WARNING: Very long post
I come from a rather large family with my siblings and their offspring scattered all over the country. While we are not really lovey-dovey close, we still respect and enjoy celebrating our familial bonds. To that end, we get together as a family (as many of us as is possible) every other year to spend time together and reacquaint ourselves with each other.
The last time we got together, we were at the beach in North Carolina. One afternoon, several of us were sitting on the deck of a house along the beach. One of my brothers and I were having a conversation about (un)intelligent design and I pointed out one of my favorite examples of piss poor design in the human animal – that being the use of the same passageway for both food intake and aspiration. I pointed out that it would greatly diminish the problems with choking and other hazards if there were separate passageways for each function. One of my sisters, who was reading a book a few feet away, piped up with her commentary saying “if that is such a superior design, why are there no successful examples of it in the world?”
Well!!! I guess she told me!
Um….err….well….uh….actually, no, she didn’t. All she did was expose her ignorance about evolution and her scientific illiteracy. Since natural selection relies on random mutations to produce slight changes that may or may not be successful, if a specific mutation never occurs, there is no opportunity for said mutation to prove its superiority or, for that matter, to fail. But even if it were to fail, it would likely leave a fossil record.
Now my sister is by no means a stupid woman – through hard work and determination, she rose from very humble beginnings to be appointed by the President to serve on the Federal Accounting Standards Board; become Vice-President of a Fortune 100 company by the age of 45; and become a fairly wealthy woman in the process. Not too shabby, especially considering her beginning circumstances. So a lack of native intelligence is definitely not one of her problems; critical thinking, scientific literacy, and highly developed intellect in certain areas may, but native intelligence is not.
I am not relating this incident to denigrate or humiliate my sister. I’m using it to make a point about what I consider the most insidious, truly evil aspects of religion. Anytime there is a discussion of the evilness of religion, most rationalists go for the low hanging fruit – 9/11, ISIL/ISIS, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Crusades, the Inquisition, modern hate groups like the Family Research Council and their ilk, and examples like that. No, the most dangerously evil aspects of the religion/god virus are much more subtle and insidious.
The first is the demand that followers be stupid. (I know, I know – the correct term is “willfully ignorant” but I prefer to use stupid because it is much more pejorative and better portrays my utter contempt for delusional assholes.) From the church in Ft. Worth with the marquee that proudly proclaimed “If ur faith is big enough facts dnt count” to theologians like Alvin Plantinga who say pretty much the same thing, to the bible itself that demands blind faith and obedience, religion, especially the Abrahamic religions, demand that true believers ignore facts and credible evidence and rational thinking to instead believe nonsense and ancient myths that they prefer to believe. And this happens even with people who are fairly intelligent otherwise. They compartmentalize and don’t carry their critical thinking skills and or their skepticism (if they have any) over into the area of religion.
Once the believer has entered into that mindset of willful ignorance in the blind acceptance of ancient fairy tales despite reams of evidence and compelling arguments disproving such myths, it is then just a very small step to the rejection of peer-reviewed science and verifiable, credible scientific evidence to instead believe pseudo science and nonsense that supports what they want to believe. Consider the evolution “controversy” – 47% of Americans believe in creationism and reject all types of evolutionary theory – a theory that has been more thoroughly tested and has more evidence supporting it than any other theory in the history of science. Not only that, but another 32% believe in an evolution guided by their imaginary friend rather than natural selection.
I used to have a “live and let live” attitude about this, with the feeling that whatever people wanted to believe was okay with me – as long as it didn’t affect me and mine and they left me (and other rational people) alone. Unfortunately, it is now at the point where it significantly does affect me and mine, and, in fact, every human on this planet because we have arrived at an undeniable existential crisis for our species. Actually, I shouldn’t say undeniable because these morons are doing a very good job of denying the reality of anthropomorphic climate change. (I just wish they would take Tim Minchin’s suggestion and “deny the theory of gravity and float the fuck away”). And the unfortunate reality is that their ignorant delusion could very well mean the extinction of our species. Perhaps not the complete extinction, but the end of human existence as we know it. We are, after all, one of the best species at adapting and so may survive in some significantly diminished way.
And it’s not only the issue of anthropomorphic climate change, but the interjection of delusional non-scientific nonsense into many areas of public policy, from science education to sex education, from reproductive freedom for women to public health issues, from stewardship of natural resources to………. Instead of following evidence-based public policy, we instead pander to the emotional desires of the delusional morons.
The second area of insidious evil, perhaps even more insidious and pervasive than the willful ignorance problem, is the subconscious acceptance of cruelty and misogyny. If the deity that you worship, that you hold up as moral perfection, the paragon of virtue, is a misogynistic, malicious, genocidal murderer, you can’t help but be inured to such behaviors. The resultant mindset makes it much easier to embrace ethically questionable policies like torture and capital punishment, aka state sanctioned murder, and public policies that negatively affect disadvantaged minorities, whether they be the poor, or racial/ethnic minorities, or sexual minorities. It is so much easier to accept injustice and cruelty when your penultimate standard of virtue is itself unjust and cruel.
This is where I think that the real evil of the religion virus lies in today’s interconnected world. Yes, there is much to be despised of bronze age sexual mores designed to further the aims of a patriarchal society; and the ridiculous Calvinist notion that suffering is good; and the misogyny that pervades all of the Abrahamic religions. But the pervasive, invasive mindset of willful ignorance and the acceptance of cruelty as the natural order is where the real evil exists.