“…Religion has gotten away with more than any other ideology in history.”
It goes without saying that in the 21st century human beings should – and for the most part do – value evidence and knowledge over faith and ignorance. I say for the most part because of the one glaring, dangerous exception that society seems to tolerate: religion.
From the sciences to history to literature and all disciplines in between, the necessity of providing evidence (in the form of facts, statistics, observations, measurements, etc.) to validate one’s beliefs is universally accepted. In the academic world, to make arguments in the absence of evidence is like holding a tiger by the tail – you’re just asking to be torn apart by your peers and professors.
The importance of relying on evidence goes beyond the borders of academia, however, to the very survival of modern human society.
Imagine, for a moment, what would happen to our society if its most important institutions ceased to operate on the basis of evidence and started operating on the basis of faith and conjecture. How many innocent people would be convicted of crimes they did not commit? How many patients would be fatally misdiagnosed? How many catastrophically inefficient and harmful laws would be passed in our State Houses and Congress?
And yet, in our advanced, industrial society, there exist institutions of incredible influence and power that are based exclusively on faith. I am talking, of course, about religious institutions.
For some inexplicable reason, religion and religious faith have been granted a degree of reverence not enjoyed by any other ideology or worldview. This reverence has made public criticism of religion and religious faith taboo, and in some cases, dangerous.
Take the recurring incidents of Muslim violence and protests over people and works critical of Islam, for example. In 1989, Salman Rushdie faced death threats thanks to a fatwa issued against him over his book The Satanic Verses. Then there was the assassination of Theo van Gogh in 2004, as well as the violent protests over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad from 2005 to 2006.
More recently, we witnessed thinly-veiled threats of violence against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and violent protests in Afghanistan and Kashmir over an insignificant American preacher’s plan to burn the Koran.
As a result of its immunity from criticism, religion has gotten away with more violence, misogyny, child abuse and bigotry than any other ideology in human history. It has also divided and made mortal enemies of neighbors and families.
And whatever psychological or spiritual comfort a person may draw from religion is immediately cancelled out and washed away by the rivers of blood that have been spilled in the name of god. Even today, in the 21st century, human beings are still massacring each other over the commands of ancient, sadistic, totalitarian deities.
Religion and religious faith must lose their privileged positions and be subject to the same criticism and standards of evidence to which every other discipline, ideology and societal institution is subject. Otherwise, human beings will continue to suffer and die needlessly and may never see the next century.