Religious Blinkers

I have to say that I thought Michael’s recent post was pretty brave, knowing what a fuss anyone expressing an opinion about religion usually generates, and here I am with my own post about it. Let me start by saying that I am not anti-religious, and I would certainly not wish to force or demand anyone give up their religious beliefs, but I do waver between agnostic and atheist in my outlook.

Michael’s post was based on the idea of Can/should the disconnect between science and religion be bridged? A fairly relevant topic considering the recent headlines about evolution being removed from school teaching in certain US states, the religious arguments against stem cell research, the catholic church’s stance on abortion and birth control, etc. This isn’t exactly a new topic mind, science and religion have a long history together, both good and bad.

My views on religion are far from concrete, I’m constantly shifting slightly as I come across new evidence or ideas. The reason I say I’m agnostic is because looking at the universe, go with me here, get your thoughts out of the tiny part of existence that is your life and try and imagine the universe, this vast, almost immesurably large space we live in, with billions of stars and planets, complex events and systems and so much matter moving and interacting it’s truly mind-boggling. The question is why? For me, if there isn’t some supreme being, some other state of living beyond this one, it seems pointless. There are some seriously big questions there, like why does it exist, where did it come from, will it end, what exists beyond it (it has limits)? These are questions science cannot answer, but questions religion tries to. If there is nothing else, if we are insignificant as a comet circling a star, then out soul purpose in life is pro-creation and the continuation of the species, great fun, but it seems fairly base, it’s not like we need higher intellect to achieve it.

That’s why I think religion exists. We are creatures who have reason, perhaps the only creatures on Earth, and we need a reason for existence, religion provides it. ‘God’s will’ gives you a great catch-all to explain why some people have all the luck, why your child died young, why you suffer, why the crops failed, while your neighbour is so lucky and anything else, until science comes along to provide an answer.

Anyway, enough about that, as I said, I don’t really care what your views are, you’re entitled to them, just don’t try and force them on me or anyone else. Then I will put my foot down. This post was partly triggered by Michael’s comments, which I generally agree with. I do think In fact, religion has granted us little more than churches, docility and the meddling of religious people in the affairs of the world is a little harsh. Although, on the subject or churches, I do agree that no matter what deity you believe in, going to a specially built place of worship probably doesn’t feature on their priorities. Lets face it, most of the vast churches that the word conjures in your mind’s eye (and even those mall-esque monstrosities they seem so keen on building at the moment) were built with money from people trying to buy their way into heaven, actively encouraged by the church. I don’t know a vast amount about religion or God’s will, but that wasn’t it, much better to have built something modest and given the money to good causes.

Back on topic, at last, I have had a couple of discussions/arguments (I mean the latter in a good way, I love a good debate) with a guy in my office who is a Jehovah’s Witness that have concerned me and highlight an issue I have with some religious people and religious teachings. The first was regarding blood transfusions. For those who are not aware, JW’s are not allowed to give blood or accept blood transfusions even if their lives depend on it. That’s fair enough, I don’t agree with it, but each to their own. The thing that concerned me was that my colleague was 100% certain that more people die from blood transfusions than are saved by them. I’m not talking certain, could back it up with facts, has questioned it and been provided evidence. He’d been told that. There was no swaying him from it. Now, to be honest, my colleagues and I are not medical experts, but I’m fairly confident that the whole procedure and the support network for collecting, screening, storing and transporting blood probably wouldn’t continue if that were the case, there would be no point. If the procedure you are performing kills more people than it saves, why bother? The risks from contracting something from a transfusion appear to be fairly minimal, although that’s far from the full story of things that could go wrong, so who knows, maybe he knows more than me.

Next, we recently covered the subject of ‘lads mags.’ I’ve covered this subject before. His view was that they promoted kids to have sex at an early age (which resulted in more of their corrupt ilk, his opinion) and that it was part of the cause of falling moral standards in society. To be fair, I was having trouble pinning down exactly what he thought they were responsible for, I got the impression it was wider ranging than just declining moral standards and underage sex. He was generally disgusted by them, people who bought them and people who published them. Most of his views were inline with those of the lady I mentioned when I was writing about What are lad mags doing to us?.

It’s a perfectly valid opinion, of which he is entitled, but I thought that blaming them for underage sex, promoting kids to have sex earlier and generally declining moral standards was taking it a bit far, so I called him up on it and pointed out that he had absolutely no evidence for any of that. I would have done the same thing to anyone. Likewise if he was saying that computer games and movies are responsible for increased gun crime and violence. It’s very easy to say that, it’s much harder (because it’s a much more complex issue) to prove it. I dislike people randomly saying things as fact without being able to back it up with some sort of substantive proof. Adolf Hitler started doing that, he blamed the Jews (and eventually many other races) for all of Germany’s problems (despite most of the financial problems being caused by the reparations forced on Germany at the end of WWI, an unwise move by the allies).

Now, I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just trying to get him to question things before he believes them, takes them onboard and refuses to change his mind. That is the issue I’m getting at with religion, there’s no room for questioning, you have to take everything as gospel (if you excuse the pun). The problem is that most of it is based on 2000+ year-old texts, which were written down much later, have had bits changed, added, removed and re-written, complied by much later groups, then translated into different languages and finally interpreted by a range of different people to mean different things. You tell me if it’s likely to have survived word-for-word. The Qur’ān, I believe, is not allowed to be translated into other languages, and is copied identically from one copy to the next, but there appears to be some dispute as to whether this was compiled when Muhammad was alive, or remembered, written down at different times and then compiled 20 years after his death.

So, having an un-shifting, unquestioning view seems a little odd when the foundations appear a little uneasy (as they are in any religion). Now look at the current desire to ban the teaching of evolution on the curriculum and the rise in parents home-schooling their kids to keep them away from opposing views. You should be exposing your kids to them, using them to reinforce your beliefs and allowing the children to make up their own minds. What you’re leading to now is indoctrination. This isn’t the first or only time the church has had strong views about science. Galileo was a proponent of heliocentrism, the theory that the Earth revolved around the sun. In 1616 this was heresy as it went against the scriptures which stated:

Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and Chronicles 16:30 state that “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” Psalm 104:5 says, “[the LORD] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that “the sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.”

So, they gave him a chance to write a balanced view, he failed, so they put him under house arrest for the remainder of his life. Now, obviously we now all know that heliocentrism isn’t a theory, it’s fact. I’m pretty sure the church has changed it’s views on that. So if it can be proved wrong on one thing, surely we are now enlightened enough not to quash evolutionary theory completely lest it be proved unequivocally right at some point (which, for most people, it has been)? Remember, folks, everyone believed the Earth was flat at one point. At least we’re not burning people for talking about evolution I suppose. We like to think we’re far more advanced and enlightened than our ancestors, but are we?

Mix this hard-headed, unquestioning, unforgiving outlook into the current state where Islam and Christianity, East and West, seem to be heading in opposite directions and the fact that publicly questioning anyone’s faith leads to outrage and possible retribution and you can see where the danger lies: all-out religious war. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. And from two religions, lest we forget, who both have versions of ‘turn the other cheek,’ ‘love thy neighbour,’ and speak constantly of forgiveness.

For people who should be leading the way it sure seems the atheists are a far more forgiving, moderate and balanced bunch. All I’m asking here is that we teach our children to question, to evaluate, to test their beliefs, if you are confident in your faith you know they will come through it stronger and wiser. How your children turn out is more to do with your upbringing than what music they listen to/movies they watch/games they play/subjects they learn. Don’t be afraid to open your eyes, question what you’re taught and be willing to alter your views. I’m always re-evaluating what I believe based on new information I learn, my experience and discussions with other people and I will continue to do so. Take off the blinkers and enjoy the view, it doesn’t mean you have to stray from the path.