The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

And No Religion Too…

I thought of two things when I saw this poll.

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The first was one of my favorite songs, from which I borrowed the title of this post. The second was a book I read a few years ago that actually makes it hard for me to answer “yes” to the question in the poll.

The poll has since closed, by the way, and here’s the final tally.

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It’s interesting, and tempting to say that the world would be better off without religion, but I can’t help thinking that’s not entirely true — and this is coming from someone who has publicly aired his personal issues with religion, and organized religion in particular. I imagine a lot of people who answered “yes” may have had personal issues with religion, and personal pain connected to religion, that inspired and informed their answers. Those experiences are valid. In fact, it’s valid to consider the degree of human pain and suffering inflicted in the name of religion throughout history.

Of course, my personal pain doesn’t cancel out the good that may also have been done in the name of religion. Neither does centuries of suffering that has at least some of its roots in religion. If nothing else, perhaps it breaks even, and maybe as much harm has been done as good, or vice versa.

But in this question, it almost seems like religion isn’t the point. Some people will say that it’s something inherent to religion that causes the harm mentioned above. Some people will say that it not religion, but how religion is used that makes the different. So, there’s something in people that’s to blame. I think both sides may be right. There’s probably something about religion that lends itself to abuse and there’s probably something innate in people that causes them to abuse it. So, even in a world without religion, people would probably find or invent something like it, and cause one another the same amount of misery with that other thing.

A while back, I picked up a book called The Years of Rice and Salt. I wouldn’t have picked it up if it hadn’t been recommended to me, and the premise of the story intrigued me: what would the world have been like if the Plague had wiped out 90% or more of Europe’s population? In other words, what if there had been no Europe, no Europeans, no European Imperialism, no European colonialism, etc. What would the world have been like.

The author did an incredibly imaginative, and detailed, job of creating an alternative world that looked and sounded different than our own, but that was at the time remarkably like it. It turned out there was imperialism. There was colonialism, and even slavery. And, of course wars that just seemed to bleed into one another in an endless tale of carnage. The only difference was the color and culture of the people doing it, suggesting that they were doing because they were people, and because they were people they were at least somewhat inclined to do so.

So, would the world be better off without religion? My guess is that, people being people, it would probably be about the same.

4 Comments

  1. You should know that there was semi-organized pollcrashing going on on this question from various atheist sites, so the sampling is even more skewed than your average internet poll.

  2. I know. I picked it up at Pharyngula.

  3. hm, religion is such a complex thing. i’d say we’d be better off without it if – and only if – people would be the critical beings that kant envisaged. but we’re not. so i guess religion is the opium of the masses – and for good reasons.

    the results of the poll my be skewed by the audience who usually accesses these things, so it may not say much, other than simply raising the question for debate.

    i know many people who still buy into believing in a supreme (somehow rational) and transcendental being (who happens to be interested precisely in the human race) because they feel this belief makes people abide by a moral code. so, they feel it’s either religious ethics or the chaotic rule of nature.

    nietzsche was right, i think: the hardest thing to do when you accept the death of religion is to accept that responsibility is on your shoulders. and that there is no destiny or meaning. shit just happen, so to speak.

  4. I loved that book! I read it shortly after I stopped calling myself an “Atheist” and started calling myself a “Buddhist Atheist!” 🙂 So, while I do agree with the gist of your post it appears to me that there are some major differences in religions. You would have to wonder how different our experiences growing up as gay men would have been had the main religion in this country been Buddhism instead of Christianity. And as painful as our experiences were as gay boys and teenagers and men in this country the experiences of our gay counterparts in countries like Iraq and Iran and Saudi Arabia is far far worse.

    People are people, there is no question about that. They will continue to do evil and horrible things no matter what, with or without religion. But some systems of belief make it much easier to rationalize and even encourage violence and hate than others. It seems to me Islam rationalizes and encourages both violence and hate very very well indeed. Christianity does so as well, though maybe not quite as well as Islam. But with Buddhism it is very difficult indeed to rationalize violence and hate (though of course it can be done).

    I guess my point is while people are people, their belief systems really do affect what they do and how they act; I would very much prefer a world where far more people were Buddhist or Atheist than Christian or Muslim. I hope to do whatever I can do to see that world come into being.

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