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An Outsider's Perspective on Religion

By Harry J. Bentham ~

Some people are scared to abandon a religion because it would make them “wrong” – meaning it would place them in disagreement with a bunch of people around them. But this article comes from someone raised as an atheist in Britain, where religion is increasingly irrelevant and no-one cares. Unlike most other British people, I have never participated in any religious activity whatsoever, meaning I only ever had the chance to study religion as an outsider. This gives me an unusual perspective, which I think is worth sharing here.

I come from a completely atheist background, which doesn’t mean I come from a background with any anti-religious sentiment present in the household. My interest in religion appeared when, out of a background entirely sheltered from religious influence, I studied religious sects at school and later at university. From everything I have learned, I can only conclude that religions are culturally-built fear systems used to extract power and money from people who don’t know any better than to surrender to their own frailties.

Let me begin by saying what my present atheism means. I don’t accept any god claims. The specific God I had the most time to consider was the Christian one, due to the fact that Britain is by tradition Christian – and Christianity’s trappings still remain in school choirs, Christmas, etc. From the moment I started thinking about the alleged God of Christianity, it was evident to me that this God doesn’t exist. I knew this, because I was able to read the Bible which is the best evidence against God’s existence. The Bible is wrong on too many occasions to be given any more attention beyond the first few pages. However much value it still has, as a holy book along with other holy books, it just defies the basic facts a child should know. The Bible teaches that God is a magical person (Genesis 3:8 “walking in the garden”; Genesis 1:27 “created mankind in his own image”) who lives on clouds (Deuteronomy 33:26 “on the clouds in his majesty"), and this God acknowledges that he can easily be visited if we travel to the sky (Genesis 11:6 "nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them"). Yet aeroplanes, tall mountain routes and towers exist now and none of them have allowed us to go up and see God in the manner that the Bible established to be possible. If you do not believe me, climb a mountain or travel in an aeroplane with the intent to find what was described in the Bible. See for yourself, there is nothing up there but clouds.

I don’t think it is worth considering any kind of “invisibility” argument for God, or the “metaphor” argument. I have had these discussions before, and both are simply admissions that the Biblical God doesn’t exist and the person arguing is trying to invent a new one. Has God found a dark place beneath the Earth now, to hide from our blasphemous curiosity? If he is hiding in the dark, then this is only more evidence that he is not the Biblical God associated consistently with “light” and said to literally reside in the sky. “Light” also metaphorically indicates truth, meaning such a god would never conceal itself from our scrutiny. If the god reported to exist in a holy book cannot be found in its reported location and form, doesn’t this mean the holy book is mistaken? In my opinion, we didn’t even need to consider the question of this god’s existence any further after the time when early airships indisputably found he isn’t there. Claims of the Christian God’s existence now are not even on par with claiming there is a hot dog stand resting somewhere on Mars. Unlike the possible hot dog stand on Mars, some of us have already investigated the Christian God’s specified location and found nothing up there.

The only parts of the religions that ever had any persuading effects on me, as a child learning about them, were their various hells. This is because threats and scary descriptions actually have a great deal more emotional power over a child’s mind than god claims have. The Buddhist hells are the most bizarre and frightening, in which one of the less severe punishments is to end up as a fat creature with a mouth the size of a pinhole, roaming a wasteland for food that will never be found. These visions are obviously created with the intention to scare, much like the contents of horror movies. All people have an inherent dread at punishment for wrongdoing even in the absence of a possible punisher, because parents and authorities use all sorts of punishments to condition children to behave themselves. People who cause suffering in others also tend to end up suffering in some way, or are already suffering in some way, so the threat of after-death suffering or supernatural karma is no better for our morals than the threat of reality.

You can tell all religions are false by using the very watchmaker argument used to defend the idea of God, this time using the argument validly. I am walking along and I come across a religion. I instantly know the religion is man-made without any further evidence, because I have seen all sorts of other examples of religions that are man-made. For someone in the position of being an atheist for their whole life, every religion is equal and in each case they are obviously man-made. The evidence for the human invention of religion is so overwhelming that asking me to think a religion is true is like trying to sell me a really old watch by telling me that it wasn’t created by men but fell from a tree. We have new religions popping up all the time, some of them thriving like the Church of Scientology. It is likely that many new religions get created every year, but only a few of them manage to expand their membership very far. The establishment of a religion is much more complicated than the establishment of a corporation. Businesses can’t survive without customers, and religions can’t survive without believers. This echoes the manner in which the old pagan gods were said to need sacrifices and devotion, or else the gods would perish and the world would end. In essence, priests created imaginary parasites, obviously to cloud the reality that the priests were the parasites.

Even though it is clear to me that religions increasingly represent a menace to the modern world, most of mainstream religious belief is completely harmless and perhaps stops more dangerous forms of superstition. Therefore, someone can believe a religion for the right reasons. Similarly, someone can be an atheist for the wrong reasons. You are an atheist for the wrong reasons if you turned this way to deliberately alienate others in your community or offend someone, and you are an atheist for the wrong reasons if you are not also a skeptic. Skepticism requires using what Carl Sagan called a “baloney detection kit” (described in his book, "The Demon Haunted World"), and the kit involves several basic tests for immediately recognizing when a severely questionable claim is being presented. A lot of atheists are not aware of this, so they still succumb to illogical claims and obscurantism just because others are socially pressuring them. I think skepticism is more important than atheism. If someone accepts the Christian afterlife doctrine while remaining skeptical in every other domain, this is surely better than rejecting the Christian afterlife doctrine but remaining credulous when reacting to everything else.

Every religious denomination wants you to think it is the only one that has properly documented the “supernatural”. No matter what their benign proclaimed spiritual motives are, I think all these groups were created to defraud vulnerable people for power and money by exploiting superstitious terrors and confusions. If all the gods have failed to help us and they have all failed to show themselves, then there is no reason to keep pretending they are out there somewhere. It is good to wonder about forces beyond our current comprehension in the universe, but this is in the domain of science, and it is clear ancient texts are too often talking nonsense. But if arcane religious texts are authoritative, we should read Vedic scriptures rather than the Bible.