Ten years ago, I stopped believing in God. There was no particular impetus for it. Rather, leaving religion was a slow process that started when I was about fourteen when I realized that all religions profess to speak the utmost truth. I reckoned that if that was the case, how would I know if I'm worshiping the right God? Although for a time I thought that all religions are "true" and ultimately we are are praying to the same God anyway, I didn't understand why the dogma of some religions are irreconcilable with others, and at worst, some religions disdain each other, causing religious-motivated atrocities. How can a God, who created all things, promote the contempt for other people?
Before I completely went atheist, I was an agnostic (I was about seventeen by then). But I realized it is a cowardly stance to which I don't certainly belong. There is simply no real evidence for the existence of God and I cannot just sit in the fence. Rather, I chose to stop, not just suspend, any belief in God until it is unequivocally proven true.
I felt emancipated when I decided to stop believing in God. All those years of living in guilt are behind me now. I also felt a better sense of control of my life rather than solicit the approval of religion-based morality and it's laws on divine will. Having shed the superfluity of religion (or I should I say its baggage), my life is very much simplified now.
Wwhen people ask me what my religion is, I always tell them that I've long been not into God.
My stand on religion is to respect all kinds of it, although it does not mean that I approve any single one of them. Some of us have our preferences and certainly religion is a personal preference that does not deserve further discussion. Still, I've had cordial debates about religion once in a while basically for the sake of mental exercise.
I'm quite baffled however at the numerous times in which I'm asked where my sense of morality comes from now that I don't have a religion. Religion is certainly not the only basis for morality is it? Nor is it a good basis for morality given how many wars and monstrous evils it has motivated.
Meanwhile, I'm stunned every time someone religious would argue that there is a big chasm that divides the material world and transcendental experience, as such, science or any rational methods cannot go as far as explaining religion. It is by far the most cowardly way of arguing in favor of religion. Why on earth should religion, which is very much a part of human reason, be spared of any rational exposition? What makes religion so special to save it from serious questioning of what it says and represents?
The last question is pretty much what Richard Dawkins said in the opening pages of The God Delusion (2006) [see Wikipedia entry here], which is by far one of the most fascinating books I've read lately. I had no idea who Richard Dawkins is, and so I was surprised when the first few chapters of the book explored in-depth the evolution of the universe and the origin of life. Apparently Mr Dawkins is some evolutionary biologist, a Darwinian through and through. His arguments reek of evolution and he shows how strong the principles of evolution are to explain even the basics of human behaviour, including religion. The first half of the book uses evolutionary theory to discredit creationism and to explore the roots of religion and the roots of morality. Speaking of his expertise, the author has a tendency to over-explain and I was often lost in his explanations.
I had more fun in the second half of the book though where he delved into what people think is the importance of religion if only to provide a basis for morality. But with the Old and New Testaments showing how vengeful and extremely irrational and contradictory God is at times, the Bible is not a good source of morality either. Some people say that the Bible is not to be taken literally, however, there is no solid criterion to choose which ones we're supposed to believe as literal truths and which are not (rather than the convenience of choosing verses in the Bible that go in our favor).
Meanwhile, some say that there's nothing essentially wrong with religion, and what harm can it do if people continue believing in it anway? How do you explain then the Inquisition, the Crusades, or the September 11 attacks? Dawkins argues that: "Even if religion did no other harm in itself, its wanton and carefully nurtured divisiveness - its deliberate and cultivated pandering to humanity's natural tendency to favour in-groups and shun out-groups - would be enough to make it a significant force for evil in the world". He adds that: "Religious wars really are fought in the name of religion, and they have been horribly frequent in history. I cannot think of any war that has been fought in the name of atheism".
A very relevant aspect of the book as well is how Mr Dawkins protests the raising of children under one religion and consequently labels children as "Christian child", "Muslim child", etc., when in fact they did not have a choice on what religion to adopt rather such is imposed on them by their parents.
The author however is sometimes scathing in his attacks on religion. To quote the review of Publisher's Weekly: "While Dawkins can be witty, even confirmed atheists who agree with his advocacy of science and vigorous rationalism may have trouble stomaching some of the rhetoric: the biblical Yahweh is 'psychotic,' Aquinas's proofs of God's existence are 'fatuous' and religion generally is 'nonsense'." If he were softer on his language, he could perhaps invite more religious people to confront his arguments on a more friendly field. But that perhaps is not the purpose of the book, rather it criticizes religion head-on, an approach that cultural relativists fear to tread.
While I continue to respect religion, this certainly give me a better grasp of the arguments against it. In fact, the book only raised my appetite to read more about religion, its anthropology, psychology, and sociology in particular. Meanwhile, I'm on the last chapter of a more brutal book on religion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
Photo Credit: London Book Review