Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Religion Is Dangerous

Religion is dangerous. Probably the most dangerous thing ever known to man.

Religion is dangerous because it undermines freedom. Any religion which imposes laws on how you should perceive the world and how you should act on those perceptions is danger in its purest form.

Proponents of religion, probably too indoctrinated to even consider something else, usually argue the following to justify religion's purpose :

1. Religion brings good into the world.
2. Religion is God's instruction, so we should follow it in its entirety if we believe in God (all-or-nothing).

Are these claims really valid? On closer inspection :

The claim that religion (by religion I mean as defined later) is solely responsible for universal human values is absurd. Is it really possible that human values such as compassion, empathy and the like can be learned by reading a Book? I find that the actual realization of such values is usually through lessons from life's experiences. This is not to deny that religion in itself may not have any good or cause to inspire good, just that it's not the sole source.

In any case, it's not the good aspects of religion that deserve attention (in fact the intersection of 'good' aspects of all religions seem to be simple basic universal human values which frankly aren't mindblowing revelations). The danger that religion poses are much more serious than people consider them to be.

What is a religion? It's a set of postulates, and set of practices which may constitute as law/belief and/or attitude. Any aberration in any of these will constitute a different religion in itself, simply because it changes its fundamental characterization.

Today people, in the usual herd mentality of 'wanting to belong' to some 'meaningful' larger picture, like to identify themselves strongly with one religion or another. Now, identifying with a religion implies complete conformance with all it's aspects, because any explicit deviation would constitute in itself a new religion, simply because of the definition of a religion.

Here lies the danger. In wishing to 'belong' to the larger picture, an individual sacrifices his freedom of belief to the religion. He is compelled to follow it, all or nothing.

Doing so is like bypassing our greatest strength, conscience. Submission to any religion is basically an incineration of our free thinking. Our inner natural conscience in subdued. All matters wherever relevant to religion (and most cases it may not be, especially in these 'this religion is a way of life' religions) are now evaluated by a third party, an outsourcing of our natural evaluation process, whose results we are now bound to accept and act on because of our self-proclaimed allegiance. Any failure to do so would imply you aren't a follower, again because of the definition of a religion.

And why is this dangerous? Simply because it's a violation of your freedom. Following a religion is like entering a dictator's territory. Whether that dictator, who says what you should think and how you should act, is good or bad is immaterial. You have given up your rights at the most important level, your mind.

Trusting something else to do your thinking for you is dangerous. Religion creates zombies. The danger here is that a religion can just as well contain bad as it can good. A simple example. Most contemporary religions tend to emphasize unity among its followers. The danger here is that the unity causes division. Thus religion has created a divide in the world in the perception of its follower based on a abstract no-real-world-significance criterion - belief in the religion. A divide based on imaginary differences which don't have any physical significance. And danger lies there.

I've heard people argue that maybe such a dictatorship is necessary. And why? Apparently for unformed crude 'rest-of-the-world' tools it serves to guide them to do the right things religion claims to, by requiring that they surrender entirely and not ask questions or do any thinking for themselves. How convenient.

How pathetic actually. Rather than emphasizing the need for people to do the thinking for themselves. There is no short cut here. And the greatest danger lies here that if unformed crude tools join religion, submitting entirely and requiring religion to answer every question asked to them and not exercising any mental muscle in the least, aren't they the most likely to 'misinterpret' religion and do something potentially harmful with a 'good' intention?

Because here's a simple paradox :

- Rational followers seem to agree with me that the following the human conscience, with values like compassion is probably a right way.

- However, they claim that religion is in place for those whose conscience has not yet been developed or something to that effect, in essence, people without the capability to evaluate the implications of their actions on others (essentially what a non-existent conscience would result in).

- So is allowing these people to introduce religion as conscience (to which they must submit in their entirety) really going to do good? Aren't they at a higher risk of misinterpreting the religion or manipulated so that they actually would go against the universal human values as simple as 'don't kill an innocent', simply because they are trying to follow orders?

Thus, if a compassionate conscience is what humanity must strive for, isn't religion, by declaring itself the 'right' way (most religions do that) enticing the 'less conscientious' or those morally unsure, to follow it blindly? And blind faith, even that arising out of an intention to do good, can do bad. Because there is no conscience in this equation. Whether the religion is evil in itself is immaterial. In any way, individual conscience has been destroyed.

An example. Osama bin Laden, perpetrator of the dreaded 9/11 terrorist attack that killed thousands and wounded (not just physically) millions. All in the name of religion, or atleast he claims so. Others are quick to defend this saying he isn't a true follower of the religion or has violated it and so on. But does that matter?

In all likelihood Osama bin Laden envisioned himself as a person intending to do good. He truly believed he was right, he was doing what he was supposed to, and that he was doing his duty which he believed ultimately had noble objectives. While these objectives and the means to do so would certainly shock the universal citizen of the world, he believed all of it simply because his belief and decision-making to do good came from a third party - religion. Probably he misinterpreted it, but that really doesn't matter. The point is, religion sets itself up for these situations, by catering to the irrational and the unconscientious, for whom they promise salvation and the path to do good. A rational and conscientious person would see religion as unnecessary, and less likely to be hardcore zealots, simply because they already rely on their conscience to an extent and just don't know it.

And why do I think conscience is the solution? Because I truly believe, that at heart we are ultimately human beings. Compassion and empathy transcend everything. It's something that's there, we just have to listen to it and let it grow without stifling it. I think a clear conscience is all we have to strive for, it means we are good human beings in the right sense of the word good - independent of any religion (and yet conforming to the basic 'good' tenets of probably all of them).

What possesses the human being to believe that a random third party claiming to be word of a higher power is infallible? A usual argument is that God knows better. The most dangerous explanation of all - the recursive infallibility. If any doubt about fallibleness on the part of the reader, the religion goes on the offensive. Subduing the conscience as and when it may struggle to make itself heard.

If ever this third party is in conflict with your conscience, it is your conscience which you must follow. The answer lies within, yet we search endlessly for it everywhere.

Thus religion takes away from us our most precious freedom - our freedom to think. Religion by itself is an attack on freedom. God seems to have given us the ability to think, just to take it away? Does God really want us to be mindless drones?

Think about it. Imagine watching the human race today from an outsider's point of view, to whom the concepts of God or whatever were not known. I imagine it's something like watching dogs fight. What is the point of it all? Fighting in the name of religion is a fight with no tangibly understandable reason. The veracity of religion is based on faith, not scientific proof or logic which can be demonstrated. Faith exists just in the head, it has no physical manifestation. DNA remains unchanged irrespective of what you might think. And yet, for something as silly as a difference in beliefs, which in itself are meaningless, we are prepared to fight. Religion's ultimate weapon - the ability to pit human against human.

Religion is man's greatest weakness. It is the product of a desire to 'belong' into a society. Religion is nothing but society. A group of people with aligned beliefs.

If not religion, then what? Since I have defined religion in unambiguous terms - a set of postulates and practices/laws, think about your religion. Any exclusion of an entity in that isn't the religion that you claim to follow anymore. Is there any aspect of your religion with which you might have the slightest reservation of adopting into your life? If you do, then you aren't a follower anymore, you probably just didn't know it. Don't BS about it then and man up. Declare your stance. Religion is built such that it's all or nothing, there isn't an in-between.

Free yourself to not be constrained to third-party doctrine and try to find answers. Choose your belief. Start your own 'religion'.

As per my definition of religion, it has nothing to do with spirituality. Most religions stifle the search for answers by claiming to have them right there. Not being religious does not imply (though it certainly includes) atheism. It simply means believing in a higher power in a way that you see fit and not necessarily what any third party (established religion) tells you. Not being religious means to be free.

An ideal world would have belief (whatever they might be) in the mind and action based on conscience. Belief doesn't matter - it is intangible, though the human fancy would like to be otherwise. Belief is in your head, and it should stop there. Believe whatever you want about God or Santa Claus, but act on your conscience and it should be your very own. Drawn from your experience. Your wisdom. That would be a conformity worth adhering to. That is true tolerance. That is true freedom.

Ironically and yet with true wisdom, the Buddha said,
"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
It is something the world today is in great need of. Be the universal citizen. Free your mind.

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