Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Trap of Religion

Camille Paglia, a woman I respect for her sex-positive approach to feminism, recently said something stupid. We all say stupid things, every one of us, so I'm not going to villify Paglia for this. However, I'm going to freely criticize the content of what she said, because she's a public figure with a widely read soapbox (unlike myself), and her words need to be scrutinized for truth if you're considering using them for the basis of an opinion.

Camille, an atheist, herself, in an interview with Salon.com, said of great thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens:

I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination."

 Oh, my. Camille, Camille. Where do I start? Are you going to argue that sneering at political philosophies is juvenile and symptomatic of a stunted imagination, too?

The simple fact is - some ideas are wrong.  Some ideas are harmful.  I know there are people who opine that everyone's beliefs and ideals are valid, of equal merit, deserving of respect, but that's horeshit. At the risk of invoking Godwin's law, remember, National Socialism was a set of beliefs and ideals - practically a religion of its own. You can argue about the great works of art inspired by religion, certainly. (I'd love to, actually, but not here, that's another topic.) You can argue about the works of charity religions have performed, and make the occasional good point, but you cannot argue against the harm religion has caused throughout all of human history. All religion. We're not talking about a few extremists that don't represent religion as a whole. We know that people shooting up cartoonists or blowing up children at bus stops are a problem. But if we say "exposure to some forms of radiation is unhealthy for humans," we're not just talking about nuclear weapons. Religion as a whole is altogether poisonous to modern human society and freedoms.

At their core, all religions - whether you're talking about those based on Judaeo-Christian backgrounds, or eastern religions like Buddhism, teach that we are fundamentally flawed, imperfect... that our flesh, our emotions, are somehow an obstacle we must overcome to reach some kind of enlightenment/salvation/forgiveness. They teach us shame in our humanity, they teach us that we as a species need some kind of outside help.

The reality is, life is a struggle. More than 99% of all species that have ever lived on this rock have been extinct longer than humans have even existed. Life on earth has survived many mass-extinctions - asteroid strikes (one of which was big enough to have formed our moon), supervolcanoes, climate change, tectonic shifts, gamma ray bursts... and yet you and I are here, reading this. Savage, naked apes who crawled down from the trees taught ourselves language, art, engineering, medicine, altruism  - surviving all manner of disasters and ending up at the very top of the evolutionary ladder of this planet, and we have only ourselves to credit for this. God didn't help us. Religion certainly didn't - it hindered us every step of the way, and it still does. Religion has taught us to be ashamed of our humanity - that we need saving. The Christian bible derides human wisdom and teaches us to not rely on ourselves - to not trust ourselves - that we are evil and flawed and only God can help direct us in the right way. Science has found that these teachings have a real, detrimental effect on people's intelligence and ability to function in society. And yet somehow, parents think indoctrinating our children in these horrible myths is the duty of any good parent.

No, Camille. It is not juvenile to try to steer society away from religion. It is not juvenile to try to help our species escape this trap that has enslaved us for all of recorded history. Finally, humanity is on the cusp of escaping slavery to superstition. You have escaped it yourself. Please do not, by your words, discourage any other part of humanity from doing the same. If you want imagination, imagine a species that takes pride in who and what we are, celebrate our humanity and discard all those arrogant imaginary gods and the artificial limitations they have imposed on us.

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