Celtic Riverside – The Online Journal of James Keenan

Problem of Religion

Right off the bat, some readers are angry at the title. Allow me a minute. The point of this post is not to disparage religion as an institution. The organised churches of the world, at least, many of them, do good in their communities. They provide shelter, they provide food, they provide guidance for those in need. I am not here to crap all over religion.

I do want to get a few thoughts off my chest concerning religion and logic though, particularly as an American and particularly as an American living today. We have a considerable religious population in the United States, and that being primarily some form of Protestantism or Catholicism. We hear often (not necessarily in number but in volume from regular supporters) that religion is under attack. That is the piece that I want to address.

The United States is, despite its Protestant and Catholic majority, not a Christian nation. We are a secular nation by design. Immediately that feels like an attack to some but the word secular is judicious and proper – we are also not an atheist nation. The purpose of establishing the United States as a secular nation is religious freedom – the right of every citizen to practice the religion of his, her, or their choice without oppression, including atheistic or agnostic perspectives.

Religion has no basis in logic. It does consist of reasoning and observes an internal logic conducive to its organised nature, but this is not logic.

Consider, for example, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – the big three Western monotheistic religions. All three have at their core a belief in a single God, the Creator of all things. The Bible, the Torah, the Koran – all of these religious texts, though associated with various prophets and religious figures, trace back to this single figure in our consciousness.

However, we have no verifiable evidence of God. None. Now, one might say, “Look at this miracle” or “Look at this phenomenon” as evidence, but that is again poor logic. By attributing an event immediately to God, we ignore all other possible causes.

“God is behind those causes”, one might say. Indeed, God may be. But we cannot verify that, we can only believe that. Those who are religious accept these premises and tenets on faith.

My point is that immediately, most of the world does not accept the premises. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam account for about 3.5 billion people on the planet, leaving an additional 4.1 billion who believe something else. “If God exists and God says we shall not wear the colour red, then we shall not wear the colour red” (obviously a contrived example, I wanted something non-controversial) – except 4.1 billion people are saying, “Well, I don’t know that God exists” and we have no way of proving that otherwise. We have only faith.

The secular nature of the United States is such that we should not impose law or policy that oppresses the rights of others to observe his, her, or their religion. Because of this, it is altogether improper that we should make an argument such as, “God said ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and therefore killing is illegal”.

This is not a call for The Purge. I am not suggesting that we legalise killing. I am suggesting that we explore the logical foundations for its illegality. We might explore a victim-centred deontological theory or a utilitarian theory focused on the harm killing has on society or its members. The absence of reason itself from the typical act of killing forms a strong foundation for us to take action against it – and explains why self-defence is an acceptable exception to the legality of killing.

Curiously, speaking now as a critic of religion, that so many profess pacifist, non-violent messages and still support so many circumstances of killing is a mystery. Generally, that is because some equally religious justification exists as to why killing that specific person or persons is okay.

Logic does not mean that religion has no place in society. If you have faith, if you have beliefs, embrace them. Allow others to do the same. When it comes to matters of public policy, you may advocate for legislation that supports your religious worldview, but bring the argument forth with the logical rather than spiritual premises that others who do not share your religious perspective may understand.

Attempting to bulldoze Christian ideology into policy is a violation of Constitutional rights, God-given rights according to the Christians who wrote them. Whether you believe the Bill of Rights is a sort of Commandments provided by God or merely the social contract of man, they are the rules by which we live and we must honour them (or repeal them). The idea that society breaks down because all fail to embrace a particular Western monotheistic ideology when supporters of those ideologies take action that flies directly in the face of our social structures is ridiculous.

Some criticise the way people “worship” science. Science is not an ideology. Science is a process. Science is a process of observing the natural world, developing hypotheses about what causes phenomena, testing those hypotheses in controlled, exhaustive, and reproducible settings, and then developing theories. Many of the churches participate in this process. Some scientists are religious. They are not exclusives. And as we acquire new information and make new observations, the process will evolve to incorporate them.

In this respect, science will always be accurate whereas religion may or may not be. Given the nature of the two fields, science is also able to adapt to new information. Religion holds specific beliefs as inalienable and always true, regardless of new information. New information, specifically contradictory information, either gets massaged to fit into the existing belief structure or dismissed entirely as illogical (though, ironically, this process is illogical – in fact, it is the antithesis of logic).

As one contrived example, consider the situations where the religious fundamentalist might say, “Then how do you explain this?” If the scientific response is, “I don’t know”, the answer is not, “Because God”. Logically that does not follow. In logic, the premises must support the conclusion. Even if the conclusion is right – that is, God does exist and is responsible for the phenomenon – the argument does not logically support it. Without that logical support, the argument is poor basis for policy that will affect everyone.

Please, be religious. Have faith – I greatly admire faith in others and wish it was something with which I had more skill. I have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, one of the hallmarks being perfectionism. I need verification and evidence for everything even in my personal life. Moments where I must make a decision on faith alone can feel paralysing. Faith truly is a remarkable characteristic in people.

But your faith cannot dictate the social contract to which we all belong. We need logic, too.

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