Imagine No Religion…

(via Far Left Side)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Ryan Hite

    We all need a reason to hate one another. That, I think, is a part of human nature. The ones who truly loved others and put them ahead of themselves truly understand the world the way it should be.

  • Jasper

    I don’t understand the point.

    Since there are other sources of division other than religion, we just not bother to do anything?

    • Pseudonym

      The point is that religious conflict is a symptom of an underlying problem. Treating the symptom won’t help cure the problem.

      • baal

        “Treating the symptom won’t help cure the problem”
        I disagree. Palliative care is sometime the best (or only) solution.

        • Pseudonym

          In what way do you disagree? Palliative care is indeed sometimes the best or only solution. It still won’t help cure the problem.

          • baal

            sigh.

            Your argument is that the problem (strife) has a symption (religious conflict) so that we should skip the symption and go to the problem. Thing is, if we could get relief from the religious conflict, the world would be a better place. I don’t agree with the other strifes will fill the void left when religious strife is palliative cared away.

            • Pseudonym

              Sorry, where did I say that we should skip the symptom? It’s possible that I implied it without knowing. Please do find the exact wording.

  • mrg

    Heh! If religion were to vanish off the face of the Earth tomorrow, it would be a shrug as far as I’m concerned …. but mostly because I don’t think I would notice a real difference.

  • flyb

    The cartoonist misses the point that the world would indeed be a better place without religion. The cartoon seems to imply we shouldn’t bother thinking about it because there will always be people fighting over parking spots and killing each other over their favorite sports teams. Despite that type of idiocy, without religion I think the world would be a much more reasonable and happy place.

    • Pseudonym

      The cartoonist misses the point that the world would indeed be a better place without religion.

      On the contrary, the cartoonist did not miss that point at all. They just happen to think that it’s untrue.

      We’re not talking about parking spots and sports teams here. The Iraq war was justified in terms of “freedom” and “security” and “democracy”. Get rid of religious excuses, and expect to see an increase in that sort of excuse to compensate.

  • closetatheist

    I’ve never actually heard a compelling argument convincing me that there would be just as much strife in the world as there is now if religion just disappeared. It seems to be a commonly held belief, but I really don’t know why…anyone care to help me out?

    • flyb

      Agreed. There will always be strife of some kind in the world, but eliminating the religious excuse for strife would be a massive improvement. I don’t get the “but it’ll be all the same if no religion” argument.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        It would certainly be different. I think religion has long been used as a tool to get the powerless to be willing to die to gain more money and power for the powerful. Eliminating that tool to manipulate the masses would indeed make it harder to convince people to be willing to die on behalf of someone else.

      • Cafeeine

        I think its because people making the argument in the cartoon seem to think people are advocating an artificial removal of religion, as if we could magically make every holy book disappear, and mass-brainwash everyone in the world to forget every single bit of religious dogma they have absorbed, but leaving them with all the superstitious tendencies, subjective biases and fears that make religion so popular in the first place.

        I agree that in such a case, removing religion would have a negligible effect. No one I know from the atheist side is arguing for such a simplistic extraction of religion, but for its eradication through adoption of critical thinking and rationality. Under that prism, accomplishing the removal of religion would require a very different world that would be much better than the current one, if only for the lack of religious and supernatural grifters having all that power and influence.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      Some religious disputes really are about theology. Many others are really racist, nationalistic, and cultural with religion as the dispute. They all look like religious disputes but I don’t think that’s always true. People will still be able to find ways to hate on each other without religion as an excuse.

      • Ibis3

        But it would make it a hell of a lot harder to make people agree to die for other causes if there were no belief in an afterlife. Also, ethnic and nationalistic differences would be less pronounced. Our whole mentality about disputes would change if everyone agreed that the ruler(s) of the universe were not on anyone’s side.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Religion often doesn’t create conflicts (those are for the usual reasons- land, water, power, nationalism, xenophobia, whatever), but it does help harden them and push people into all-or-nothing positions because God Is On Their Side. Religion helps demonize and dehumanize the people on the other side of a conflict. That would be going on some anyways, but religion provides a handy metaphor and divine sanction for rhetoric and actions that most people know are bad.

      I think a lot of people say strife would be lower without religion because a lot of seemingly intractable conflicts become much more solveable without the whole God thing getting in the way. You’d also have a lot harder time supporting the systematic oppression of women without religious reasons, and it’s well-established that the best development and poverty alleviation strategy to date is to educate and respect women.

  • Lucilius

    Religious “justifications” for conflict do a lot to obscure the real causes. If you strip away religious excuses, it won’t automatically solve problems, but it’ll make it that much easier to really get to the bottom of disputes.

    • Thalfon

      I think this is a really good point. As Andrew mentioned, most other sorts of differences can at least be argued about, even if both sides refuse to see eye-to-eye. But when it’s a religious conflict (or appears to be) there’s really no arguing because it’s just “my god vs his god,” and there’s no argument against that sort of irrationality. If religion and other superstition weren’t available as a scapegoat, they would at least have to cite reasons that could be argued against more rationally.

      Of course, on the other hand, that certainly doesn’t always work. Bush’s cited reasoning for the war in Iraq was because there were supposedly WMDs there, and we all know how that turned out. The fact that his argument was completely bunk did nothing to put a stop to the war, however.

      • Ibis3

        His “cited reasoning” also included a lot of “axis of evil” “God bless America” crap. He sold it as a holy war, which is why the actual facts about WMDs didn’t matter.

      • Pseudonym

        As Andrew mentioned, most other sorts of differences can at least be argued about, even if both sides refuse to see eye-to-eye.

        Really? You don’t think that the same thing is happening in the “debate” over the exposure of the government surveillance programmes? Hell, there’s even a persecuted heretic!

  • viaten

    It’s much easier to hate and oppress others when you can say a powerful being demands it of you. I wonder how easily people would come up with other justifications if not for religion.

  • http://godless.biz Andrew Skegg

    Absurd. Most differences can be settled with empirical data and analysis. You cannot do this with religious beliefs because they are not based on empirical observation, critical analysis, and reasoned argument.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      That assumes that people are willing to be rational. I see no evidence that most people are rational or even pretend to be.

      • http://godless.biz Andrew Skegg

        I agree, but what choice do we have? The problem isn’t really religion – it’s the fact religions are irrational. How to fix irrationality within the human species is a difficult problem – perhaps ultimately impossible, but that shouldn’t stop us from improving the situation.

      • Tom

        But that’s just it – many religions actively fight the spread of rational thought, because it threatens their nonsensical foundations. Take away religion and people will initially remain just as irrational and prone to conflict and tribalism as ever, but there’s a chance that the rate of increase of rationality will subsequently accelerate.

        Whether or not they make things worse is debatable, but they are certainly a barrier to improvement – in many cases, it is practically their stated goal.

    • tsig

      Elevatorgate.

    • Pseudonym

      Most differences can be settled with empirical data and analysis.

      I wish I lived in your utopia.

  • double-m

    I’m not sure the scenario from the cartoon would happen that way. Faith sets a pretty strong precedent for irrational behavior, which people are socialized in, which we’re bombarded with through the media, and so on. I doubt anyone can predict what would happen, if that was taken away.

    Also, consider this: despite all differences, the PR China and the Soviet Union never went to war.

    • double-m

      Okay, they did have border skirmishes. But nothing like a Vietnam war, or the Sino-Russian wars before that.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        They did also have a common enemy (the US) and were both trying to build up from almost nothing (the entire industrial zone of the USSR was destroyed in WWII, and China had to build one from scratch). There’s a lot of reasons they mostly glared at each other across the border.

        I do agree that the lack of religious antagonism surely helped keep that potential conflict from erupting. As I said above, religion rarely causes disputes but it surely complicates them.

    • Pseudonym

      Also, consider this: despite all differences, the PR China and the Soviet Union never went to war.

      Sure they did. They went to war against their own people.

  • Andrew B.

    So it’s all or nothing, then? If curing the world of religion merely diminished human suffering instead of eliminating it, it’s not worth the effort?

    • Pseudonym

      If you could show that eliminating religion really would diminish human suffering, and if you could show that the cost of eliminating religion was smaller than the benefit gained in doing so, then it would be worth it.

      That’s a couple of big “if”s that you need some hard evidence for.

      • baal

        I don’t think it’s that hard to do. Some work yes but doable. Once you start adding up the suffering caused by AIDS orphans in Africa from stopping condom distribution efforts and the demand that wives are subordinate to husbands in the US and the demand that we wreck the U.S. economy since a black man is in the white house, the religious right (and the oligarchs) and their tool, religion, have a really big cost. One the putative positive side religions also don’t fare well. Religions have 85%+ overhead for their social programs whereas stand alone non-profits are usually under 15% overhead if they want to get donations.

        If religions had open financial books, I bet I could do better.

        I realize this is an overview, I bet a professional demographer could do the write up.

        • Pseudonym

          If it wasn’t that hard to do, someone would have done it by now. Collecting anecdotes is one thing, but gathering all of the available evidence and evaluating it rationally is quite something else.

          You could start by looking at the many countries in the world where non-profit organisations do have open financial books as a matter of law.

  • James Buchy

    Religion can change how a war is fought. It changes how the combatants view the enemy. An easy comparison is WW2. In the European theater, the Wehrmacht usually treated the enemy with all due respect. It was quite normal for German soldiers to salute the remains of downed RAF or USAAC air crews that they found. Allied POWs were generally treated much better than Hollywood movies depict. There were even complaints among German civilians that the POWs ate better than THEY did…at least until Germany started losing the war, then things changed. The Japanese had a much different view. They actually believed that the emperor was a god. Therefore, they were doing gods work during the war. Japan went to war ostensibly for resources, of which they had very little of their own. The enemy was the enemy of their god, as far at the Japanese soldiers were concerned. They had NO respect for their enemy what so ever. Dying for their god meant being at his side. Ask any Pacific Theater veteran. The Japanese soldiers weren’t all that good, but they were fanatical and more than happy to die.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

      My father, an Army Tank commander and Pacific Vet. told me a story about where, on some island can’t remember, they were out doing a mop-up when his troop encountered a group of Japanese solders, the Japanese ran out in front of the tanks, screaming some incomprehensible motto then dove under the tank track, to be run over. Dad also said they would throw large rocks at the tank to get the gunners attention and then pick up a weapon, point it at the army troops which would give cause to the tank gunner to shoot at them.

  • NateW

    “Give people a common enemy, and you will give them a common identity.
    Deprive them of an enemy and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know who they are.”
    – James Alison

  • W. Wilhard

    At least rational disagreements are solvable whereas religion based quarrels will never end since it’s impossible for religion group to change their mind and say “actually, your point of view is right. Our God is the wrong one”.

  • Tel

    The second image already happens *as well as* the first one happening. Removing religion would leave the second image, but it would remove some causes of or excuses for strife.

  • David Mock

    I subscribe to the South Park episode regarding religion. Humans love violence, war, dissension, prejudice, etc. if you take away religion we will find something else to fight about.

  • Shockna

    Comic assumes that the rate of violence and hate is a constant, and removing one major source guarantees another source, different in essence but equal in magnitude to the first, will automatically step in to replace the vanished source.

    If it isn’t making this unfounded assertion, then it’s assuming that if we can’t remove -all- hatred/violence, we shouldn’t try to remove -any-.


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