In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and religion, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.
"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.
“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.
Whether religion is overrated or underrated is difficult to answer. But it’s intensely important to the personal lives of billions of people. I thought for a while about why this might be, and came up with three inherent weaknesses in human beings that religion exploits.
Probably the most basic emotion of all life on Earth. We’re no exceptions. If there is one thing that unites us all, it’s the fear of death – or more precisely, the state of ‘not living’. Religion gives us deliverance from that fear. Nothing to worry about, it says, your time here on Earth is nothing more than a prelude to eternal life in a different plane.
What evidence do we have of this? Absolutely none. But we believe, because for most of us, it’s unimaginable that our consciousness will one day cease to exist. Even though we only have to think of the vast stretch of time before our births to realize that it’s not only possible but is the norm.
2. Pattern and meaning seeking
Human beings are meaning-seeking animals. All external evidence suggests that the universe is essentially meaningless, and yet our minds tell us that there must be something to it after all. We think our lives follow a narrative, that everything happens for a reason, that there are such things as fate and destiny, that the future can be altered and controlled.
So we pray to our gods to keep us safe. We bribe them to make us richer or more successful. We thank them for the good things in our lives. We cajole, chide and blame. We worship.
To put it kindly, we’re natural classifiers. In this we’re no different to other primates, but thanks to our larger brains, we’ve taken it to a whole new level. Country. Skin colour. Gender. Appearance. Self versus the other. My kind of people versus your kind of people.
There are evolutionary reasons for this. In a hunting-gathering world where tribes often competed fiercely for resources, people had to be segregationist in nature. Brotherhood towards members of your tribe. Enmity towards members of the other tribe. We did it to survive. It’s built into our genes.
Religion stokes this trait by preaching universal love and unspeakable violence in the same sentence. The former is for within the group. The latter is reserved for the other groups.
A couple of quotes
I will leave you with two quotes. One by Epicurus:
‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?’
And another by Voltaire:
‘Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.’
South Korea has one of the proportionately highest Christian populations in East Asia. But why?
Well, prior to 1945 Christianity was pretty much unheard of in Korea. The growth of both was gradual before 1945. In that year, approximately 2% of the population was Christian. Rapid growth ensued by 1991, 18.4% of the population (8.0 million) was Protestant, and 6.7% (2.5 million) was Catholic.
Anglicanism in Korea has also experienced significant growth in the recent decades.
Why did all of this happen? In recent years, the growth of Protestantism has slowed, and all the previous growth was due to the typical Christian missionary work, Christians with this fanatical idea, believing the world must convert to Christianity, because after all, it is the only true path to salvation.
Now, with just under a third of Koreans identifying themselves as Christian, this has caused tension in recent times, especially between the Christian and Buddhist communities as Buddhists have felt that current president Lee Myung-bak’s very public Christianity has left them unfairly victimised at times.
Fundamentalist Protestant antagonism against Buddhism has been a major issue for religious cooperation in South Korea, especially during the 1990s to late 2000s. Acts of vandalism against Buddhist amenities and “regular praying for the destruction of all Buddhist temples” have drawn criticism. Buddhist statues have been considered as idols, attacked and decapitated. Arrests are hard to enforce, as the perpetrators work by stealth at night.” Such acts, which are supported by some Protestant leaders, have led to South Koreans having an increasingly negative outlook on Protestantism and being critical of church groups involved, with many Protestants leaving their churches in recent years.
So once again Christians and their evangelizing nonsense are causing conflicts, fear, paranoia, and dividing people apart.
University students (traditionally at the heart of a lot of social change and protest in Korea) have now started to respond by setting up “Atheist Clubs” at top Korean universities to try and curb some of the ever-growing evangelicalism in the South.
All of Jesus’ powers have been attributed to the South Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba by vast numbers of eyewitnesses who believe that he is a living god. The man even claims to have been born of a virgin. [Christian] faith is predicated on the claim that miracle stories of the sort that today surround a person like Sathya Sai Baba—and do not even merit an hour on the Discovery Channel—somehow become especially credible when set in the pre-scientific religious context of the 1st century Roman Empire, decades after their supposed occurrence, as evidenced by discrepant and fragmentary copies of copies of copies of ancient Greek manuscripts. It is on this basis that [we are to] believe the following propositions:
1. Jesus Christ, a carpenter by trade, was born of a virgin, ritually murdered as a scapegoat for the collective sins of his species, and then resurrected from death after an interval of three days.
2. He promptly ascended, bodily, to “heaven”—where, for two millennia, he has eavesdropped upon (and, on occasion, even answered) the simultaneous prayers of billions of beleaguered human beings.
3. Not content to maintain this numinous arrangement indefinitely, this invisible carpenter will one day return to earth to judge humanity for its sexual indiscretions and skeptical doubts, at which time he will grant immortality to anyone who has had the good fortune to be convinced, on mother’s knee, that this baffling litany of miracles is the most important series of truth-claims ever revealed about the cosmos.
4. Every other member of our species, past and present, from Cleopatra to Einstein, no matter what his or her terrestrial accomplishments, will be consigned to a far less desirable fate, best left unspecified.
5. In the meantime, God/Jesus may or may not intervene in our world, as He pleases, curing the occasional end-stage cancer (or not), answering an especially earnest prayer for guidance (or not), consoling the bereaved (or not), through His perfectly wise and loving agency.
Sam Harris - The Strange Case of Francis Collins