In my two previous blog entries, I wrote in opposition of Materialism. Though I want to be clear, that I don't in any way support any form of religion. In fact I can be rather strongly anti-religion in many ways. So in this entry I'll discuss the differences between being spiritual versus being religious, and exactly why religion is in many ways a bad thing.
I'd also like to add, that I in no way wish to offend anyone. I'm not in any way saying that if you are religious, that you're by definition a bad person. Nor do I wish to discount all of the good things that have been done in the name of religion. Merely that religion itself overall has more negatives than positives, and that we'd all be much better off without it. I know a lot of people consider their religion to be the most essential core part of their personality, and so in this way it becomes nearly impossible to attack the ideas proposed by religion without someone taking personal offense to it. And to that I am sorry. I in no way wish to personally offend. I merely wish to call out the main key issues that I see lye at the core of religion in general. So with that being said, let's begin...
First off, let's define our terms. Now undoubtedly, there will still be plenty who disagree, and who will want to go into an argument over semantics. Many of us have our own definitions for such things in our heads, and many of these terms have multiple if not somewhat open-ended/undefined terms themselves. But ultimately what matters with regards to words and their definitions is majority consensus, to which I will be using as the standard definition of said terms in this post. What ultimately matters isn't the words themselves, as much as it is the ideas behind these said words represent.
- Spiritualism (or spirituality, whichever you prefer) is merely a philosophy that states that there is more to this world then simply the material. That's it. Now there is the whole Spiritualism Movement which started back in the late 19th century/early 20th century, but that's a whole other topic. What I'm speaking of here is the philosophy, not the movement.
- Religion on the other hand, is a specified belief system that instructs it's followers to adhere to certain moral principles, worship a specified deity (or deities), uphold certain traditions/rituals, claims to be mutually exclusively true, and believed on 'faith' rather then fact.
So in essence, while nearly all religions are spiritual, not all spiritualists are religious.
There are numerous reasons as to why religion is such a bad thing overall, so let me highlight what I consider to be the top 5 reasons as to why:
The Concept of Faith
Faith is the number one most dangerous and radical aspect of religion.
Now don't get me wrong, faith is of course a good thing when used as a synonym for the word trust. For instance, I trust my friends and family, and I often rely on them to help me out with things I can't do on my own. Many of the religious claim to trust in God in this way, and in this sense there isn't anything wrong with the concept at all. However this isn't what most religious people mean by the word 'faith'. What they typically mean is to believe in something without any logical reason to and/or without any evidence to back up their claim. This is quite frankly shear and utter lunacy.
Whether you believe in the existence of the human soul or don't, most rational people could give you reasons as to why you believe or disbelieve. I could give you multiple logical reasons, rational arguments, philosophical arguments, and pieces of evidence to support my claim; and I'm sure someone with the opposing view could do the same for their position. Though it's a different thing entirely to ignore all of that and say "I believe in the existence of the human soul because I have faith and nothing more." This is essentially just saying "I believe because I believe." It's a circular go nowhere non-argument. This flies in the face of all that is intelligent.
Imagine with me for a second that you go to see a doctor, and the doctor comes into the room for the first time and immediately says "You have cancer." Shocked and startled at the words of the doctor, the natural immediate response would most likely be "How do you know?" I mean you've never seen this doctor before, you only scheduled and came in for a routine checkup, no one has run any tests or labs to determine anything about your physical condition, so the immediate response being "How do you know?" is a perfectly fair question. Now imagine with me that the doctor simply says "I have faith that it's true." Would you suddenly accept the words of the doctor? Most likely not. Because he has absolutely no reason to believe that you have cancer, yet he believes it anyway.
Do you see how this sort of concept is wholly unviable in any other real world context? Yet in the context of religion, this kind of mentality is commonplace. People proudly assert that their religious beliefs are founded on absolutely nothing, and they even consider their faith that's founded on nothing is a virtue, while doubt and skepticism of any kind is considered horrible 'sin'.
The fact is, that the truth about the nature of our reality is objectively true regardless of our subjective opinion of it. Simply believing something is true and willing and wishing it to be true with all your might does not suddenly make it objectively true. I could wish and will and believe with all my might that magical pink unicorns exist, but no amount of 'faith' will suddenly make it objectively true.
Now lastly I want to point out that I'm sure some of you will argue in favor of psi power and intuition. And that you could arrive at the truth intuitively, and by psychic means. Some will even argue that objective reality does in fact bend to our conscious will with mind-over-matter effects like telekinesis. What I want to point out about this is that this is fundamentally different from the concept of faith. If such psychic abilities exist, then they are objective facts about the nature of reality that can be observed and measured. If telekinesis exists (even in a less direct way) it too can be objectively measured and calculated. Don't believe me? Then re-read my blog post DEBUNKING Pseudo-Skeptics and skip to the links where I provided several pieces of evidence that show such things can be measured.
Exclusivity of Truth
At first you might not think this is a bad thing, as truth itself is by definition mutually exclusive. I mean 2+2=4, and all other answers are false. The answer 4 is mutually exclusive. So what's the problem here? Well the problem isn't that religions regard truth as exclusive, it's that they regard their assertions to be true, and that anything that contradicts their assertions is wrong. What's worse is that these assertions are arrived at by means of faith. Let me explain...
Lets say a Christian says "The Bible is the perfect inerrant word of God." Typical Christian claim, and it's most likely arrived at by faith. But what if that statement isn't actually true? In the mind of most Christians, that doesn't matter. They believe it to be true on faith, and therefore absolutely anything that contradicts this claim is by definition false. In other words, objective reality doesn't matter to them. Rather then conform their beliefs to the facts, they conform the facts to fit their beliefs.
Most rational people in their daily lives adjust what they think in accordance with new information. For instance, you might really like McDonalds, but once you learn what they inject into their food, you may very well change your mind. You may believe a celebrity is a really good person and a role model, but once information is leaked about said celebrity secretly doing evil deeds, you might not believe them to be so good after all. This is how rational people function in the world around them. Once they receive new information, they adjust what they think and believe to accommodate these new facts. Religious people don't do that.
Religious people don't allow any 'new' information. They hold a specified group of information 'sacred' (typically in a holy book), meaning it cannot be contradicted, ever. Their 'truth' is mutually exclusive, and cannot be allowed to adjust itself with new information. This is exactly why the Catholic church went to war for several centuries against scientific minds like Galileo, who simply provided new information that contradicted sacred scripture. New information was strictly disallowed, and was deemed heresy.
This is what also leads to constant holy wars. Since religions (and even different denominations within each religion) claim to have their own truth, and that anything opposed to this truth is by definition false, then there is no communication or compromise that can be made. The opposition is thereby false by definition, and there is no new information that could ever persuade them otherwise. They are beyond persuasion, since no new information could ever arrive that they accept to be true.
Traditions and Rituals
This one isn't as serious of an issue, but it stems from a general overall problem with religion, which is that it's always stuck in the past rather than focused on the future.
Rather than improving upon our current condition, religion has a bad tendency of trying to always keep things as they are. This is best reflected in their observance with religious rituals and traditions. Since religions claim to basically have a monopoly on truth, and that their truth never changes or adjusts to new information (hence the term sacred), they therefore practice rituals and traditions that may or may not be totally outdated and in some cases just flat wrong, and will persist in these practices rather than make any steps towards progress.
For example, before the Civil War in the United States, most Christians in the south (yes I'm using Christianity as an example again, it's the most predominant religion here in the west) supported slavery, and used sacred scripture to justify it. I know this isn't a 'tradition' per say, but again this goes to my overall point. That religion impedes progress. Rather than asking the question "How can we improve our current condition?" they insist that things must remain as they are, or must be maintained in a specific way.
By emphasizing the practice of certain traditions, it insists that these traditions must be maintained as they are, rather than improving upon them. This is why you find so many fundamentalist religious people opposing things like science and social progress, because such things alter their traditions. They harken back to a time when said traditions were practiced as they were, and seek to maintain said practices in their steady state, rather than seeking to grow ever better. And thus, we had a thousand years of the dark ages.
Worship of Deity(s)
Let's say for the sake of argument that the smartest most powerful man on earth suddenly established world peace. Would he be worthy of worship? Most people would probably say no. What if Superman existed? Would he be worthy of worship? Again, your answer would most likely be no. What if aliens existed, who were not just immortal, but who had reached the prime peak of scientific advancement, achieved perfect everlasting peace in their civilization, and possessed the power to create entire planets, solar systems, and life? And what if those aliens created our solar system as well as all life on earth? Some might very well worship these beings as deities, but in the end, they're no different then us. They're simply smarter, stronger, live longer, know more, and are more moral, etc. But do those qualities deem them worthy of subservient worship? Sure, they would undoubtedly be worthy of honor, adoration, and praise, although the term 'worship' tends to add another level to this by insinuating blind trust in and total submission and servitude to said beings.
Those who claim to worship whatever deities they claim to exist, also seem to support the idea that these deities possess ownership rights over us, and that we are to submit ourselves entirely to their will on the sole basis that they possess the properties listed above. This doesn't make any sense, and totally contradicts their supposedly 'moral' character. Just because your parents 'made' you doesn't mean that they suddenly 'own' you, nor does it mean they can do whatever they want to you. They may be your guardian, but you are not their slave. Similarly, just because someone is stronger or smarter or overall better than you in some way, doesn't mean that they have the authority to control your life. Nor are they worthy of 'worship.' You can admire someone for these attributes, but to submit yourself to them as their humble slave due to them having these attributes is primitive at best.
So what can we deduce thus far? Well for one, the fact that some entity creates you does not give that entity ownership rights over you, nor does it mean you can or even should be their slave. And second, the fact that an entity is greater than you in any way, does not suddenly give them these same ownership rights and eternal servitude mentality either. So essentially, if you want to honor, admire, praise, and give thanks to a deity for possessing said qualities, then by all means do so. However to 'worship' a deity tends to add in authoritarian servitude into the mix, to which does not in any way belong.
This is one of the biggest problems with religion, which is the authoritarian (and often times totalitarian) nature of God worship. Harkening back to the truth segment mentioned above, religious people often times view the words, actions, and commands of their deities as absolute and final. These gods (or God) must be followed blindly as the complete and absolute authority on everything, and that anyone or anything that does not bend to their god's will must be punished. This is why so many atheists describe God as a fascist dictator. If God is to be followed, it must be followed because it's command is objectively correct, not because of it's power or status or authority alone. In other words, every single person has a moral duty to do what is right, rather than blindly follow the will of anyone or anything, including any sort of god. Otherwise you resign yourself to the role of slave and to the will of an authoritarian ruler.
This is the final, and most important point in all of this. Religious morality.
Yes, I could sit here and list out all of the moral atrocities committed in the name of religion all day, and you've probably already heard most of them before already. Although this doesn't really get to the real heart of the problem. We have to ask ourselves: "Why have so many religions committed, and even justified, the most morally atrocious acts in the history of mankind?" The answer ties into everything we've spoken about above. And it is simply because religion possesses the unique ability to fundamentally re-write morality itself.
Now before I begin, I feel I must first point out that there is for some reason a large number of people in the non-religious community who will actually disagree with and deny what I'm about to say, as they don't believe that objective moral values even exist. I honestly don't have any clue why they think that. I've debated people like that on this topic numerous times, and each time I've left the debate scratching my head. Not because I don't understand what they're saying, but because they for some reason have a strong aversion to labeling anything objective as 'moral'. They tend to agree with everything I say here, but they hate calling it 'morality' for some reason, and I've yet to ever understand why. Regardless, that gets into a whole separate topic on it's own, so in this case I'll simply be speaking in response to religious morality, rather than the non-religious denial of objective moral principles existence itself. So with that, let me begin...
Most rational people - whether they're consciously aware of it or not - define 'good' as something that benefits the overall health and well-being of conscious entities. For instance, giving to the poor and healing the sick are universally considered good acts because they contribute to the overall health and well-being of these conscious individuals. These acts also alleviate suffering. Most rational people also define 'bad' as that which causes unnecessary pain and suffering, as well as that which deteriorates the overall health and well-being of conscious entities. So for instance, kidnapping and raping/torturing little children for fun is universally considered bad because of the harm it causes not only the children, but to society as a whole if these acts were allowed and became commonplace. And again, whether you have consciously thought this out in this manner or not, subconsciously, most rational people think like this when defining morality and assigning a certain value onto something. What this shows is that moral values are objectively measurable, based on everyone's overall conscious health and well-being. It is an objective fact that giving to the needy and healing the sick improves people's lives, and it is an objective fact that kidnapping, raping, and torturing children causes irreparable harm to children and society. Now this isn't to say that there aren't ever any cases of moral ambiguity out there, because clearly there are. Nor does this mean that there isn't a scale of right and wrong, as this doesn't mean everything is totally black and white, good and evil. However the mere fact that there are universally accepted moral values like these, and that health and well-being can be objectively measured independent of anyone's acceptance or denial of this fact, means that objective moral values do in fact exist. These moral principles exist independent of anyone's thoughts, feelings, or opinions of them - thus they are called 'objective'.
So then how does religion view morality? The problem is, religion twists this into authoritarian absolutes. What I mean by that is, morality is often defined as the will of a particular deity (and if not that then just simply the teachings or religious texts of the particular religion). Moreover, that which goes against God's will (or again, the will of the teacher/religious text, etc.) is considered a mortal 'sin'. So with that religion has fundamentally redefined morality from an objective fact independent of anyone's will, to the will of God. Anything that God wills is good, and anything that goes against God's will is bad. And it is with this total re-write of objective morality that we begin to understand the reason for things like suicide bombers, the KKK, the Crusades, and witch hunts, etc. If you redefine good as the will of your particular God, and you define evil as anything that deviates from that, then you've thereby justified any objectively immoral act as morally right. So long as you get your God to back you up.
I don't feel like I really need to go much further into debunking this claim, but to put the final nail into the coffin I'd just simply add this. The logic of this kind of morality just doesn't hold up. If you god (or your religious teachings, whatever) defines what is good, then why praise said god for being good when it would be equally good if it were the opposite? If you base you morals on the whims of a deity (or religious teachings, etc.), then morality is completely arbitrary. You may claim that 'these teachings are absolute and unchanging', but that's irrelevant. If morals are defined by the will of anyone or anything, then morals could be literally anything! On what basis could you say that rape is bad, if it's literally at the very least possible for rape to be good, just that your god or whatever just so happened to decide otherwise. It's only when you define morality as an objective fact outside of anyone's thoughts, feelings, opinions, or will, that you're able to truly call something moral or immoral. Otherwise, morality is completely arbitrary, regardless of something's knowledge or power or status as deity.
Also, if you take the position that your deity or religious teachings merely convey what is objectively moral rather than decide it itself, then awesome. Although I have this simple question: Why can't we discover what is objectively moral for ourselves like we have in discovering the natural laws that govern our universe already? Rather than just being told the answers, why can't we discover it ourselves? It kind of demotes your god to being no more than a simple messenger, delivering a message that while possibly helpful could also be useless, as we could just as easily discover the answers ourselves. Rather than trying to discover which of the thousands of religions out there (as well as the many more numerous denominations within each religion) has the right message of moral teachings being delivered, why not just discover those teachings for ourselves? It's kinda like going around the room in a classroom asking various other students who has the right answer to a math problem and getting a different answer each time, versus just sitting down and solving the problem yourself. And besides, by what standard do you even decide if the messenger's moral teachings are the right ones? I assume it's the objective standard your messenger's basing the message on. So basically, you'd have to know the objective standard yourself in order to determine if the messenger's message is correct, thereby nullifying any point in sending the message in the first place. You could've just discovered it for yourself and stopped there.
This is the singular most underlying problem with religion as a whole. It's why nearly all of the most morally atrocious acts ever committed by man were committed in the name of religion. Because religion redefines morality. There is no such thing as Christian morality, or Muslim morality, or Buddhist morality; anymore than there's such a thing as Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist physics or chemistry. There's simply morality. Period.
The last thing I want to do in this blog post, is compare and contrast religion to the philosophy spiritualism.
To believe in the existence of some sort of God, or gods, spirits, the soul, the afterlife, etc. does not require you to have any of the above issues that accompany religion.
- You don't need faith to believe it, as you can believe in such things based on rational arguments and evidence.
- You don't need to stick with any specific truth as being absolute, since your beliefs can easily evolve and change over time.
- You don't have to adhere to any traditions or rituals, and in fact you can adopt a wholly scientific worldview in tandem with it.
- You don't need to worship anything, even if you believe in a God, etc.
- And you don't need to base your morals on the teachings or the will of anyone or anything.
So while Spirituality and Religion may vary well agree in the existence of various spiritual things, they are also in many ways a far cry from one another. Many people have the false assumption that in order to abandon religion, you must be an atheist, but this just isn't true. You can still believe in the existence of most all of the basic things that various religions may propose, without all of the added faults that accompanies religion in general. This is why I call myself spiritual, but not religious.
To any religious people reading this, this is my point overall: You can believe in all the main spiritual aspects that your religion teaches, without the added handicaps that accompany being religious entails. It's better to be spiritual, then to be religious.