In these very difficult times, we hear religion blamed for many of the ills that plague us. That is an understandable sentiment. Let’s reflect on that.
Since the criticism is of “religion”, we can take that criticism to mean religion “broadly defined”. In its broadest sense, religion provides a sense of meaning and purpose to life. Conversely, can one achieve a sense of purpose in life without some form of “faith”, that is, believing in something that cannot be deduced from observations?
Calls for the abandonment of religion are thus calls for living life without a sense of purpose or meaning. I cannot help but believe that this is a call for us all to return to our “natural state”, when human life consisted of foraging for food, instinctively avoiding danger, and instinctively seeking to procreate. Is that really a goal to aspire to?
Here is my prescription for you: worship. Let’s call it the “Big W”.
Without religion, why would you have the Big W in your life? Yet, I believe the advantages of having worship in your life are immeasurable.
Life is easier when worship is a part of it. Worship causes you to change your feelings of self-importance. You accept that your importance, and your powers, are limited. By the way, they are limited. They really are.
Worship forces you to think about your relationship to the world around you. What influence are you having on the world? Is it a positive one? Could it be?
My interest in religion has less to do with the supernatural than it does with worship. I don’t much care for, or need, the supernatural. I do need to put my life in perspective. Worship.
The Big W. How can you get there?
Attitudes towards sex seem rather different between atheists and mainstream religions. Mainstream religions have developed strong moral messages regarding human sexuality. Engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage and for reasons other than procreation are regarded as sinful.
I am not going to debate the religious perspectives. I merely ask: why does the abandonment of religion lead to radically different views on sexuality?
The same cannot be said for other behaviors where morality plays a role. Both atheists and theists reject murder, stealing and lying. Why such disagreement in scxual matters?
I don’t know why religious attitudes are as they are, although I am aware of various theories about it. Religious attitudes were developed before contraception was a widespread practice. So, intact families and care for children may have had something to do with the development of these attitudes.
The “modern” atheistic view is that contraception frees us from the need to regulate or restrict sexuality. Out-of-wedlock children are no longer a central issue (unless the contraception fails, which is relatively rare). Therefore, why place any moral restrictions on human sexuality? Sex can be viewed as a kind of “sport”, or just another activity that brings us pleasure. Use contraception and enjoy the pleasures of sex, no strings attached. Why is sex a sin if it does not lead to unwanted pregnancy?
To me, this divergence of attitudes towards human sexuality is a mystery. Can atheists defend the perspective that sex is a sport? Human sexuality involves our deepest emotions and connections with others. Should it be engaged in lightly? A deep belief in human dignity and worth is a common bond at the core of both religion and atheistic humanism. Human dignity and worth should inform our sexual activities, and prevent us from using others as sexual entertainment machines. This is at the core of attitudes towards sexuality: how we view other people. Are people of sacred value, or just objects we use to gratify ourselves? That is a central question.
Those who are religious will follow the dictates of their religion, few questions asked (usually). Those who do not follow a religion ought to consider how their views on human sexuality fit into their overall world view. Perhaps religion has some useful perspectives to offer as regards human sexuality, derived from a base of belief in human self-worth. Atheists ought to consider whether certain forms of sexual restraint lead to greater joy, because of the positive philosophy underlying such restraint. Pleasure is nice, but there are other gifts to our souls that restraint may bring.
Why does religion appeal to our selfishness? Why must eternal life be the reward for following Jesus? Why not serve God and then perish?
What is “eternity” anyway? We cannot conceive an infinity of time. “Eternal life” means that we will never face the moment when we know we will die. This moment is what we fear, not death itself.
May I suggest a workaround to your fear of death? When that moment is presented to you, fantasize about something else. Imagine you are in a much better place and time. Take your mind off the present. If you can do this, you no longer need fear death. (If you do not have the imaginative powers to fantasize, then devote your life to developing such powers).
The only reason to seek immortality is because one is confused about death, which means one is confused about life. Every day we lose consciousness when we sleep, which does not terrify us. We believe we will wake up again. In essence, we believe in our own resurrection. This belief separates sleep from death. It is a fine line.
Is eternal life really such a desirable thing? Won’t you get incredibly bored? You will repeat the same pattern in your life millions, billions, trillions of times (and more). Isn’t it better to lead a rewarding life and then gracefully (and hopefully painlessly) check out? Worried about facing death? See the above workaround.
Christians believe in “heaven forever”, meaning a wonderful situation that persists. Can we really imagine this? The only way to avoid boredom is to periodically forget one’s past. Isn’t that the same as the “old” you dying and a “new” you taking it’s place? If you forget your past, your are effectively a different person. Therefore, you have effectively died because your old self is gone.
Embrace the transient nature of your life, which is in fact a wonderful gift.
God sent His only Son to die for your sins. Christ was sacrificed on the cross for you.
What have you done for God?
The Bible promises that if you follow Jesus, you will have eternal life. Isn’t that a small price to pay for following Him? It’s almost a “no brainer”: be a decent person, go to church once per week, repent your sins before you die and you will never face death.
This begs the question: why are you following God’s commandments? Is it for purely selfish reasons, because you want immortality? Does following God’s commandments constitute the most selfish of acts?
Shouldn’t you follow God’s commandments because Jesus is Lord, and following the Lord is simply the right thing to do? As a Christian, you need never answer that question. You will never need to sacrifice for the sake of goodness. That’s part of the bargain. Be good, and you will be rewarded with ever-lasting life.
What of atheists, or others, who in fact sacrifice and devote their lives to a greater good? That is true sacrifice, and true goodness, because no bargain is involved. These atheists will never be rewarded for being good, unlike Christians.
Who embodies a more pure sense of goodness: those who do good for a huge reward, or those who do good because of what they believe in?
Religion can encourage what is, at its core, a deep selfishness. Christianity does not ask you to do good out of a sense of devotion and worship. Rather, do good because it will bring you significant personal gain. In my view, there is a problem with that message.
Athesists often use the idea that the existence of evil in the world is proof there is no God. Believers reject this by stating that God has intentionally given man free will. God intended that Mankind (and Womankind) be free to make moral choices. When the wrong choices are made, evil is manifest in the world. So, the existence of both evil and of God are entirely consistent.
There is another observation that may pose a challenge for those who hold traditional religious views. It is that God created a world where reading and learning about nature will get you farther than meditating about God and the Bible. Why isn’t the latter rewarded much more?
A society that creates an infrastructure for science and engineering will become more powerful in the world than one that only facilitates devotion to God. A deep knowledge of science and engineering is not enough for a society to function well. However, a scientifically-based society that does function well will almost certainly dominate over societies that are exclusively centered around man’s relationship to God.
Why did God so construct the world that physical law seems to trump spiritual law? This does not seem consistent with the “jealous God” that is written about in the Bible. It seems that those who ignore God and focus on mastering natural law are rewarded even though they de-emphasize God. This is not a question of “free will”. One can willingly devote oneself exclusively to God, and lead a righteous life that follows His commandments. Yet, without paying attention to the natural world, that righteous person is vulnerable to those who wield power by virtue of their mastery of nature.
Perhaps this fact tells us something about the nature of God.