cosmos.

Similarly, global warming and environmental degradation is not a concern to born-again Christians who believe that the end times, forecast by biblical prophecy, are approaching. In the Middle East, the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is merely the most constant example of the intolerance bred by religion. Increasing extremism in Islamic states has been accompanied by ceaseless violence. Suicide bombers are perhaps the single most vivid illustration of religion’s power to indoctrinate. Aside from a hatred for their targets, there is also the abhorrent concept of martyrdom. Although the existence of God has virtually no empirical evidence—let alone the higher power of any one religious denomination—suicide bombers are willing to destroy their own lives along with many innocent bystanders in the hope of gaining access to 72 virgins in Paradise, the ubiquitous promise outlined in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. Never mind that many religious scholars believe such references to virgins in Islamic texts may merely be a mistranslated Aramaic word for grapes, according to worldnetdaily.com.

Regardless, such a male-centered view of paradise brings to mind the historical debasement of omen in many major religions. The story of Adam and Eve, for example, states that God created Eve from Adam’s rib, and Eve was made to serve him in the same way that Adam served God. Furthermore, it was Eve who first ate the forbidden fruit, with Adam following suit only because of his love for Eve because they ate the fruit, they sinned and God banished them from Eden. Thus, not only are women
deemed subservient to men, but they are also held responsible for the fall of mankind into sin.

Such institutionalized inequality is still visible not only in the ban on ordaining women in the Catholic
Church, but in the medieval treatment of women in many Islamic countries. A rape victim should not be stoned to death for adultery. Sigmund Freud believed that belief in God is part of our unconscious yearning for an ultimate father figure to provide justice in an often cruel, chaotic world.

Religion belongs to the infancy of the human race and in this light, is God seen as a Santa Claus for
grown-ups? Clearly, humanity needs to grow up.

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