Religion in the Real World

Posted By Stefan Monsaureus

As the accidental philosopher Yogi Berra once remarked, “in theory there is no difference between theory and practice; but, in practice, there is.” This is, after all, what makes experimental science so rewarding (and so frustrating), and why moving basic science “facts” into clinical practice is often elusive. When faced with negative results, a good scientist will question assumptions and seek to explore the unanticipated confounding variables; only a very poor scientist would dogmatically insist on the veracity of the original hypothesis and repeat the same experiment.

Yet this is the approach taken by many atheists, unable to understand why repeatedly pointing out the errors and contradictions in sacred texts has failed to eradicate adherence to archaic and irrational religious belief and win “converts” to nontheism.

A well-worn aphorism by Karl Marx suggests that religion is “the opium of the masses.” But looking at that quote in context, we see a more nuanced view of religion.

The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Writing at the New America Foundation in an article entitled “Asking the Right God Question,” Gregory Rodriguez notes of that excerpt that:

Marx wasn’t just another hater of religion as a childish fantasy or a retreat from rationality. He saw faith as a symptom and not the disease, and he was interested in faith not in terms of right and wrong but because of what it told him about the human condition.

Rodriguez points to a recent study from Northwestern University published in the Journal of Research in Personality. That study of American Christians showed that the common denominator underlying religious belief across the political spectrum was fear. Rodriguez notes:

It appears that we do believe out of need, but it’s not, as Marx suggested, primarily because of material deprivation. Instead, it looks as if faith answers fear, and many different kinds of fear, which we can begin to delineate in some detail.

Humanists and others holding a nontheistic worldview aren’t gripped by uncontrollable fear that our lives are devoid of meaning or that the world will be overcome by chaos and conflict absent belief in imaginary deities. The problem is that the continued criticism (and ridicule) of religious belief does nothing to convey this important fact to those who might appreciate atheism on an intellectual level but who continue to cling, seemingly inexplicably, to religious practice. Humanism must be put forth as a positive alternative if we are to foster an evolution toward a more enlightened and rational populace, and we must address those issues which cause people to live in fear. It is not enough to kick the theological crutches out from under the arms of those who use them – we must show that they can walk without them.

Possibly similar posts:

Be Sociable, Share!
11 October 2008

One Comment to 'Religion in the Real World'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  1. Kenny C said,

    Fantastic essay on the topic. While I’m amused by the fun poked at religous extremists and the convoluted, fallacy ridden logic they use, I’ve never understood the thought process that equates ridicule and conversion.

    Forgive the following paragraph, its author was writing stream of consciousness.

    Actually, now that I state that, I have seen that pattern in many social groups which sees themselves as ‘elite’. In a way, it is part of the exclusionary mindset many elitists fall prey to, where mockery of all other groups is seen as an incentive for members of the other groups to join the ‘elite’ group. It places a subjective value judgement on otherwise objective observations. I suspect that it is connected to a human need to have our positions validated by our peers.

    Ok, brain dump done now. Returning to regularly scheduled compliment; great post.

:: Trackbacks/Pingbacks ::

No Trackbacks/Pingbacks