BY HARRY ELGER
As a former Christian, I can remember the comforts of believing in a God, an afterlife, reuniting with deceased loved ones and the benefits of being in a religious community.
Religious beliefs have unified people with shared values. Religions have provided basic necessities of life for the poor and encouraged members to donate time, energy and financial support for schools, clinics, hospitals, shelters and food distribution centers. Inspiring religious leaders and role models have been abundant in the hierarchies of religions.
Thousands of Gods have been worshipped throughout history as saviors, protectors, father figures, mythical heroes, role models, healers, creators, problem solvers, magicians, controllers, invisible personal friends and leaders of chosen people.
You may not believe in most Gods such as: Zeus (Olympian), Baal (Canaanite), Marduk (Babylonian), Osiris (Egyptian), Yahweh (Judaism), Juno (Roman), Athena, Dionysus (Greek), Thor, Odin (Nordic), Shiva, Krishna (Hindu), Indra (Vedic), Tololuk (Aztec), Xtabay (Mayan), Yarilo (Slavic), Qadesh (Syrian), Tenjin (Japanese), Liber (Italian), Ghede (Voodoo), and the supernatural Gods of nature, fertility, astronomy, perfection, fantasy, magic,
superstition, wishful thinking, fear, love, idealism, etc. originated from nearly every culture in history.
Historical evidence leads one to conclude that humans created Gods. Believing Gods created humans seems contrary to findings in genetics, evolution and natural sciences. For me, it seems intellectually dishonest when religions or politicians claim to absolutely know something that can’t be proven. When religious or political beliefs are claimed to be objective facts without evidence, they lack credibility and often incite bigotry and arrogance.
Almost every culture worships its Gods as being superior to other Gods. When a religion’s belief in God contradicts another religion, it often leads to divisiveness and bigotry rather than bonding and humility. Globally, religious affiliations rarely develop from rational deliberation but usually from pre-rational childhood naivety and indoctrination into a parent’s geographically determined religion.
A 2010 Pew survey of 3,412 people found atheists and agnostics ranked highest in religious knowledge. Atheists admire religion’s humanitarian accomplishments. But hopefully we won’t overlook the extremely dark side of religions—the wars, Crusades, Inquisition, genocide, torture, intimidation, coercion, patriarchy, misogyny, honor killings, genital mutilation, subordination of women, exclusion of women in religious hierarchies, human sacrifice, condoning slavery, burning witches, homophobia, pedophilia, scriptural immorality, terrorism, suicide bombings, 9/11, fatwas, beheadings, guilt, shame, fear mongering, false claims, scams, bigotry, and preying on naivety and blind faith.
To paraphrase Michael Sherlock, religions grew, not by quality of truth, but by quantity of violence and deception.
A 2015, seven-year Pew study in 198 countries found Americans are increasingly leaving religions. Apparently, virtuous behavior doesn’t always correlate with religious beliefs. Atheists had lower rates of crime, imprisonment, teen pregnancy and divorce than most highly religious areas. Morality may be influenced by empathy, evolution, epigenetics and mirror neurons more than religious beliefs.
Humanists, besides supporting religious social service projects, also work with secular organizations. As a secular humanist, I don’t have an invisible God or Satan to credit or blame (external control). Without beliefs in a God, Satan or religion, I feel an inherent gratification when making benevolent choices (internal control based on secular empathy, love, kindness, compassion, altruism, universality and biochemical rewards
accompanying virtuous behavior—endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, etc.).
Comedian Jon Stewart points out, “Religions provide hope in a world torn apart by religions.”