Occasionally on the Internet I find myself reading a discussion on the characteristics of religious people. Since few of the contributors are themselves religious we would not expect them to be flattering. Of course such criticisms do not apply to my own readers so our knickers can remain untwisted. However It does no harm to review such ideas, if only to warn us to give good examples to the secular world.
It is well established that human beings, from an early age, find solace in religious or cultic beliefs. We seem to be programmed with the question ‘what’s it all about?’, and we are likely to find an answer in some kind of supernatural explanation from, say, the simple idea of fate right up to the concept of an infinite God.
This is likely to involve relating to a group who believe the same answer and have built a lifestyle around it. And there is good evidence that such a life tends to be happier and healthier than those without a belief. We might want to claim that this need for the ultimate answer is not an outcome of evolution but in itself constitutes evidence for God’s existence. Bernard Shaw, however, said “The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
Unsurprisingly the unbeliever thinks that this is just intellectually lazy. We would rather conjure up an answer to life which can neither be proved nor disproved since hard evidence is lacking. Moreover, unlike many ordinary beliefs, we are obliged to bring others into the fold. History tells us that believers not only disapprove of non believers, they are inclined to condemn and punish them. We only have to look at Christianity in its several forms, to say nothing of Islam, to see this in action.
Here are a few quotes to review:
“It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.”
Thomas Jefferson (1788)
“The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.”
Thomas Paine (1795)
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1882)
“Scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”
Thomas Huxley (1907)
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Richard Dawkins (2006)