People like myself who are opposed to the concept of religious faith are often asked, “Why criticize religion?” The following list lays out my own reasons. I do not speak for all people who oppose religion, but perhaps you share some of my views.
Also, since many people become confused about this topic, I must clarify my view on how much of a force religion is in the world. The nature of the situation as I see it is this: religion and faith are certain factors in people’s lives. It is not black-and-white – there are a variety influences and causes that ultimately determine our views and actions. And I think religion is a dangerous one. So for example it doesn’t matter that not all religious people think that gay people are unnatural, or that even some atheists think the same thing. The issue is that religion has a greater tendency to feed those ideas and make people more likely to have such views.
I want to address the problem itself, not just the symptoms
I am opposed to religious faith as a concept in general. I am not just opposed to certain actions or ideas of fundamentalists. This confuses some people, but my reason for it are actually quite simple and logical:
Religious faith is a way of thinking which enables the easy formation and spreading of irrational ideas. We can try to constantly suppress the worst results of this, or we can simply go after the root cause itself: the irrational religious faith that facilitates it all.
In short: Why struggle to suppress the symptoms of a problem instead of the cause itself? Doing the latter eliminates the problems far more completely.
And the other thing people must realize is that they often look at the world in a very black-and-white way. They think that if someone is a good person and also has some religious beliefs, then that means religious faith as a whole concept must be harmless.
But the reality is that all our feelings and beliefs are the result of many influences. Religious faith is just one of these factors. It’s a very important one, but it is not the only one. It can be swayed by other factors in our culture, family, experience, emotional messages, etc.
I simply think that from the evidence of history and current society, we can see that irrational belief is not a favorable influence and should not be encouraged. Instead, what should be encouraged is critical thinking in all areas of life.
Misperception of reality
Faith is a method of deciding which beliefs to adopt and hold on to. The very nature of it means that it supports beliefs which are not sufficiently supported by evidence and logic. If they were, then you could hold those beliefs for those rational reasons instead of faith.
This means that religious faith yields beliefs that are adopted irrationally and maintained irrationally. They are much less likely to change with evidence or new information, because actual evidence and logic are not why they hold those beliefs in the first place.
This irrationality and inconsistency with evidence means that faith produces misperceptions of reality. And the more faith someone uses for adopting more and more of their beliefs, the more deluded is their perception of reality.
Faith is the construction of a false reality in the mind. And the problem with this is that the actual external reality does not change accordingly. It remains as it is. And thus the further out of sync our beliefs are with that reality, the more problems we will suffer as a society – and often as individuals too.
This mis-alignment – which becomes proportionally more severe with increased use of faith – often produces a warped sense of what is actually good or what is harmful.
When people’s strongest beliefs are misaligned with the reality they actually live in, society incurs negative effects of those misperceptions. This includes everything from the believers misplacing blame for society’s problems, increased dogma and divisions, and the population becoming easier for those in power to manipulate.
Matt Dillahunty from the show The Atheist Experience summarized it like this: “If your internal model of reality is inaccurate, your decision-making skills are going to suffer.” And Sam Harris pointed out that “No civilization has ever suffered from being too reasonable.” These concepts apply not only to religion but also all other issues where people are irrational.
Remember that one can always argue that society will have problems even without faith and religion. But with such a major cause of irrational belief, society tends to suffer more problems, in greater abundance, greater degree, and with more resistance to change than would exist in it otherwise. And that is my argument.
Thus support of faith is itself inadvertently supporting all harm caused by delusion. That is why religion, superstition, willful ignorance, and uncritical thinking are ultimately immoral and intolerable.
I think the the issue can be roughly summarized like this: More delusion means more suffering. Less delusion means less suffering.
The remaining points in this list will explain many of the ways in which this is the case.
Beliefs affect action
Many people hold to the tremendously irrational idea that one’s beliefs don’t necessarily deserve criticism because they aren’t related to one’s actual behavior.
They seem to think that one’s beliefs can by sectioned off from their actions, and that people can believe whatever strange or horrendous things they wish and that this is a completely separate issue from whether or not they act in accordance with those beliefs.
But this is absurd. Your actions do not just spring up out of nothing in ways disconnected from your beliefs about the world. Your beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. Your actions are the manifestation of your beliefs.
So religion and faith are not solely personal issues akin to your favorite color. They affect everything, and must be scrutinized like any politically-oriented view.
No corrective mechanism
While describing one of the major contrasts between science and religion, Sam Harris said, “Bias in science is bad science. Bias in religion is faith, it’s doctrine, it’s redeeming, it’s holy. You don’t have the same corrective mechanism in religion.”
I think that describes the problem quite well. Since faith-based beliefs are not derived from evidence and logical scrutiny, they have no way to be corrected when they are wrong or harmful. The belief is supported by belief itself.
Also that irrational nature causes the irrational beliefs to take precedence over reality when there is any conflict between the two. What I mean by this is that when religious people deal with any topics that their faith has any conflict with, the faith-based beliefs are assumed to be more important and more true.
People must be taught to value evidence and why. Encouraging and accepting faith in our culture is contrary to this endeavor.
Too personal, too emotional
Moreso than other beliefs, people take their delusions about the supernatural extremely personally. As a result, the beliefs take on a very emotional nature, with the believer experiencing a very emotional attachment to specific beliefs about reality. The beliefs become heavily entwined with their strongest feelings, wishes, and identity.
This makes such people intolerant of scrutiny of their beliefs, makes them unable to look at their beliefs using consistent reasoning, and it makes them difficult to reason with when people need to prevent a harmful situation, and so on.
Beliefs that are based on personal emotion instead of rationality and external evidence can produce scary results. I think the very concept of connecting faith-based beliefs with one’s personal identity is a problem because any limitation on the influence or ‘rights’ of their beliefs is taken as a personal attack, and it makes rational discussion about the effects of those beliefs very difficult or even impossible. The beliefs become unassailable because the believers often cannot distinguish between criticism of that belief and criticism of themselves as people.
This is a dangerous and unproductive social mechanism.
Faith turns millions of people into liars and manipulators
Due to the nature of faith-based beliefs to take priority over evidence and reason, as mentioned earlier, faithful believers tend to become severely illogical, manipulative liars on matters pertaining to their ideas.
In order to maintain their faith-based beliefs, people will twist, omit, misrepresent, and lie about evidence. They will use inconsistent logic to reach incorrect conclusions; they will lie about what others believe, about the moral messages in their holy books, and use piles of equivocation fallacies in order to confuse the subject and lead to the specific belief they want. Among the most intense believers, religion becomes a cultural force attempting to wash away the truth – to hide it or destroy it.
Furthermore, religion foments such massive biases to maintain the belief system that it tries to drag everything else down to its level as a strategy to avoid criticism and discredit their opponents. This confuses every topic of discussion that religion touches, and the result is gross dissemination of propaganda, misinformation, and political dogma.
But many religious people don’t care. Maintaining the belief is their priority.
The faithful have a greater tendency to adopt harmful beliefs
Since faith causes people to adopt and hold onto ideas on an irrational basis, they are more likely to adopt and hold onto dogmas and organized religious doctrines present in their culture. For example they are vastly more likely to believe the Bible, and believe a lot of it.
And the more they do this, the greater the influence that other cultural factors must have to keep the faithful sane and harmless. But it doesn’t always work because the faith-based dogmas are so based in emotional attachment to God, and by extension the dogma itself. So the people with the most faith-based beliefs and the strongest faith in those beliefs, are more likely to have many harmful ideas mixed among their beliefs and opinions than the non-faithful.
All evil actions are morally justified by religion
With moral beliefs based in faith and the idea of God, we end up with ideologies in which human suffering is ultimately considered irrelevant, and any action is justified if the believer has been convinced that it’s what God wants.
This is a very dangerous situation. It impacts how people, groups, and cultures handle things they don’t like, as well as what they even believe is good or bad to begin with. If blind faith is the standard for truth, then anything and everything is true and anything and everything is moral.
Religion replaces logic with emotion
One of the main ways in which logic is curtailed in religious people is by the use of magical emotional cult phrases. To use an actual example:
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” – Comment on this site’s Facebook page
They use this in place of logical responses to points and questions posed to them. They feel that it makes sense, but there isn’t any actual logical meaning in it that addresses the questions. They amount to little more than subjective accusations. But it suffices for them so they don’t think about it. That emotion replaces logic, and this supports those beliefs which would otherwise fail to hold up to scrutiny.
Religion silences criticism
When you criticize religion, people react more viciously than they do to criticism of any other ideas. This combined with religion being based in irrationality rather than evidence and reason, results in the strongest believers trying to silence criticism by force.
This force ranges from trying to shut down web pages, spamming ‘dislikes’ and reports on videos they dislike in order to activiate automatic bans, to death threats, to actual violence, to imposing harsh laws in government to censor opposition and debate.
This sort of thing occurs in varying degrees wherever there are conflicting groups, but the intensely religious are the most severe in this way by far.
Causes misunderstanding and demonization of rational thinkers
When enough faith is used that believers adopt a faith-based doctrine – rather than simply a belief in a generic god for example – the believers often take on the views that doctrine has toward non-believers.
This can include views that non-believers are immoral, being swayed by demons, that they are ‘rebelling’ against God, that tolerating them and their ideas causes God to send disasters and misfortune, etc.
This closes off the strongest believers from listening to the views of non-believers on issues related to morality or science; and it dangerously leads to misplaced blame for events like natural disasters or school shootings, and can inspire believers to try to enforce their dogmas through government.
Lash out when comforting illusion is scrutinized
One of the reasons that religion is dangerous is that psychologically, religion is a self-imposed illusion that acts as a security blanket, or a cocoon. So believers become extremely frustrated when they hear outspoken atheists or are faced with difficult questions because that doesn’t help maintain their illusion. So the whole illusion begins to break down, and the safety net with it. Then they lash out as if their actual safety were really in jeopardy.
So in fact the very idea that religion brings people such comfort is a point against it, not for it. People can take comfort in reality too, so there is no excuse for religion to infest our minds. Granted it’s not as easy as just injecting the drug, but it can still be done.
Intense faith causes division
The more intense a religious belief is, the more likely it is to divide people and cause some to break off friendships and family ties; or in some parts of the world, result in sectarian violence that otherwise may not have occurred (since that particular major point of distinction among the population would not exist).
The less religion and the less intense the beliefs of believers, the better off we all are. Religion is humanity’s most unnecessary, yet intense, cause of division.
Religion can exacerbate otherwise non-religious quarrels/conflicts
Religion often ends up becoming mixed into various problems around the world, largely because it is such a significant cultural force and has such emotional attachment to personal identity.
This adds a new major factor to the problem completely unnecessarily. This religious factor, which is heavily emotional and linked to identity and irrational beliefs, makes the problem more violent and more difficult to resolve due to the increased complication of the issue and the increased reasons for division and hatred.
Indoctrination results in period of emotional suffering for people who break free from it
Religion makes people invest their feelings of hope, purpose, and fear very deeply in the religion’s delusions. So when people find their way out of it, depending on the person and their particular religion, they are sometimes confused, frustrated, and depressed during a period of transition.
Because of religion, these people hadn’t developed other ideas, ‘philosophies’, and ways of handling their feelings of identity and purpose. Religion cuts off people’s ability to develop these other things since the magical dogmas take care of all of it. It takes a lot of time to develop such ideas of purpose, identity, and emotional centering, so it is inexcusable for religion to deny that process to people.
An example of this can be seen in this eye-opening article where Rachel, the daughter of Christian apologist Matt Slick, describes the experience of becoming an atheist. In it, she describes her feelings after her de-conversion, and in one place mentions “Though I had left Christianity intellectually, my emotional beliefs had yet to catch up.” Christianity had denied her that development. This is the result of religious fundamentalism, of heavy use of religious faith. The less faith, the better.
Religion attempts to invalidate all other forms of comfort and ‘spirituality’
The world’s current religions seem to try to create a monopoly on morality, comfort, feelings of being insightful, and spirituality. They try to attack, demonize, and invalidate non-theistic ways (and in the case of Christianity, it tries to invalidate all other ways period) by cultivating unhealthy attachments to specific ideas like eternal life and the belief that a godless universe makes our lives pointless and miserable, etc. This prevents people from growing in other ways, and it allows the religion to maintain ideological control over the society.
Motivates the concept of dominionism
(See dominionism) The paranoia and self-righteousness often fomented by religion (the Abrahamic doctrines especially, but also in many other cultures now long gone) leads to the strongest believers thinking that they must control everything.
They live in a perception of reality in which a magic being is the cause behind all events, and that evil beings and magic sin can infest people and society, thus angering some god. And in their false reality, this means that pleasing the god to the letter is the best and only moral and rational thing to do for the welfare of the country and the world.
And here’s the thing moderates so flippantly dismiss: If the fundamentalist believers were correct about reality, then what they are doing would actually be the best course of action. That is why it is absurd and so difficult to convince devout Christians to just “not force their views on others”. The belief is the source of the problem, not their behavior.
So remember these are not always “just bad people”. They are religious people acting rationally in accordance with their irrational beliefs. Address their beliefs and you address the problem.
Perpetuates ancient delusions, ignorance, and prejudices
There is nothing better than religion for helping ancient prejudices and ignorance endure in perpetuity. It turns these things into divine authority, unquestionable wisdom, beautiful obedience, noble tradition, and holy truth.
Religion enables ancient prejudices to remain in society even when the less religious people around them are progressing past those views. Regardless of how the ideas originally formed, religious faith with its irrational, inflexible nature is a dominant force in maintaining homophobia, anti-woman prejudice, caste systems, marrying children, fear of science, fear of godlessness, etc.
Male dominion over women
This is definitely true of the Abrahamic religions but not exclusive to it by any means. In the Bible, women are treated like property in the Old Testament; and the New Testament declares that man is the head of woman, and Christ is the head of man. Women must be in submission to their husbands in fundamentalist doctrine. Now unless we can be absolutely sure that divine Jesus even exists, then surely you can see how this is a problem. It means the man just controls everything with no one actually controlling him.
Religion has a greater tendency to make people less able to understand neutrality and fairness
Religion often makes people paranoid and deluded into thinking that if they aren’t allowed to indoctrinate people or make their doctrines in authoritative, then that means their enemies are doing the indoctrinating. Many believers are so biased that they have no concept of neutrality.
This can be seen in religionists’ reactions to people advocating the removal of “God” from money, the pledge of allegiance, and various oaths in courts or the military, as well as in their opposition to the teaching of the objective science of evolution.
I have seen Christians say that removing under “God” from coins and replacing it with a motto like e pluribus unum, is identical to putting “There is no God” on coins. And I have seen others claim that Lemon v. Kurtzman — a Supreme Court case where it was ruled that taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize expenses of private religious schools even for their secular subjects — was trying to prevent “the free exercise of religion” simply because it wasn’t actively supporting them!
And they have said that groups which stop Christians from proselytizing to kids by taking advantage of toy drives are indoctrinating kids into atheism, and that teaching objective information arrived at via strict objective methods, like evolution, are indoctrinating people with atheism. It’s truly bizarre.
Religion generally demands preference instead of neutrality. This is especially true of Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam. I think this results from the divisive and authoritarian nature of the ideas in the Bible and Quran. For one example in the gospels, Jesus himself declares that “He who is not with me is against me”, and this mindset seems to pervade among strong believers.
Superstitions and dogmas grow when left unchallenged
These irrational systems of thought are massively widespread. People want to believe various strange, magical things so these ideas need to be resisted constantly in order to prevent them from growing and becoming harmful. So we can never just call it “good enough” and stop resisting religion, faith, and superstition.
Teaches what to believe, not how to think intelligently
The problem is that they have been taught what to believe, not how to think critically to reach conclusions that are more likely to be true. This yields a plethora of problems, many of which are described on this page.
Religion is used for control
The Abrahamic religion especially is brutally, dangerously authoritarian. Its central doctrine is the humbling of humanity, eliminating whatever pride we have so that we detest our own judgment and become slaves to belief in the god – and thus to the ideas of leaders in the cult communities. It is wielded to maintain allegiance to political dogmas, and also often for families to retain power over, and manipulate, their children’s thoughts and feelings.
Religion is a tool of politicians and political groups to sway opinion and form dogmas. It can be used to drum up intense support for their views and dogmas by associating religion with their ideas. This hinders political rationality and progress.
People try to impose religion in our politics, from banning gay marriage to placing their god on our currency, to having their god in the pledge of allegiance to the nation, to demanding laws based on Biblical teachings, to blaming lack of Judeo-Christian worship for natural disasters and school shootings, to teaching that science is evil and that mythology should be taught in its place.
And even beyond these terrible things, religion can foment unwarranted feelings of self-righteousness, security, divine purpose in our political leaders. This can lead to them feeling driven to fulfill Biblical prophecies and guide public policy according to their beliefs about, for example, the middle east, Israel, Armageddon, etc.
People who believe in the insane prophecies and God-backed wars of the Bible will be more likely to have delusions of grandeur and invincibility, and rush us towards fulfilling these prophecies. But since these prophecies are based in faith, not reality, they will not come true. The misalignment between the belief and reality results in insane policy decisions, wars, and widespread suffering.
Rejects and demonizes science
Since people feel such emotional attachment to their faith-based beliefs, they tend to hold onto them regardless of evidence or logical scrutiny. And in this process of maintaining their beliefs, they often outright reject many aspects and discoveries of science, and try to demonize science through propaganda and misinformation.
This is often because it is believed that God knows everything, far beyond human comprehension, so you must do whatever God says regardless of the evidence or whether or not it even makes sense (See Purpose Driven Life). It teaches that whatever does not come from faith is sin, and that whoever disagrees about the Bible is possessed by evil demons, thus leading to a priori rejection of all rationale and discussion.
Unlike Buddhism – of which the principles and doctrines are primarily centered around personal improvement and have no contingency on magical beliefs – Abrahamic religion, like many now-dead religions, is built around magic. For example, magical creation, prayer, demons, sin, cult devotion to magical being required for magical salvation from magical punishment, etc. This leads to rejection of reason and science anywhere they come into conflict.
This produces an incredibly adamant system of propaganda and resistance to the reliable scientific method which we use to understand and improve the world.
This religious opposition to science is dangerous. It hinders improvement in nearly all areas of society.
Undermines education and ability to find reliable information
Religion deludes people which causes them to run massive misinformation campaigns. This undermines education for the public and makes good science more difficult to come by when people search for it. Try looking up a topic online about an topic religion contends about — religious sites are all over the place and it’s hard to find quality reliable information on those subjects. This harms all of us in the long run as it makes it more difficult for the population to educate itself reliably.
Views on health and medicine can be dangerous
Religion teaches belief in magical healing that doesn’t really occur. This can result in viewing use of science and modern medicine as a rejection or affront to God – as if one is placing man over God. And to many intense believers, doing such a thing is out of the question.
This can result in sickness spreading among communities that reject vaccines, death in children whose parents rely on God to heal their children, people being trampled to death in riots to reach just a few drops of ‘holy water’, and more.
Dangerously out of proportion reactions to insignificant events
Because religion is heavily emotional and tends to staunchly demand authority and respect, it can lead to extreme outbursts of anger or even violence over things which do not warrant such reactions.
For example in the middle east there have been riots and violence over “insults to Islam” as simple as pictures of Muhammad in cartoons, or someone’s pathetic low-budget movie on YouTube. And in India, a man simply pointed out that the cause of a supposed miracle was just a leaking pipe, and in return for his honesty he faced possible jail time and death threats. Or people can receive death threats for promoting the teaching of basic science like evolution in public schools as was seen in Dover. And in various places throughout history and even today, one can be jailed or killed for scrutinizing or criticizing the dominant religion.
These examples could go on endlessly. Delusion makes people highly emotional about irrational things and that can result in absurd and unnecessary suffering and injustice.
We don’t need religion for anything
Religion provides no unique benefits, so I do not think it is worth the unnecessary abundance of problems it brings along with it. With religion gone or diminished, we would still retain the alleged benefits of religious belief: Donating food and building homes for the less fortunate, helping people with drug rehabilitation, and so on.
Religion has so dominated society for so long that it has been the go-to doctrine to address issues like these. But as religion further diminishes from society, secular opinion and sentiments will develop more fully and evolve into the new social philosophies. Much of this sort of thing is already happening and growing, so our societies are slowly transitioning.
The simplest way to look at it might be this: If something is good, we have reason to do it without religion. Religion is only necessary when you are trying to get people to do things they otherwise would consider too heinous and absurd.
Religious indoctrination warps who children are
Religion is heavily focused around indoctrinating children with the cult’s beliefs. This is sickening because it alters who they are from a young age.
It forever twists and reforms even the way a person thinks, thus preventing many people from thinking rationally on the topic for their entire lives. Through this, it decides who they are and will be. It alters one’s very identity before they can think about it clearly and decide for themselves. It shapes who a child is without letting them discover or decide for themselves. That is severely immoral.
It is like bringing up a child with an addiction to heroine so that they forever feel that drug is their only source of comfort and identity. It prevents them from being who they would have become if they weren’t warped and imprisoned.
The child has their mind and life warped, depriving the child of the mind and freedom they could have had, and depriving the world of the person they would have otherwise been. I look at deeply brainwashed Christians and Muslims and how they speak and act, and I think “who would they have been otherwise?”
That person may have been lost to us. That is a terrible tragedy which should never occur, and we are morally obligated to challenge it. Religion steals you, who are are as a person. Luckily some people escape that ideology. But most do not. And even when they do, it is unfair and cruel to have forced it upon them in their early years.
People often say that it’s people’s right to live as they want. But a child does not choose to be brought up that way. No child chooses to be indoctrinated. A child will always have influences in their life but we should do our best to foster freedom of thought and inquiry, critical thinking, and curiosity and admiration for the world outside what agrees with one religion.
Gives too much power to religious leaders
The magical beliefs place certain people above others with unquestionable authority. This was dangerous in the ancient world, dangerous in the middle ages, and dangerous today when preachers can teach prejudice against science, reason, and homosexuality, and they are in places of undeserved trust and authority over children which they easily can use to rape children.
There are abuses that result from religion beyond even the power over children granted to religious leaders.
The most common must be that because of reliance on faith and doctrines, religious parents often teach children intense fear of an imaginary hell. As can be attested from many former Christians, the fear of hell is a terrible experience. It is a constant threat of pain, worse than even telling them that there’s a monster that will eat them at night. How can at least this particular act not be considered abuse?
See person’s message at beginning of this video. She is so fearful of Hell. The very idea of hell is a tool of mind control. And former fundamentalist Timothy Havener makes his point about how abuse of teaching hell very clear in this video.
Also, the Bible advocates harsh punishments for children, even execution. We can’t be sure exactly how often the Mosaic laws were really carried out on unruly children, but it is a disturbing thought. Just the idea of teaching that it should be done, as a command from God, is hideously immoral.
The whole doctrine of Abrahamic religions are based on the concept of immense unquestionable authority and rules. Learning and developing emotionally and to think critically is harshly suppressed is many fundamentalist families as a direct result of the religious beliefs they were raised with themselves. This has lead to many parents – who were brainwashed themselves – to adopt harsh parenting styles, some of which are outright abusive and even result in deaths.
Religion exalts irrationality and inflexibility as noble
The more that faith-based beliefs are taught or adopted, the more dangerously irrational and incapable of change they become.
The whole concept of faith and religion is based around believing in things for which the evidence is lacking or even contrary. So to people who love faith, they tend to love the very concept of irrationality and rigid opposition to evidence in areas touched upon by their beliefs.
There are even proud Christian slogans like “I’m a Christian and you will never change my mind”, and “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” And in the Christian bestseller A Purpose Driven life, author Rick Warren even declares proudly that “Surrendered people obey God’s word, even when it doesn’t make sense.” And among all religions and even new age spiritualists, any skepticism of their claism are met with accusations of being closed-minded.
That inflexibility and irrationality is a point of pride for strong believers. That manner of thinking helps perpetuate all the other problems I’ve spoken about on this page.