Sunday, September 26, 2010

Religion Cannot Ever Be a Harmless Delusion

I reach the conclusion that there is no god neither lightly nor without sufficient thought.  For decades now I have lived as an atheist in a country where invidious hostility toward atheists reigns supreme.  My life would have been much easier if I could have believed.

But I cannot believe a lie and I cannot understand why anyone would want to.  We all do so from time to time, but it is never a good thing.  Self-delusion is a form of blindness—a blindness of which the victim is not even aware.  As such it is very dangerous.  A blind man knows he is blind and he does not attempt to drive a car on public roads.  A blind man who does not know he is blind will attempt to do things that will endanger himself and others simply because he is not aware of all the facts.  The breadth of the person’s blindness will determine just how likely this is and how dangerous.

A man who is color blind can still drive a car.  He does not need to be able to distinguish between green and red because he knows that the light at the top of the three light series is red and the one at the bottom is green, thus placement replaces the color cues for him.  A person who is completely blind does not even see the intersection, much less the series of lights.

Likewise, religion is an entire worldview—a universal view, literally.  It is not limited to a small portion of the world.  It is not comparable to a minor delusion such as believing that one’s children possess qualities that they do not.  It is not nearly so narrow or harmless.  It encompasses everything and, if it is not true, renders the believer unable to perceive anything in the universe properly.

A person in the grip of such a delusion is blind to reality and cannot deal with it properly.  Unfortunately, such a person is not impervious to reality.  Reality will interact with him in its own fashion whether he sees it properly or not.  He will drive his car (or his country, or his species) off a cliff because he does not see the cliff.  That cliff and the hard ground at the bottom of it will, however, have the same effect on anyone who drives over it regardless of whether the driver saw it properly or not.

It is vitally important that we see the cliff and avoid it--even if seeing it is unpleasant.

The religious and those who make money off them, however, actively seek to convince all of us to close our eyes and go through life blindly.  I will close with a wonderful quotation from Diderot that captures this phenomenon:
“Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: 'My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.' This stranger is a theologian.”
Denis Diderot, Addition to Philosophical Thoughts (c. 1762)

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