One of the things that occasionally drives me nuts with a small number of atheists, is this idea that religion is the root of all evil, and if we could only get rid of religion, the world would be a much better place. Anyone who has read Spirituality without Structure will know I’m no great fan of organised religion, for all the same reasons many atheists take issue. However, religions are not something that have a terrible influence on people. It is important to remember that religions *are* people – made by people, and run by people.
Take away religion and the world would not magically become a better place. All of the people currently using religion to justify prejudice and cruelty would not suddenly get over it and become lovely. They’d find other spaces supportive of their hatred. Race, culture, politics, countries, languages even…there are plenty of other things humans make that can easily be co-opted to the same effect.
It’s also worth noting that while religion can be a force for good in many lives, so too can culture, politics, patriotism and all the rest. Love for and devotion to anything can turn out to be a force for good.
It is one of the particularly bat-shit crazy things about people, that we invent stuff, and then convince ourselves that the stuff we invented now means we have to do something, or can’t do other things. Not because they are right or wrong. Not because they are helpful or cruel. Not because we want to do them, or loathe the idea, but because the book we wrote says so.
It’s not religion we need to get rid of, but the idea that having power over other people is a good thing. It’s not all belief that is the problem, but the more specific belief that in some circumstances, cruelty, violence, abuse and prejudice are perfectly acceptable. If we could shake off the idea that there can only be one truth and that making people believe yours is therefore acceptable, religion would be no problem at all.
People make religions. That gives us the possibility that we could do a much better job of it, and while we’re at it, a much better job of all the things we’ve been using religion to disguise.