June 24, 2012

What's the harm if believing makes people feel good?

On the occasions when I discuss religion, I can count on being asked one question every time: What is the harm in believing? A common phrasing of this question would be as follows:

I understand that you don't believe in God. But I don't know why you seem to care that others do. I mean, what's the harm in believing in God if it makes people feel good to believe?If you are an atheist, I'd say it is a virtual certainty that you've been asked this question many times too. In this post, I'd like us to forget about how we might phrase our response and just think through the question itself.

June 16, 2012

What's so bad about religion?

I have never met an atheist who would claim that religion is the source of all evil in the world or that a post-religious world would necessarily be some sort of Utopian paradise. Many of us may still long for a post-religious world, but we are realistic about what it would involve. The far more common view, and the one to which I personally subscribe, is that religious belief (i.e., faith) facilitates evil in a way that few other organizations or belief systems are capable. As Steven Weinberg famously said,

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.Again, the claim is not that religion is somehow the source of all evil but that it facilitates a particularly devastating form of evil.

June 1, 2012

Atheists: The Last Minority to Get Civil Rights?

In America, freedom of religion does not yet include freedom from religion. If you doubt that try spending time in a very religious state such as Alabama. Here is what you can expect:

  • On his first day in office, the state governor might say that anyone who does not believe in God is not his brother. That would be discrimination against atheists from the top.
  • Your weather man might helpfully inform you that you will “need a jacket tomorrow on your way to church.” Religious indoctrination by meteorologists!
  • If you tell someone you have no religion, they might say: “I would keep that to myself, if I were you.”
  • Instead of saying “have a good day” your waiter or waitress might say “have a blessed day.” That might be tough for an atheist. Imagine telling an African American to “have a white day,” or vice versa. You would have to be Eddie Murphy to get away with that.