Scene One: I am a university student. I am attending my first ever sex ed class, one we didn’t have in high school or before. The purpose of the class is to teach us safe sex practices and such. The professor is a religious doctor. He teaches us that masturbation is harmful and that circumcision is a good practice. I challenge him, and he confesses to the class that he is going against the scientific consensus in the first case and ignoring the highly contested debates in the latter. But, he says, if Allah teaches us something, then it must be right. If the scientific consensus disagrees with Allah, then it must be wrong. And I can’t help thinking about how he teaches hundreds of classes in his lifetime and misleads students into thinking that a doctor, too, has also said that masturbation is harmful, not knowing that he has knowingly hidden the real science from them.
Scene Two: My father is, as I’m writing this, extremely ill, and we all expect him to die soon. He has decided to end his treatments, and we support him in this painful decision. He is in pain and cannot sleep. We bring a doctor home, asking him to write a prescription of sleeping pills and painkillers. The doctor refuses to do so, instead writing a prescription which resumes his treatment. When my father informs him of his wishes, he simply says that life and death are in Allah’s hands. He then talks to me in private. He says it’s true that the treatment is not going to work anymore, but we should consider that there might be a “miracle” and so we shouldn’t stop treatment. I ask him if he has any non-religious reasons for refusing to heed our wishes, and he informs me that religion is superior to science.
Scene Three: A friend of my family’s is encouraging another friend to forgo chemotherapy for her brain tumor and instead focus on vegetarianism and meditation, informing her that chemotherapy itself is killing her. When I am shocked at his irresponsibility, he informs me that he follows some kind of garbage pagan religion and this is one of their core beliefs and that my “shock” is actually bigoted and offensive. I continue to be bigoted toward his garbage religion.
I don’t know if religion poisons everything. It probably does not. But it certainly does poison medicine, and it’s dangerous when doctors fail to erect a high wall between their religious mind and their doctor mind. It then becomes a lethal drug, a tangible harm.
It’s easy for religion to escape scrutiny and accountability as long as it’s an abstract thought discussed in the cleanness of an isolated debate hall in the privileged halls of academia. It’s easy for religion to be deemed harmless as long as it’s entertainment for people who do not take it seriously enough to bet their lives on it. As long as you are following every advice your doctor gives you, then sure, pray, meditate, go on a pilgrimage, have your dose of harmless placebo effect.
But religion is never going to keep the bridges up and it can never truly heal a patient or substitute our current understanding of science, flawed as that might be. It’s fine to sit at your desk and daydream about your ability to fly, but that notion becomes problematic the moment you go on the roof and take an actual leap of faith.
And that, my dear reader, is why I’m still an anti-theist. That’s why I still want to eradicate superstition, and faith, and any kind of thinking that discourages critical thinking and skepticism. After all these years, after all the creepy and unethical atheists and humanistic religions and secular rituals. None of them have deterred me, and I will continue to oppose religion as long as doctors teach masturbation is wrong and refuse to ease a dying man.
Indeed, what is the harm of any superstition — homeopathy, horoscopes, prayers, gods, alternative medicine, blood letting, chiropractic, etc etc, as long as they are not taken seriously by the privileged few who look at them as entertainment? Nothing, but they become harmful when people begin taking them seriously.