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The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful

Religion is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality and extreme, grotesque immorality.

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Inspiring political oppression.

Religious extremists -- whether the Taliban in the Islamic world or the Christian Right here in the States -- don't care about separation of church and state. They don't care about democracy. They don't care about respecting other people's right to live differently from them. In very extreme cases, they don't care about law, or basic principles of morality, or even human life.

None of this matters to them. What matters is making God's will happen. In their mind, God created everything that exists... and therefore, God's will trumps everything.

And since God's will is invisible, inaudible, and entirely unverifiable, there's no reality check on this dreadful path. There's no reality check saying that their actions are having a terrible effect in the world around them. The world around them is, quite literally, irrelevant. The next world is what matters. And since there's no way to conclusively demonstrate what will and won't get you a good place in that world, or whether that world even exists... the sky's the limit. There's no way to test the assertion that God wants women to wear burqas and have clitoridectomies... or that God wants us to ban same-sex marriage and teach children dangerous lies about sex. The reality check is absent. The brake lines of morality have been cut.

Perpetuating political oppression.

The unverifiability of religion leads to political oppression in another way. It makes religious leaders and organizations uniquely powerful in the political arena -- because their followers are typically taught from a young age to implicitly believe whatever their religious leaders say. They are taught that their religious leaders have superior virtue, with a hotline to God and his all-perfect morality. Indeed, they've been taught that trusting their religious leaders is a great virtue, and that asking them to support their claims with evidence is a grave insult: not only to the leaders, but to the entire faith, and even to God himself.

Here's a specific example of this one.

In the United States, when same-sex marriage has been up for popular vote, it has, as of this writing, never, ever won. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box, even when a well-organized, well-funded campaign has been behind it. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box largely because the full force of several organized religions, especially the Catholic and Mormon churches, have been marshaled against it. It has been defeated because these churches have been willing to tell grotesque, shameless lies about the effects of same-sex marriage -- from "churches will be forced to perform weddings they oppose" to "kids will be taught explicit gay sex in public school."

And it has been defeated because the followers of these churches implicitly trust their leaders. When faced with a newspaper editorial saying, "Same-sex marriage won't affect public education" -- and their beloved priest saying, "Same-sex marriage means your children will be taught about gay oral sex in third grade" -- they believe their priest.

Even though their priest is lying through his teeth.

And because religion has no reality check, it is extraordinarily difficult to counter its flat-out lies... because ultimately, its claims rest on an unverifiable belief in an invisible God, who has yet to appear on CNN stating his political views. And when you combine this lack of reality check with the unquestioning trust in religious leaders, you have a recipe for religion to have grossly disproportionate power in the political arena. A power that is uniquely armored against questions about what really works to improve life and alleviate suffering and create justice in this world -- the questions that politics are supposed to be about.

 
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