Dogma demands authority, rather than intelligent thought, as the source of opinion; it requires persecution of heretics and hostility to unbelievers; it asks of its disciples that they should inhibit natural kindness in favor of systematic hatred.
~Bertrand Russell, “Human Society in Ethics and Politics”
here are very good reasons why religion exists that have nothing to do with the actual existence of God. The nature of the religious mind can be and has been studied scientifically. We have discovered, for example, that it is quite natural for the human mind to grasp onto superstitions. As we learn more about the mind and the veil around religion draws back, the naïve notion that religion exists in response to the existence of God is toppled. As we begin to see that the divine was invented by humans for human reasons, it becomes more and more difficult to accept that humans were invented by the divine.
The existence or non-existence of God aside, though, there are lovely aspects to each of the world’s great religions. As we probe into Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Sikhism, Judaism, Jainism, and so on, we discover that each system of faith offers tangible benefits to its adherents, and contributes something of value to civilization. When religious people promote peace, help the poor, advocate for good stewardship of the planet, and sponsor grand works of art, they deserve approbation. If we were to analyze religion for what it does, completely separate from the truth-claims it makes, we would immediately notice that it does considerable good in the world. We can thank religious people for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, housing programs for the needy, disaster assistance, and charitable missions in third world countries.
But that is not the whole picture. There is a dark side.
The big problem with religion is that it demands dogmatic belief, particularly in the following forms:
- The suspension of critical thinking in favor of faith.
- The abdication of moral reasoning to a human prophet, sacred texts, and/or a priest class.
Dogmatic belief is the root of much evil. Even a small measure of it results in anti-progressiveness and moral stagnation. And where critical thinking is systematically suspended, it’s a safe bet you’ll soon see compelled service to the church, exorbitant tithing, sexual exploitation (often of young children), mass suicides, inquisitions, witch hunts, human sacrifices, terrorism, and holy wars.
The religious usually do not take kindly to honest appraisals of their prophets, sacred texts, or doctrines, but in refraining from criticism we do them no favors. If there is indeed a benevolent, all-wise creator of the universe, the notion that this supreme being endowed humankind with a capacity for critical thinking, but then rewards with everlasting bliss only those who accept dogma unquestioningly and assiduously refrain from employing this facility in any instance when it could actually be useful, is preposterous. And if your worldview cannot withstand even the gentlest criticisms then it isn’t worth holding.
Christianity is the dominant religion in America, and with over two billion adherents worldwide it is the largest religion on the planet. Let’s turn a critical eye toward the dogmatic beliefs of the followers of Christ.