Why, if god was the creator of all things, were we supposed to "praise" him so incessantly for doing what came to him naturally?
As for consolation, since religious people so often insist that faith answers this supposed need, I shall simply say that those who offer false consolation are false friends. In any case, the critics of religion do not simply deny that it has a painkilling effect. Instead, they warn against the placebo and the bottle of colored water. Probably the most popular misquotation of modern times—certainly the most popular in this argument—is the assertion that Marx dismissed religion as "the opium of the people."
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.
Thus the mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.
I will continue to do this without insisting on the polite reciprocal condition—which is that they in turn leave me alone. But this, religion is ultimately incapable of doing. As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.
Imagine, in other words, that you can picture an infinitely benign and all-powerful creator, who conceived of you, then made and shaped you, brought you into the world he had made for you, and now supervises and cares for you even while you sleep. Imagine, further, that if you obey the rules and commandments that he has lovingly prescribed, you will qualify for an eternity of bliss and repose. I do not say that I envy you this belief (because to me it seems like the wish for a horrible form of benevolent and unalterable dictatorship), but I do have a sincere question. Why does such a belief not make its adherents happy? It must seem to them that they have come into possession of a marvelous secret, of the sort that they could cling to in moments of even the most extreme adversity.
Here, then, is a very brief summary of the religiously inspired cruelty I witnessed in these six places. In Belfast, I have seen whole streets burned out by sectarian warfare between different sects of Christianity, and interviewed people whose relatives and friends have been kidnapped and killed or tortured by rival religious death squads, often for no other reason than membership of another confession.
There is an old Belfast joke about the man stopped at a roadblock and asked his religion. When he replies that he is an atheist he is asked, "Protestant or Catholic atheist?" I think this shows how the obsession has rotted even the legendary local sense of humor.
Belgrade had until the 1980s been the capital of Yugoslavia, or the land of the southern Slavs, which meant by definition that it was the capital of a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. But a , Croatian intellectual once gave me a warning that, as in Belfast, took the form of a sour joke. "If I tell people that I am an atheist and a Croat," he said, "people ask me how I can prove I am not a Serb." To be Croatian, in other words, is to be Roman Catholic. To be a Serb is to be Christian Orthodox.
In all the cases I have mentioned, there were those who protested in the name of religion and who tried to stand athwart the rising tide of fanaticism and the cult of death. I can think of a handful of priests and bishops and rabbis and imams who have put humanity ahead of their own sect or creed. History gives us many other such examples, which I am going to discuss later on. But this is a compliment to humanism, not to religion.
In the recent division in the Anglican Church over homosexuality and ordination, several bishops made the fatuous point that homosexuality is "unnatural" because it does not occur in other species. Leave aside the fundamental absurdity of this observation: are humans part of "nature" or not? Or, if they chance to be homosexual, are they created in god's image or not? Leave aside the well-attested fact that numberless kinds of birds and mammals and primates do engage in homosexual play. Who are the clerics to interpret nature? They have shown themselves quite unable to do so. A condom is, quite simply, a necessary but not a sufficient condition for avoiding the transmission of AIDS. And we also know that the use of condoms can at least contribute, as a form of prophylaxis, to the limitation and containment of the virus.
Homosexuality is present in all societies, and its incidence would appear to be part of human "design." We must perforce confront these facts as we find them. We now know that the bubonic plague was spread not by sin or moral backsliding but by rats and fleas.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) has long been known as a sexually transmitted infection that, at its worst, can cause cervical cancer in women. A vaccine is now available—these days, vaccines are increasingly swiftly developed—not to cure this malady but to immunize women against it. But there are forces in the administration who oppose the adoption of this measure on the grounds that it fails to discourage premarital sex. To accept the spread of cervical cancer in the name of god is no different, morally or intellectually, from sacrificing these women on a stone altar and thanking the deity for giving us the sexual impulse and then condemning it.
I pose a hypothetical question. As a man of some fifty-seven years of age, I am discovered sucking the penis of a baby boy. I ask you to picture your own outrage and revulsion. Ah, but I have my explanation all ready. I am a mohel: an appointed circumciser and foreskin remover. My authority comes from an ancient text, which commands me to take a baby boy's penis in my hand, cut around the prepuce, and complete the action by taking his penis in my mouth, sucking off the foreskin, and s pitting out the amputated flap along with a mouthful of blood and saliva. This practice has been abandoned by most Jews, either because of its unhygienic nature or its disturbing associations, but it still persists among the sort of Hasidic fundamentalists who hope for the Second Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. To them, the primitive rite of the peri'ah metsitsah is part of the original and unbreakable covenant with god. In New York City in the year 2005, the ritual, as performed by a fifty-seven-year-old mohel, was found to have given genital herpes to several small boys, and to have caused the deaths of at least two of them.
But this pattern recurs in other denominations and other states and cities, as well as in other countries. Across a wide swath of animist and Muslim Africa, young girls are subjected to the hell of circumcision and infibulations, which involves the slicing off of the labia and the clitoris, often with a sharp stone, and then the stitching up of the vaginal opening with strong twine, not to be removed until it is broken by male force on the bridal night. Compassion and biology allow for a small aperture to be left, meanwhile, for the passage of menstrual blood. The resulting stench, pain, humiliation, and misery exceed anything that can be easily imagined, and inevitably result in infection, sterility, shame, and the death of many women and babies in childbirth. No society would tolerate such an insult to its womanhood and therefore to its survival if the foul practice was not holy and sanctified. Parents who imagine themselves to be "Jehovah's Witnesses" have refused permission for their children to receive blood transfusions. Parents who imagine that a man named Joseph Smith was led to a set of buried golden tablets have married their underage "Mormon" daughters to favored uncles and brothers-in-law, who sometimes have older wives already. The Shia fundamentalists in Iran lowered the age of "consent" to nine, perhaps in admiring emulation of the age of the youngest "wife" of the "Prophet" Muhammad. Hindu child brides in India are flogged, and sometimes burned alive, if the pathetic dowry they bring is judged to be too small. The Vatican, and its vast network of dioceses, has in the past decade alone been forced to admit complicity in a huge racket of child rape and child torture, mainly but by no means exclusively homosexual, in which known pederasts and sadists were shielded from the law and reassigned to parishes where the pickings of the innocent and defenseless were often richer. In Ireland alone—once an unquestioning disciple of Holy Mother Church—it is now estimated that the unmolested children of religious schools were very probably the minority.
Now, religion professes a special role in the protection and instruction of children. "Woe to him," says the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, "who harms a child." The New Testament has Jesus informing us that one so guilty would be better off at the bottom of the sea, and with a millstone around his neck at that. But both in theory and in practice, religion uses the innocent and the defenseless for the purposes of experiment. By all means let an observant Jewish adult male have his raw-cut penis placed in the mouth of a rabbi. (That would be legal, at least in New York.) By all means let grown women who distrust their clitoris or their labia have them sawn away by some other wretched adult female. By all means let Abraham offer to commit suicide to prove his devotion to the Lord or his belief in the voices he was hearing in his head. By all means let devout parents deny themselves the succor of medicine when in acute pain and distress. By all means—for all I care—let a priest sworn to celibacy be a promiscuous homosexual. By all means let anyone who believes in creationism instruct his fellows during lunch breaks. But the conscription of the unprotected child for these purposes is something that even the most dedicated secularist can safely describe as a sin. I do not set myself up as a moral exemplar, and would be swiftly knocked down if I did, but if I was suspected of raping a child, or torturing a child, or infecting a child with venereal disease, or selling a child into sexual or any other kind of slavery, I might consider committing suicide whether I was guilty or not. If I had actually committed the offense, I would welcome death in any form that it might take. This revulsion is innate in any healthy person, and does not need to be taught. Since religion has proved itself uniquely delinquent on the one subject where moral and ethical authority might b e counted as universal and absolute, I think we are entitled to at least three provisional conclusions. The first is that religion and the churches are manufactured, and that this salient fact is too obvious to ignore. The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. The third is that religion is—because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs—not just amoral but immoral. The ignorant psychopath or brute who mistreats his children must be punished but can be understood. Those who claim a heavenly warrant for the cruelty have been tainted by evil, and also constitute far more of a danger.
VIOLENT, IRRATIONAL, INTOLERANT, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience. There is one more charge to be added to the bill of indictment. With a necessary part of its collective mind, religion looks forward to the destruction of the world.
Excerpts from: “God is no great”