The Big Picture

Vincent M. Wales


Have you ever noticed how difficult it is, sometimes, to talk to fellow non-believers about religion and atheism?  Non-believers come in just as many varieties as believers.  There are those who don't believe in a god, but don't really pay the subject any further attention than that.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who feel that religion is an institution that does far more harm than good and should be fought at every turn. 

 I stand at that latter end of the spectrum.  My partner is closer to the other. 

We've had a few talks about this.  She can't seem to understand why I am so "anti-religion."  She pointed out that religion is really good for some people, such as her mother.  Religion gives people the strength they need to get through things sometimes. 

I maintain that religion doesn't give people strength, but weakens them instead.  Such absolute reliance upon something outside of oneself is not healthy.  A crutch is to be abandoned once we are capable of walking on our own again.  But people don't use religion this way.  They continue to rely upon it until they have no strength to walk without it.

But aside from that, I told her, I can't look at religion as something on a very personal level.  I can only look at religion in a "big picture" sort of way.  And when I do, I see the millions of people killed "in the name of God," the oppression against women that is inherent in many religions, the low morality inspired by actions of Biblical characters, the divisiveness that turns us against each other, and so on and so forth. 

"Fine," she said.  "I can agree that religion has an ugly history.  But on the personal level, it does good.  Churches maintain things like soup kitchens and donate time and money to other worthy causes.  Most people don't do that kind of stuff.  You can't deny that it's doing good." 

I certainly would not say that those aren't good things, I explained.  But are those good things actually the result of the religion?  She says they are, because they're obeying the word of Jesus, which is to love thy neighbor. 

Aside from the mixed teachings of Jesus, only one of which was to love thy neighbor, I have to asků Does this mean that these people need the word of Jesus for them to be good people, to be compassionate about the welfare of others?  To me, this is just common sense.  I certainly didn't need Jesus to tell me to be that way.  Why should anyone else? 

She agrees with me that it's common sense, though she still doesn't see the point I'm trying to get at.  Finally she says, "How has religion directly affected me in a bad way?" 

Let me address how religion has affected every one of us negatively.  We all will fall into one of these groups, some of us into more than one. 

Religion has been the single biggest cause of the suppression of scientific knowledge throughout history.  Classical scientists were ridiculed by the church, or worse.  Many were imprisoned.  Some were killed.  The knowledge that they wished to share with the world was pronounced by the Church as being wrong, being an affront to God.  The knowledge was repressed, forbidden.  If it had not been, where would our culture be today?  Far more advanced than it is now, that's where.  How many deaths due to disease would have been prevented by the earlier advent of vaccines, for example?  Religion prevented these lives from being saved. It has delayed the intellectual advancement of our entire world. 

The Bible endorses slavery.  While slavery doesn't exist in our country any longer, the after-effects of it are still being felt by black people, who for so long were not treated with equality by the rest of society.  Some would (justifiably) argue that they still aren't.  Did religion cause slavery?  Of course not.  Did it prolong it?  Absolutely. 

Just as slavery was once supported, homosexuality is still vilified.  Christianity to this day promotes the unquestionable condemnation of anyone engaging in any non-monogamous, non-heterosexual relationship paradigm. 

And most applicable to my partner, religion does not promote the equality of women.  Far from it, in fact.  I think the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton sum it up in her assessment of the Bible:  "I know of no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women."  Women have long been second or third class citizens, largely due to the teachings of religion.  Does this still go on today?  Definitely.  Small-minded men continue to hold women in a poor light, because that's what their religion tells them to do.  But don't take my word for it.  Read the book yourself and see.  Examples are easy to find. 

It is not always readily apparent that one is directly affected by the bad side of religion, but don't think for a moment that you're not.  It is for these reasons that I am opposed to religion on all counts.   

My partner will possibly always feel that religion is a good thing because of the good it does on an individual level, how it makes people happy and incites them to help others.  Likely as not, I will always feel that those traits of religion are not religious in nature, but simply the way many people are: good at heart.  There are plenty of people and organizations who do the same things, but without a religious creed behind it.  And I will always maintain that the atrocities caused by religious teachings will never be made up for by the actions of those good people who just happen to be religious. 

Religion cripples us all, as individuals and as societies.  Humankind will never be free, never be all it can potentially evolve into, until it throws off the debilitating fantasies of faith.

Brian Worley     All rights reserved

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