Matthew Neff looks at the world’s religions and questions the very core of each: blind faith and belief without doubt or reason or proof.
It is undeniable that religion plays a role in the lives of millions throughout the world. To some, these doctrines are just one part of their culture/traditions while others hold them as tenants of their lives. What all of these religions have in common is a deity(s) that form the center. These deities are to be respected and worshiped because of an inherent “grandness” and “greatness.” They are supernatural, beyond human senses or understanding, but are these gods that are too great? Lives have and continue to be sacrificed in the name of religion, all because followers have been blinded by the majesty and glory of whatever deity they serve.
This greatness can be found in various aspects of religion from hymns, “To God Be the Glory” by Fanny Crosby and William Howard Doane, to verses from Christianity (Psalm 95:3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all Gods, KJV), Islam (And your God is one God; there is no God but He! He is the Beneficent, the Merciful. Al-Baqara 2:163), to Judaism and Hinduism. These are the gods that can stop the earth from moving (So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. Joshua 10:13 NIV translation), raise people from the dead (John 11:38-44), and fight demons (Vishnu in the Hindu texts). These are not unlike fairy tales or myths we tell children, but dismiss as adults.
Some even claim to bear witness to evidence of these deities; for instance, the plethora of “miracles,” “signs,” or authors that claim to have returned from heaven. With all this evidence, why is it that there are still so many unbelievers? Why are there so many competing religions? Are we simply hard-hearted sinners that refuse to accept a saviour as John 12:40 says? Perhaps it is that “As for the disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them, they believe not. Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom” Al-Baqara 2.6-2.7.
And what about all those other believers? Do they believe in the wrong religion? Or have they, by some miracle, been led to the “truth?”
In reality, there shouldn’t be any unbelievers if there was evidence of a deity that can be observed in the natural world. But people do not believe in religion because of evidence. They rely on faith, which Merriam-Webster defines as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Emphasis should be placed on no proof. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (NLT translation, emphasis my own). This is a god that does not want his followers to think for themselves. They are to be reliant upon him for all aspects of their life. Only through “true” faith can they know the way or be saved.
The common arguments for religion tend to rely on the benefits it offers. Hope, charity, kindness, morality—these are all supposed benefits of religion and religious belief. The negatives mostly focus on the violence and greed that harm human populations. Recently, this has been expressed in anger toward the followers of Islam following a series of mass shootings and bombings throughout the world.
However, this is not just a phenomenon of Islam. Planned Parenthood facilities have been attacked by armed Christian gunmen for helping women receive the care they need, whether that’s an abortion or a regular checkup. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India have led to wars and conflicts over the years, and Buddhists throughout Southeast Asia have clashed with other believers. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists—every group has been responsible for enacting violence upon those outside of their group.
Realistically, this is what should be expected from groups that blindly accept and follow what their leaders and others preach to them as truth. When the violence and hatred that is within their holy texts and innate within humans is taught as truth from a god(s), then it is to be expected that it will spill out onto the streets.
In every religion, there is a hierarchy that disseminates information and teaching to its followers. Protestants have pastors, ministers, or preachers; Catholics have their priests, cardinals, and pope; Islam has its Mullahs and Imams; Judaism its Rabbis. All of these systems are designed to manage the flow and distribution of belief in order to ensure their followers believe the right way. This is essential for the maintenance of religion as any deviation of belief has potentially devastating consequences, either personal (eternal damnation) or for the entire religion (the schism between Shias and Sunnis).
What this means for the believer is that they are directly given answers and beliefs that they are supposed to then hold onto as personal truths. They are required to blindly accept what they are told as truth by those that decide what truth is. Some religions, especially in the Protestant faiths and some Eastern traditions, allow for more personal freedom, but there is still a core tenant they must hold to.
Growing up, I was told that I could question but never doubt the Bible. This meant that I could ask questions to discern the meanings of passages, but I could never doubt their truth or legitimacy. “Doubt” meant I did not truly believe or was in danger of deviating from the correct path. This did not stifle my curiosity. It only made me ask more questions which eventually led to me abandoning faith for reason. I needed to be able to question and criticize anything that I was told before I could accept it as true. Without this, I would have lost the ability to be a responsible and active citizen; only acting when, how, where, and why those with power said.
Removing the ability to doubt is what completely destroys the ability of an individual to act based on their own thoughts and reasoning. Doubting, asking questions, rationally thinking are all parts of how our society can grow and improve. Without that, we could revert to a life filled with superstition, violence, and death. There are groups currently active that seek to devote every aspect of their lives, and in some cases the lives of others, to their religion regardless of the effects on their family and neighbors (e.g., the Amish and ISIS). Even when these beliefs do not result in violence, they retard growth and progress in favor of maintaining the status quo. That is a life no person should want.
Reliance on faith is a dangerous and nefarious trap. It teaches followers to ignore critique, to remove doubt, and to blindly trust the words of a parchment or leader. Reason, critical thinking, and compassion are the hope for our species. If we employ them more frequently, it may be that we can thrive and begin to eradicate societal problems.