The title is borrowed from a book by Dr. David M. Brooks, a psychologist. It was published in 1933, three years before I was born, so, like me, it’s pretty damn old. But also like me (ahem) it has some thoughts that, in my opinion, are worth sharing.
It’s a short book, 230 pages, but it takes religious belief, and the organizations who promote it, apart and examines each little bit with a critical eye. From the opening chapter titled appropriately, “The Evolution of Religious Belief,” through following chapters that deal with religious sacred books, including the Koran and various books in the Bible, to the effects of religion on Science, Medicine, Astronomy Geography, Chemistry and Physics, Geology, and even Witchcraft. It includes chapters on morality, war, slavery, labor and women. This is not a book review. I just wanted to make readers here aware of this useful reference and commentary.
I will include some quotes from the final chapter titled “Contemporary Opinion” that I think are worth repeating here, starting with this from Friedrich Nietzsche. If most of the people on the planet took Nietzsche’s advice, there would be no religions or religious belief.
Let us make no mistake—great minds are skeptical…. The strength and the freedom which arise from exceptional power of thought express themselves in skepticism…. A mind which aspires to great things and is determined to achieve them is of necessity skeptical.
— Friedrich Nietzsche.
Bertrand Russell damns religion with this faint praise:
My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.
On the destructive effect that religion has had on science and scientists:
All through the century (nineteenth), whenever and wherever there is a movement for change and betterment, the clergy are found opposing it. In this they are merely carrying on the tradition of their order. When one looks back over history, one realizes that there is scarcely any discovery which science has made for human advancement and happiness which churchmen and theologians have not violently opposed. Not content with burning each other, they burnt the men who discovered the earth’s motion, burnt the men who made the first tentative beginnings of physics and chemistry, burnt the men who laid the foundations of our medical knowledge…. Bad as has been the church’s record in the past, it is not greatly improved in the present…. For two thousand years teachers and preachers have striven, by inculcating the principles and precepts of Christianity, to mould men’s character and to improve their conduct; yet we still have our prisons, our judges, and our wars, and it remains today, as it has done for two thousand years past, an arguable question whether men are better or worse than they were before Christianity was introduced.
— C. E. M. Joad
On the authenticity of the Bible:
If we will for a moment imagine the Bible to have come suddenly to our attention today, unencumbered by a tradition of divine authority, and with no more sacredness than a newly discovered writing of ancient China or Egypt, we can see quite readily that it would occur to nobody who took the work merely on its merits either to accept it as scientifically and historically true, or to twist its statements into a far-fetched allegory of the truth.
— William Pepperell Montague
I wish Mencken had been right about the demise of religion, but he got the rest of it right:
Alone among the great nations of history we have got rid of religion as a serious scourge, and by the simple process of reducing it to a petty nuisance. For men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt. The more stupid the man, the larger his stock of adamantine assurances, the heavier his load of faith. When Copernicus proved that the earth revolved around the sun, he did not simply prove that the earth revolved around the sun, he also proved that the so-called revelation of God, as contained in the Old Testament, was rubbish. The first fact was relatively trivial: it made no difference to the average man then, as it makes no difference to him today. But, the second fact was of stupendous importance, for it disposed at one stroke of a mass of bogus facts that had been choking the intelligence and retarding the progress of humanity for a millennium and a half….
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind; that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overborne by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
— H. L. Mencken
I will finish with a quote by Albert Einstein. In the first sentence, he makes it clear that he does not think humans have Free Will. Some Christians try to claim that Einstein was a believer. This puts that notion to rest quite emphatically. I would only quibble with his reference to the “intelligence” in nature, but he may have had a different definition of the word than mine.
I do not believe we can have any freedom at all in the philosophical sense, for we act not only under external compulsion, but also by inner necessity…. I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modelled after our own, a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.
— Albert Einstein
There are twenty more quotes of equal value to these, but I will stop here.
I recommend this book to anyone who considers themselves capable of critical thinking For nonbelievers, it confirms their position. For believers with doubts, it will give them some food for thought.
To devout religious believers: As Nietszche said, skepticism is necessary for critical thinking. Faith-based belief cripples critical thinking by suppressing skepticism. If you don’t think so, I challenge you to read this book with an open mind…or try to. But frankly, I doubt that you will get within ten yards of it.