The Tragedy of Religion

By guest blogger Miriam English for International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief (22 August).

The great tragedy of religion is that those who are trapped within its falsehood honestly believe it is a great and beautiful truth, that it can heal the world and enlighten people, and that it is the purest source of morality. These people are not stupid, nor are they intentionally wicked. Many are fine, upstanding people who genuinely want the best for those around them. Some have extraordinary minds, and have used them for the betterment of mankind.

Sadly, if they could step outside the deception woven into their minds, they would see the cruel contradictions of religion.

Opposition to abortion comes mainly from religion, yet the religious people are by far the greatest propagaters of it. Divorce is denounced by religion, but it is primarily the religious who avail themselves of it. Religious people believe their god promotes love, but they use their god to hate others, and are far more intolerant than non-believers. They insist that they value life, but murder statistics show they kill more people than the non-religious do. Disease, especially sexually transmitted disease is more common among religious people. Life spans are shorter. They are less educated, especially the women. Poverty is worse. Infant mortality is higher. In virtually every way you can measure, being religious is worse. If there really was a god then these things would preferentially afflict the godless, rather than the true believers.

The contradictions in religion are breathtaking in their number and their invisibility to the religious mind. God is loving but is willing to torture forever those who are not convinced by bad evidence. Most of the bible is forgery and contains hundreds of mistakes and contradictions, yet is somehow the unerring word of god. The great and good morality of religion somehow never noticed that slavery is deeply evil.

Even simple logic breaks the notion of a god. If a god can lie and do evil then he’s not perfectly good, but if he can’t then he’s not all-powerful. Injustice abounds, but any god that allows that can not be perfectly just. A god that can make something that’s completely indestructible, even by him, is by definition not all-powerful, but if he can’t make such a thing, then he’s also by definition not all-powerful.

Some of the most wealthy and powerful people are religious. And how do they wear it? They propagate hate and division. They try everywhere to prevent love among people who happen to be gay. They ally themselves with white supremacists, Nazis, and kleptocrats, excusing and encouraging corruption and racial vilification. They look the other way while pedophiles stalk children from inside the protection of their own ranks. For more than a thousand years of the Dark Ages religion controlled Europe, and what did it bring? Corruption, ignorance, superstition, poverty. Today the places that religion dominates most strongly are marked by brutality, violence, ignorance, and hate. Wherever religion gains power, human rights decline.

Yet the religious person can see none of this; they are blinded by their embrace of this devastating mind virus. To merely question their belief is seen by them as dangerously wrong — a betrayal of their god. There is no easy way for the honest religious person to unlock the chains that bind and enslave them. But increasingly, they are freeing themselves. The older generations, not so much, but the younger generations are breaking out of their servitude and breathing the fresh air of reality.

As the power of religion wanes everywhere, the world is improving. Rates of violence are declining. Extreme poverty is being eliminated, and along with it, starvation. War is gradually disappearing, and what war continues is becoming less deadly. Disease is being eliminated and we are becoming more prepared for new diseases that might appear. The population problem has been solved and the world birthrate is now around replacement level and set to drop below that. Because older generations continue to linger as newer generations reach childbearing age population still increases, but that growth is slowing, and soon actual population numbers will decline for the first time in history (despite religion frantically pushing for more births and trying to eliminate contraceptives). Education is spreading to everybody (including, crucially, females) even while religion tries to retard it with religious anti-science schooling. The internet has made it possible for potentially everybody to access Wikipedia — the greatest encyclopedia and knowledge resource in all of history. The internet has delivered Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, iBiblio, LibriVox, and many other great free libraries. It has given worldwide access to educational videos on almost any topic that can be imagined. Blogs and forums have sprung up where people can gather and discuss things and solve problems. It has been said that the internet is where religion goes to die.

So, is the way clear now? Is the danger over? No… not by a long shot. Religion is still a great threat. Religious extremists are working hard to undo democracy by capturing political power, with the aim of imposing theocracy once more. They would happily plunge us all into a new Dark Age. We need to prevent this happening. We will probably win against them, but our success is not guaranteed. There is much to be done. Attempts to pervert justice and democracy must be resisted.

We must use empathy and kindness as we spread knowledge and understanding so that we may help religious people break free.

I know it’s difficult when they attack us and our tolerant secular society, but try to always remember: they are not the enemy. Religion is.

Originally published at The Alternative Independent Media Network on 22nd January 2019.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

This blog ©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Kalam’s Cosmological Claptrap

I am often astounded at the level of ignorance and scientific illiteracy among many theists. This surprises me because I attended university as an undergraduate with many intelligent Christians who thought somewhat critically and evaluated evidence. Sadly, they do not appear to be the norm.

Many theists – particularly those who can be found on YouTube debating Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Tracie Harris, Matt Dillahunty and others – often seem to fall back upon their holy scriptures and religious privilege as an insulation against having to do the ‘hard yards’: reading, research, evidence-based analysis and nuanced critical thinking. My own conversations are further evidence to me of this common laziness borne of religious privilege and an undeserved veneer of respectability often afforded religious ideas by default.

Using Kalam’s Cosmological Argument is one example. Arguing that things exist, therefore they must have been designed – because you can think of no better explanation – is lazy and intellectually dishonest. It is akin to those who once argued that witches must exist because the world is clearly designed by magic.

Sorry theists, but arguing a faith-based assertion appears to leave your arguments open to lack of evidence or deep reasoning. If you want to proselytise and debate people, then at least have good reasoning behind your arguments.

Below is one example of a ‘discussion’ that I shared earlier this year with some theists who bore academic religious qualifications, and yet appeared unable to think outside of very narrow mindset parameters. I include their comments here (somewhat modified for ethical reasons though the content/intent remains unchanged) because the moderator of the discussion thread appeared to become annoyed with me and suddenly deleted the whole thread – although luckily, I had backed up samples of these discussions.

This portion of the conversation centered around the book ‘God is Not Great’, written by Christopher Hitchens. GA.

= = = =

From Thomas* (*not real name):

Hitchens was very intelligent, but he ignored the obvious evidence of God before his eyes. Looking around, you can see evidence that all furniture, buildings and things were made/designed by a mind. More obviously, all the living things/systems that you can observe (plants, animals, man) are infinitely more complex than these lesser objects – and so if all the lesser things were designed by a mind, the greater systems (living things) must have also required a mind to design them. This Mind we call God. When I read Hitchens’ book as an example of fine literature, I sought to understand the mind of its creator. To think what I read was chance lettering would have been insanely [sic]. I advise you to do the same when looking at the world around you, seek the grand designer. May the good Lord bless your research as you seek the truth.

Response by Geoff:

With respect, what a load of non sequitur baloney. If you propose that increasingly complex things always require a creator, then who created your creator? Was your god created? Who is your god’s god? Was he also in turn created? And does this mean that there is a long ladder of deities, each one complex enough to create everything else further down the ladder? And does your god worship his god, or is he an atheist?

If you want to argue that your god does not need a creator because he is god, then you present a case of special pleading to cover the inherent fatal flaw in your own argument.

You suggest that evidence of some intelligent designer is before our very eyes – if it was that obvious, everyone would see it and believe, in which case faith would be obsolete (faith only exists to prop up a lack of evidence).

It’s time to stop lazy, superstitious thinking – cherry picking false analogies that appear to confirm your own pre-determined ‘facts’ – and to start thinking logically and critically. Physical and biological complexity are explainable through the processes of natural laws: physics, cosmology, biology, etc. If you argue that complexity debunks natural laws, then you don’t understand science.

In using fine literature as an analogy to suggest that the Universe must have been designed by an intelligent designer, you ignore the reality that 99.99999999999999999999999% (repeating decimal) of the Universe is hostile, dangerous and lethal to life as we know it. Your intelligent designer must be lazy, incompetent, incredibly wasteful and negligent, or malicious. Furthermore, your inference that planet Earth is somehow just right for us actually inverts the reality: life evolved on Earth to fit its physical parameters, not the other way around. Another purveyor of fine literature, Doug Adams, wrote the analogy of an intelligent rainwater puddle sitting in a pothole and thinking to itself that the pothole must have been intelligently designed because it was just right for the puddle.

You imply that your imaginary god is the only thing that enables your reading of Hitchens’ book to differentiate between intelligent communication or chance lettering. I submit that science and natural laws are the only thing that differentiate my reading of your writing between the same parameters.

May the ultimate reality of science bless your research and temper your worship of the god of the gaps.

From George* (*not real name):

Like Hitchens, your god is science. You have an arrogant mind to dismiss God. If you truly believe that your ancestors were apes, it’s no wonder that you have tried to rationalize God away. One day, you will stand before God. Are you ready to face your creator?

Response by Geoff:

@George, you are a great ape. Get a Grade 8 science education.

Maybe also do some middle-school debating and learn about false equivalence, straw manning, and other fallacies. Science is a methodology that is predicated upon evidence and rational conclusions; whereas religion is a mindset that is based upon wishful thinking (faith) and ignores its own lack of evidence. The two approaches are not equal, and science is not a religion that requires a deity. Science does not require worship nor veneration; it revels in scepticism and exploration. Your superstitious claim to have ultimate answers is not equal to my attempt at open questioning. We are not the same. Please stop playing the game: “I know I am, but what are you?”

As for your theological threat, I quake no more pondering your imaginary god’s wrath than you do worrying about Zeus or Thor or Quetzelcoatl or Allah or Vishnu or Ra.

Besides, if there were a Judgement Day, I would love the opportunity to castigate a god who (according to your Bible) endorses slavery, the subjugation of women, the murder of adulterers and LGBT people, and for whom people with eyeglasses or disability or tattoos are unfit to be in his presence. What a disgusting, stone age monster.

But on Judgement Day, perhaps you can ask him why he invented COVID, Black Plague, childhood cancer, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, earthquakes, the 2004 Asian tsunami, botfly and Cancrum Oris. Not to mention his genocide of the world in the Noah’s Ark story. Some perfect designer he turned out to be. I could never worship a deity who has killed more people than Hitler and Atilla the Hun combined. Cheers.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Creating Heaven on Earth

“They say in Heaven love comes first
We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth.”
Belinda Carlisle, ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, MCA, 1987,
Written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley.

Image by Cheryl Holt from Pixabay

About fifty years ago, I was a geeky (and closeted gay) teenager living in a family that identified as members of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. My father was an elder, and my mother – although equally intelligent and capable – was consigned to women’s duties that were deemed to be fitting given the church’s sexist attitudes. Dad was involved in the discussions between elders of three churches at the time: Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists – who ultimately agreed to form a new church, the Uniting Church in Australia.

I recall Dad expressing frustration over the many meetings that he attended as part of these talks. He recounted arguments by those debating what would happen to expensive church property after the merger, for example: would individual churches keep the property and revenue from private schools, or would these resources be merged and shared?
Often, questions about sharing money were asked in ways that would appeal to the better angels of their nature: “What would Jesus want?”
But the common response was more cynical about keeping it for themselves: “Jesus has nothing to do with this.” – A reply that frustrated my somewhat idealistic father.

Even though I was still a young lad, I also found such hypocritical selfishness to be disillusioning to my naive childhood faith. Here were people publicly proclaiming their belief in a religious figure who, for them, represented lofty ideals – but when it came to walking the walk, they turned away from his principles. Five decades later, I see the same hypocrisy in many religious people today: televangelists, megachurches, homophobes and transphobes, cathedrals dripping with opulence while beggars starve in the streets outside. And their homes – like their hearts and minds – so often remain fortified and insulated against welcoming strangers and sharing their abundance.

This lack of hospitality created another philosophical quandary in my young life – religious folk proclaiming that sodomy was homosexuality and therefore an abomination; whereas the Bible itself explicitly explains the abomination of Sodom: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” – Ezekiel 16:49 (ESV). How many religious people gorge themselves upon their promiscuous materialism and overflowing cups of plenty, while refusing to extend little more than tokenistic breadcrumbs of hospitality to the stranger, the refugee, or the homeless – thereby practicing the true sin of Sodom? By contrast, how few of them open their empty megachurch buildings at night, offering their sanctuaries to those seeking sanctuary? Or donating spare rooms in their manses or parishioners’ homes to those needing shelter from the storms of life? Or gift lovingkindness to victims of domestic violence? Open their hearts and homes and families to members of our wider human family?

Such blindness to their own ethical double standards, and their willingness to seek scapegoats by blaming LGBT+ people for imaginary sins as a distraction, helped to sow the seeds of doubt in my young mind regarding the ethics of religion.

Any philosophy that presumes to explore profundity, deep meaning, or significant cosmic consequence, should concentrate on important matters instead of intellectual detritus. Even today, whenever I walk past a religious street peddler who is distributing religious tracts to passersby, I want to ask them (as I wanted to ask them when I was ten years old): why aren’t they using their time and resources to feed the poor or save lives?

Image by Anja?#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy? from Pixabay

Do theists want to prove their god exists? Then they should go out there and change the world. Stop navel gazing and self-indulgent debating of meaningless rhetoric. Stop showing off your imaginary piety on street corners or from the top of pulpits; get out and walk the walk. Feed the poor. Solve poverty and inequality and systemic injustice. Cure cancer and HIV and a hundred other medical problems. Abolish guns and cluster bombs and nuclear weapons. Resettle sixty million refugees. Solve anthropogenic climate catastrophe. Educate people out of their racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cultural white supremacy and tribalism, and their worship of gluttonous capitalism. Provide universal shelter and safety. Establish a universal basic income. Provide free and universal education and health care. And what about the orphans and widows and prisoners?

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Tear down the divide between western society and the so-called ‘developing world’ – a form of apartheid that is more global than the Berlin Wall, more genocidal than Hitler or Atilla the Hun, and more unethical than the white supremacist attitudes that permitted a division between slaves and slavers.

Build a better world today instead of waiting for some imaginary afterlife. It is not only immoral to ignore the approximately 14,000 children under five who die every day, but it is also akin to people in the 1930s who looked away and chose not to see the Holocaust happening before their eyes. You say you are pro-life? Then get out there and stop killing people through your wilful neglect.

Instead of waiting for some presumed miracle from elsewhere, work hard to be that miracle here and now, today. Be the answer to your own prayers or aspirations. Whatever higher ethical principle you claim to follow, let that principle live today in your life and works.

None of these actions will, in themselves, go one splinter towards providing evidence that a god actually exists, but they will help to demonstrate that maybe a form of heaven is possible, and that maybe certain ethics and aspirations are worthy of some consideration. Are theists promoting a culture that worships death, or one that promotes life, and a more abundant one at that?

These same questions could also be asked of atheists and humanists.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Roslyn Mould Embraces Equity

In commemoration of International Women’s Day 2023

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Roslyn is a young woman who grew up in a conservative culture within a conservative country, and she works to bring progressive change in Ghana – and beyond. Everything from secularism to feminism, from religious accusations against alleged witches to human rights for LGBT+ people – she has worked passionately for change.

Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence from UK imperialism on 6 March 1957, and the nation celebrated the anniversary of its independence this week as President Akufo-Addo encouraged unity, modern democratic principles and governance, and the advancement of human rights: “We cannot allow those who seek to divide us along the lines of ethnicity or religion to succeed.”

And yet this glowing picture hides a complex reality. A former slave colony, Ghana traditionally comprised over 40 tribes and cultures; it has relatively recent post-colonial history of military coups and a difficult record on human rights, as demonstrated by the Human Rights Advocacy Centre in Accra. The 2021 Report from Amnesty International summarises recent abuses:

“Cases of excessive use of force were reported. Prisons remained overcrowded. Women continued to suffer discrimination and gender-based violence. Attacks against LGBTI people intensified… Forced evictions left some people homeless.”

Ghana still a very long way to go. Along with Scott Douglas “Nana Kwesi” Jacobsen, Roslyn Mould notes: “Ghana has achieved appreciable steady growth levels since the late 1990s to the present day, such growth has translated much into lifting many people out of poverty… however, this increase in income levels has been highly unequal and for many people, they have in fact gotten poorer and more vulnerable… Growth has benefited the rich extremely more than it has done for the poor.”

Roslyn was born into this nation, raised in a Catholic school and a culture where religious perspective was deemed to be normal and ethical. African humanists see Ghana as possibly “one of the world’s most religious countries”; the 2010 Census lists Christians as comprising 71.2% of the population, Islam 17.6%, Irreligion 5.3%, Traditional religion 5.2%. Wikipedia notes that other faiths include Hinduism, Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism, Taoism, Sōka Gakkai, Shinto and Judaism. The World Atlas confidently declares that Ghana enjoys a strong degree of ‘religious tolerance’. Yet this tolerance may not extend beyond religious entitlement into civic and secular life. There are virtually no official atheists due to stigma and discrimination.

This religious problem is rising in Ghana. In The Conversation, Professor Jeffrey Haynes notes the rise of the Christian religious right in Ghana over recent years, under the guise of protecting religious freedoms. He asserts: “Traditionally in Ghana, religion and politics did not mix. Christian nationalism is an explicit attempt to mix them. My argument as a scholar of religion and politics is that it puts the human rights of minorities in jeopardy.”

Against this trend, Roslyn eventually came to terms with a new atheist perspective after being introduced to evidence-based critical thinking. In a 2016 interview, republished in 2021, she spoke about the trauma of outgrowing her religion:

“I went through stages of grief, disappointment, sadness, anger, and finally stopped going to church. Even when I stopped going to church I felt that God would strike me with lightning for disobeying him or ‘betraying’ him, but as time went by and nothing bad seemed to happen, my fear lessened. I did not know how to explain it to my family and friends. So for years, I kept my non-belief to myself and gave excuses for not attending church and sometimes hoped that I could be proven wrong with my non-belief so I could go back to worshipping God but that time never came.”

She also acknowledged how her humanist perspective inspired her to undergo activism:

“I became active in activism after joining the Humanist Association of Ghana. I gained confidence to ‘come out’ then as atheist and I wanted to help share what I knew now just as I was as a Christian but this time, based on evidence. I also realised how religion was destroying my country and continent due to ignorance, lack of education, and human rights abuses, and I felt I had to do something to help change things for the better. I felt that if I knew of an alternative to the dogmatic teachings I was given, I might have been atheist earlier and maybe, I could give someone else the opportunity to be a freethinker, which I was never given.”

Subsequent activism includes working as an open humanist in a nation where religion holds an unhealthy handgrip on power. Wikiwand reports: “She began her work in activism when she joined the Humanist Association of Ghana in 2012. Between 2015 and 2019, she became Organizing Secretary, and later, President and Council Member of Humanist Association of Ghana.” Under her tutelage, the Humanist Association of Ghana began to run conferences that addressed issues including communicable diseases (Ebola, etc), health and medicine; science, technology and reason; witchcraft accusations; LGBT issues; sex and relationships for African atheists; and feminism. Roslyn has subsequently spoken publicly on the history and customs of her country, and used her own experience to encourage others to nurture a humanist, human rights culture of activism.

Website of the Humanist Association of Ghana, 2023.

In 2016, as a member of Young Humanists International (and later to become a Board member within Humanists International), she demonstrated her penchant for tireless work when she spoke up for women’s rights in Ghana, confronting these issues:
• female genital mutilation;
• public ‘initiation’ or announcement of a pubescent girl as available for marriage;
• exploitation, arrests and stigma related to prostitution;
• health issues (including maternal mortality rates, STD rates usually caused by their male partner, breast cancer and cervical cancer – this last of which accounted for 35% of all female cancer in Ghana);
• religious rites relating to marriage (including child-marriages, polygamy, forced conversion, and the dowry ‘purchase’ of a woman as property, diminishing her individual human rights);
• accusations of witchcraft;
• sexual harassment and rape;
• domestic violence;
• and the unavailability of menstrual pads for schoolgirls.

Despite these ongoing human rights abuses, Roslyn writes optimistically for women in her country given the gradual evolution of human rights away from these traditional problems: “Ghana has come a long way in the last 3 decades in terms of equality and there are many more opportunities for women of today.” Her work has been a factor in leading such changes.

Humanists International reports of Roslyn: “As President of [the] Humanist Association of Ghana she helped to build the young group to become the umbrella organization for non-religious groups in Ghana and the biggest allies to the LGBTI+ community and feminist movement in Ghana.” Nigerian activist Leo Igwe stated in 2017: “A few years ago, such a humanist group sounded like a pipe dream but today it is a reality. I thank Roslyn Mould and her team for diligently delivering on this key humanist promise.”

In 2019, she was appointed the Coordinator of the West African Humanist Network, stating: “We all need to work together to achieve positive and progressive change in Africa.” That same year, she opposed the visit to Ghana of a US-based anti-LGBT hate group, publicly stating:

“Homophobia was foreign to Africans until colonization and here we are again with history repeating itself. As a Humanist, I condemn the actions of these groups in their promotion of hate, inequality, undermining of women’s rights to reproductive health, and their imposition of their religious ideas of ‘family’ on us. This reeks of imperialism and a total disregard of human rights.”

She also attended an international protest against a virulent 2021 Ghanaian anti-LGBTI bill, stating: “Ghana is a peaceful society, but this bill will make people turn against each other.” She later stated: “The current Anti-LGBTI bill before the Ghanaian Parliament dubbed ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021’ is a hate bill under the guise of Freedom of Religion and Belief… The Bill will set Ghana back… and puts every Ghanaian at risk. We call on the International Community to help us to kill this Bill (#KilltheBill).”

Such homophobic hatred in Ghana resembles that from Uganda and Kenya and other African nations, fuelled by religious conservatism and political scapegoating. Roslyn’s work for activism, advocacy and human rights is needed more than ever. In her 2016 interview, she notes that she spent earlier years advocating for the rights of animals and the plight of near-extinct species, the rights of girls, and within awareness campaigns such as HIV/AIDS and Breast Cancer. Now, she sees her current activism as being vital: “I believe that becoming atheist made me more aware of my passions and my part to play in advocacy and the promotion of human rights based on the realisation that there is no one and no god to help us other than ourselves as people.”

In what is seen as a male-dominated culture (atheist activism), Roslyn Mould is a role model at the forefront for change and equal rights for all. Her life and her work are a living intersectional testament to his year’s theme for International Women’s Day:

“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.”

©2023 Geoff Allshorn