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Chapter Seven: Beyond Religion

Section 1:
We should all be Japanese

An atheist society is more moral than a religious one.

In 2005 a ground-breaking study on religious belief and social well-being was published in the Journal of Religion & Society. Comparing eighteen prosperous democracies from the US to New Zealand, author Gregory S Paul quietly demolished the myth that faith strengthens society.

7.1a Religion, violence and promiscuity

Comparing faith – measured by belief in God and acceptance of evolution – with rates of homicide and patterns of sexual behavior, Paul found that secular societies have less violence and fewer teenage pregnancies than societies where many people profess belief in God.

Top of the class, in both atheism and good behaviour, come the Japanese. Over eighty percent accept evolution and fewer than ten percent are certain that God exists. Despite its size – over a hundred million people – Japan is one of the least crime-prone countries in the world. It also has the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy of any developed nation.

(Teenage pregnancy has less tragic consequences than violence but it is usually unwanted and it is frequently associated with social and economic deprivation among both mothers and children. In general, Teenage Pregnancy is a Mistake.)

7.1b Those godless Europeans - and the god-fearing USofA

Next in line are the Norwegians, British, Germans and Dutch. At least sixty percent accept evolution as a fact and fewer than one in three are convinced that there is a deity. There is little teenage pregnancy,

A new beginning

How do you live when you realize that religion is false?

Do you descend into despair? Lead a life of crime and depravity?

The opposite, actually. Atheists appear more likely to live moral, happier lives than those who are stuck in superstition.

7.1: We should all be Japanese
Where atheism and morality come together

7.2: Facts and illusions
Knowledge and reason overcome ignorance and superstition

7.3: The meaning of life
Meaning comes from within

7.4: Suffering and death
No-one can avoid them

7.5: The pursuit of happiness
There is no higher goal

7.6: You or me?
Who comes first?

7.7: This wondrous universe
Nature inspires awe

7.8: War and peace
How atheists should respond

7.9: Yule enjoy Christmas
Let's all celebrate

7.10: Protect the children
Leave religion to adults

7.11: Who knows? Who cares?
Moving on from atheism

7.12: An atheist's credo
What we believe

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although the Brits, with over 40 pregnancies per 1,000 girls a year, do twice as badly as the others. Homicide rates are also low - around 1-2 victims per 100,000 people a year.

At the other end of the scale comes the United States of America. The vast majority of Americans believe in God, and only 40 percent accept some form of evolution. The US has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and homicide rates are at least five times greater than in Europe and ten times higher than in Japan.

7.1c Religion weakens social responsibility

These facts point to a strong correlation between faith and antisocial behavior – a correlation so strong that there is good reason to suppose that religious belief does more harm than good.

At first glance that is a preposterous suggestion, given that religions preach non-violence and sexual restraint - but it begins to make sense when we consider the impact of religion on people's behaviour - particularly people whose faith is strong.

All believers learn that God holds them responsible for their actions - and because God's commandments are generally beneficial (although there are many exceptions: see here), the overall impact should be positive. So why does strong belief lead to increased violence and promiscuity?

7.1d Exalting oneself

Intense faith leads believers to assume that they are special, chosen by God and with one's place already reserved in Paradise. It encourages them to have less respect for those who do not share their sect or their faith. Convinced that only their scripture (the Bible, Quran, Book of Mormon, whatever) offers “truth”, they lose their intellectual curiosity and their ability to reason. Their priority becomes not the world they live in but themselves.

This worldview - I am special, other people are of less value, I only trust information which confirms my belief - has several implications. The more people prioritise themselves rather than those around them, the weaker society becomes and the greater the likelihood of attitudes that harm rather than protect others. This is particularly observable in the USA, with its gun laws which encourage Americans to see each other not as fellow human beings who deserve protection, but as potential aggressors who deserve to die; with its health care system which looks after the wealthy rather than the ill; and with its deeply racist attitudes (all societies are racist; the US, despite its multi-coloured entertainment and sports personalities, is at heart highly divided).

7.1e Others affected

The regular fall from grace of such religious leaders as Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart confirms that view that strong belief is no predictor of God-approved behaviour. In an ideal world, their hypocrisy would not concern the rest of us; the problem lies in the malign influence which strong religious belief has on society at large and people of weaker faith or no faith at all.

"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect."
James Madison (1751-1817), "Father of the Constitution" and 4th US President (1809 - 1817) in a letter to William Bradford, 1774
Look at sex… Religious attitudes that focus on abstinence encourage ignorance rather than responsible behavior. In other countries, sex education includes contraception, reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancies. Such an approach recognizes that young people have the right to make their own choices and helps them make decisions that benefit society as a whole. In America faith-driven abstinence programs deny them that right – “As a Christian I will only help you if you do what I say”. The result is soaring rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Abstinence programs rest on the same weak intellectual foundation as creationism and intelligent design. Faith discourages unprejudiced analysis of every issue that questions or contradicts scripture. Reasoning is subverted to rationalisation. The result is a self-contained system that maintains an internal logic, no matter how absurd to outside observers.

Despite all its fine words, religion has brought in its wake little more than violence, prejudice and sexual disease. True morality is found elsewhere. As UK Guardian columnist George Monbiot concluded in his review of Gregory Paul’s study, “if you want people to behave as Christians advocate, you should tell them that God does not exist.” 

I might express that another way. An atheist society is more moral than a religious one and the flipside of Monbiot's argument is that God would be an atheist…

Chapter Seven: Section 2
Facts and illusions

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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