When I was 14 or so, I had an epiphany: “Everything I know about religion sounds so incredibly stupid”. It progressively got worse: I started questioning everything. Suddenly, I was demanding proof about things I was taking for granted in the past, ending up in heated arguments with the majority of my environment.
The first real argument about Christianity’s teachings came a few years before that time, with my father criticizing parts from my theology high school book (a mandatory course). I realized that I didn’t really have any serious arguments to counter his. I remember vaguely that the only argument I could offer was that “religion isn’t bad as long as it remains personal”.
My father didn’t pursue the argument further. But the “damage” was done; slowly but steadily I started questioning things I was taking for granted, leading me not only to the epiphany I mention in the beginning but to a complete transformation on the way I handled unsupported and/or obvious claims too.
Now being more than twice older compared to that day, I can’t imagine myself growing as a theist. I classify myself as a kind of an agnostic, but not quite the same. Oh, that looks like a proper a definiton: Ignosticism, or in other words “before we discuss God, you need to define God“.
I consider this to be the most honest scientific approach towards god (and divinity in general). Atheists sometimes turn to Talibanesque zealots (with unsound arguments too) and while Agnostics have sounder views, they both don’t define the term God properly. The ignosticist asks first and above all “What do you mean with the term God? Is it the elements of nature, prevalent in the native american belief system? Is it the christian god? The muslim god? The wiccan goddess?” And so on…
Of course, this ultimately leads to theological nocognitivism – we can’t ever hope to be able to define something like a god due to our own imperfection and limits of our minds. This in turn leads to apatheism, a wave of thought that states (briefly): “[…] thousands of years of debate have neither proven, nor dis-proven, the existence of one or more deities. […] Even if one or more deities exist, they do not appear to be concerned about the fate of humans. Therefore, their existence has little impact on personal human affairs and should be of little theological interest.”
What this means in short, is that I consider ignosticism the proper scientific approach towards investigation of the divine, while apatheism is what I consider the proper place of religion in procedural daily matters.
Let’s analyse this a bit further, shall we? I ultimately consider religion a human defect (while at the same time understanding its appeal). The thing is, I don’t mind it as long as it remains personal and not enforced by violence or law. Does your religion forbid you from having premarital relations? Fine, but keep it to yourself, don’t try to force me to do the same. Is your religion advocating the death of nonbelievers? Sorry, no sale, go stand in the corner.
Let’s go into more concrete examples. I don’t mind the christian who fasts every few months, the jew that won’t touch pork with a 20 foot pole or the muslim that won’t touch alcohol in his life. But I DO have a bone to pick with pedophile christians, wife beating muslims and… oh well, insert something about jews too, nothing comes to mind now. I also have a bone to pick with leaders that use religion as means to war: “let’s kill the heathens” or “let’s liberate our holy lands” etc etc. I even mind the christian/jew/muslim/whatever that will look down on other people for eating pork, not fasting, simply being a female driver, or whatever else in that vein.
This leads to the single most important observation about religion and humanity: Religion is mostly used to suppress human rights. Here are two recent examples from Islam. Search around the web and you’ll find many more, not limited to Islam.
I understand that it’s difficult to create a global definition of morality that will remain valid in time and all around the world. I honestly believe though that a safe definition, the minimum of global laws that needs to be obeyed by every individual, group or even whole countries are the Human Rights (which by definition are supposed to be universal and egalitarian). Any kind of action that violates the Human Rights in any way should be declared illegal and combated in any way possible by the rest of the world.
The value of the above statement is that it’s not limited to religion! It just so happens that religion is a common (but not the single) excuse for human rights violations. You want to believe to some kind of a higher power? Fine, go ahead, as long as you don’t try to force your belief onto others (again, by law or by violence or both). You want to be a nazi? Fine by me, as long as you don’t hurt a SINGLE human being and you can respect everyone’s rights (but then you probably wouldn’t be a nazi anyway). You want to enforce a state religion that oppresses minorities and executes people for developing porn websites? No dice, this is 2012, not 1184*.
So there you have it. Make sure that your religion/daily life/job/politics respects the Human Rights of everyone other than you, or git the hell outta here. We won’t miss you.
P.S: 1184 was the year the first “holy” inquisition took place. The reference about porn websites refers to the first example of the islamic human rights violation, where a web developer faces the death penalty simply because he developed an image uploading software that was used in an adult web site.