The Toxicity of Religion
Posted by honestpoet on December 12, 2006
I’ve decided to start using this blog. This’ll be the first of many posts, maybe not daily, but frequent. I had been blogging elsewhere, at a new-agey forum that had purported to be a site for cultural activists but which turned out to be yet another place for irrational people to get together and air their imbecilic beliefs and insist that you can’t disagree because everything is a matter of perspective. And while I’m all for acknowledging the perspective of the Other (which I think is the basis of ethics and morality), that doesn’t mean that there isn’t such a thing as right and wrong, or good and evil. Reality and wishful thinking.
I agree with Richard Dawkins when he says, well, just about anything, because we’re on the same reality-based wave-length. But what I started to say with that sentence was that I agree that it’s time for atheists, or, to cast us in a less negative light, skeptics, to come out of the closet and voice our doubts, ask our questions, and risk offending.
As Irshad Manji says in her excellent book, The Trouble with Islam, people need to be willing to risk “ruining the moment.” (Though she’s referring to Westerners desiring to engage Muslims in discussing the problems they’re having with violent extremists.) It’s okay to hurt people’s feelings if it’s necessary to arrive at a rational solution to the problems facing humanity. Feelings pass. No blood’s lost when your beliefs are challenged.
And let’s face it. Humanity is royally f*&ck%d. And religion is the primary cause of our sorry state. It’s toxic to mental health. How could it be otherwise, when “faith” requires such mental gymnastics? A psychiatrist in my close acquaintance tells me there’s a clear demographic difference between the general population and the occupants of the ward. Pentecostals are the largest number. Southern Baptists next. Sometimes a Catholic or Jew. Once a Wiccan, though I’m sure in cities where they’re more common, they’re filling a few beds. But never, not once in his decade of practice, an atheist. Now, the incidence of purely biological pathologies like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are more or less the same across the religious/non-religious spectrum, but the kind of things that stem from drug abuse, abuse or other trauma — post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder — overwhelmingly afflict the religious. The more fundamental, literalist, extreme the strain, the more toxic. Now, some of these folks are in fact the victims of an incestuous or violent (or both) relative (most often the father). But others have simply had an irrational mindset forced upon them, and can’t free themselves without pathological guilt, which manifests in one or more of the above. For this reason I also agree with Richard Dawkins when he says that raising a child with religion is tantamount to child abuse.
How much more positive, how much more sane, to raise a child to experience the world without the distorting filter of religion. To teach science, not only what is known, but how it’s known, so that s/he may grow up with an inherent understanding that s/he can add to that knowledge, can explore the world and her/his place in it, unfettered by guilt or a disdain for the beauty that abounds here, which is unavoidable when raised to believe that the world is an illusion, a temptation.
And just as importantly, if not more so, with an awareness that every other human on the planet is in a very real way kin. Though experiencing the travesty that is modern culture in America sometimes leads me to cynicism, I try to hang on to hope that humanity will do better than this. That one day (in the not-too-distant future, if I have my way), we’ll have learned the lesson that we’re dying for: that we now have a Creation Story that we can all share. It’s called Evolution, and it’s ongoing. Not a one-time creation, but cosmogenesis. How incredible, to be a part of a living, constantly created universe. As humans, we have a chance to have a hand in that creation. We’ve spent enough time destroying it already.