Intellectually, it seems the debate over the existence of a higher power remains mostly inconclusive. Sure, there may or may not be some sort of higher power, but it seems to be impossible to know or understand the ‘personality’ of such a being. Most religions, it seems to me, not only claim to know and/or understand the personality of a higher being, but use their beliefs to impose their will on others.
We must, as 1 Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us, “Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good.”
To be clear, I’m a complete supporter for freedom of religion. Religion can make people happier, encourage people to be charitable, provide a sense of meaning and community, and many other positive things. And I largely agree with the brilliant Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But that’s not always the case.
Of course, ‘godless’ societies have committed their fair share of atrocities as well, so atheism might not be the answer either. To clarify, I’m not necessarily opposed to religion; I’m opposed to unjustified certainty. As C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth.”
Still, religion has historically been used to justify some of the worst actions of humanity (for example, the Bible was widely used to justify the institution of slavery). Even today in the relatively free United States, religious arguments are often used to deny equal rights for certain groups of people, and religion is often used to undermine education in our school system, especially regarding science.
Furthermore, history and common sense reveal to us that people can be ‘good without god.’ Religion protects itself from criticism by claiming the support of god and encouraging ‘faith,’ which inherently discourages learning. By glorifying faith, we glorify what we don’t know; by glorifying learning, on the other hand, we glorify discovering what we don’t know.
“The Great Agnostic” Bob Ingersoll, in an 1877 essay honoring Thomas Paine, wrote, “In all ages reason has been regarded as the enemy of religion.” After all, what is the fate of Socrates if not a display of religion’s tyranny over the mind? Corrupting the youth and impiety – the charges that have led to so much of humanity’s progress. Later in the previously mentioned essay, Ingersoll wrote, “The doubter, the investigator, the Infidel, have been the saviors of liberty.”
In his Rules for Radicals, activist Saul Alinsky noted the importance of irreverence and curiosity, which are complementary. He wrote, “To the questioner nothing is sacred. He detests dogma, defies any finite definition of morality, rebels against any repression of a free, open search for ideas no matter where they may lead … for his irreverence is rooted in a deep reverence for the enigma of life, and an incessant search for its meaning.”