Earlier today I sat down at Starbucks to continue an essay-in-progress on the fallaciousness of Godly belief. During one of my inevitable mental breaks, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation pitting two sisters against each other in the depths of mourning for their mother. The dialogue went something of this nature:
Woman 1: “…but how could God let this happen. Why…?”
Woman 2: “I don’t know, but you have to have faith.”
1: “She was young – there was no reason.”
2: “Come on, have a little faith.”
2: “Because it’s the only way to get through this.”
This is better than any example I could cook up about one reason why the Christian faith still exists prevalently in American society. It is, quite simply, an escape. Why feel depressed when your loved-one is at an eternal cocktail party in the sky? Forget the accident that put her there, forget that absolutely no evidence (save some ancient, second-hand quotations) of this gathering exists – no. In fact, she’s better off now that she’s dead. So buy the fellow that put her there a drink and celebrate; she’ll keep your seat warm until you join her. Anyone who’s reasonably intelligent can see the provocative nature such faith holds.
Of those who notice this effect, many will attest to its harmlessness or even positivity. It makes believers feel better so why bother changing their minds? Well, the negative can be seen in the implications on the life of the living. So many lives are dedicated to achieving VIP status with the supernatural that I can’t help but wonder at the improvements that would occur if they instead focused on the problems of cancer, or needless suffering, or political injustice. Sure, there are some that do in the name of faith, but this is hardly the norm. No, most go about a monotonous daily routine achieving a fraction of their potential, and justifiably so! Why try if this experience is less than a blink of an eye compared to the infinite that is to come? All you need to do is, at a base level, get more checks than minuses in God’s Big Book and you’ll go to heaven. This logic is necessarily detrimental to humanity.
Now, faith doesn’t require an abandonment of productive ambition, just as Nazism didn’t require the Holocaust; the two are paired based on doctrine that can easily be interpreted as harmful. As such, the teachings of monotheistic religion are often used to point out the irrelevance of every field, save sins. Life becomes a game of tallies, sins verses good deeds, which runs from the instant you’re conceived until the day you die, and in which you have no choice but to take part. You’re born with the original sin of Adam and refusal to participate is punished not by death, but worse, by eternal torture. What you accomplish in this life isn’t relevant so long as you play the game successfully – this makes it incredibly popular with the unfortunate and extremely poisonous to those with the ability to contribute to society.
A minority of the faithful do take it upon themselves to aid the impoverished, but the vast majority, at least of Americans, are content to donate nominal sums of money (which are counted as tax write-offs) to causes which claim to help the poor. They believe that giving as such will help offset past sins and count as a large positive in the Book of Life. How is this any different from the sale of personal indulgences [documents sold by the medieval Catholic Church forgiving specific sins]? Perhaps it’s even more convoluted, given that you set the price of your own forgiveness. In any case, with the obligation of atonement off their chest, people are then fully able, without the burden of conscience, to lead unproductive lives in irrelevant professions. Again this isn’t all inclusive, but an easy trap to fall into.
Here lies the root of the “meaning of life” problem. It is absolutely true that without the church many people’s lives would indeed have no purpose, and this is greatly unsettling. Unsettling enough, in fact, that it drives them to ignore, fear, and even lash out against evidence which makes the existence of a god incredibly improbable. Crafting meaning in your life is difficult and requires effort – much more than is needed to go to church every Sunday; however it is very possible. Purpose can be derived from directly helping the needy, creating beauty in the world, forwarding the knowledge of mankind, defending the defenseless, and plenty of other causes limited only by the imagination. Take notice: these function independently from a belief in God; faith isn’t required to live a fulfilling, meaningful life.
But what about emotional support that religious belief provides to the mourning? Maybe this total disavowal of reality is the best way to cope with loss; but this is only because it’s a method of non-coping and an ignorant solution. The easiest way to avoid long-lasting emotional turmoil is to deny that death has occurred and, instead, affirm that you will meet your loved ones again. This delusional comfort, when so detrimental to society, must be dropped. It needs to be affirmed again: there is absolutely no evidence of this, save scripture. The fact remains that most people will trade what they consider to be a depressing truth for a wishful lie.
But why need it be depressing? The brevity of life adds meaning and relevance to our fleeting moment of existence here on Earth. When there isn’t a cosmic after-party, the few moments we share with others become unspeakably more significant the same way that a diamond’s rarity contributes to its value. Non-believers cherish every second of life, not because the boss insists upon it from on high, but due to the finite nature of reality. We do not celebrate loss, but understand that the only reunition comes from the memories of our impermanent minds. In the same vein, we don’t feel the extra sting of curiosity when the ‘Did they go to hell?’ question comes up – especially if they weren’t of our belief system. Richard Dawkins summarizes this beautifully in “Unweaving the Rainbow:”
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here
In finality, I pose a question to the reader – which would be the better world: one in which every man, woman, and child went to Church every Sunday, donated a little money to a select few who potentially helped the less fortunate, and went about life with a blissful indifference, or a world where every person was constantly and consistently trying to achieve the maximum potential for themself and humanity at large because this existence is all we have. I would venture that the latter is far superior for obvious reasons. One can’t help but observe that it does not require a belief in god; in fact, it necessitates the rejection of any religion or belief system used to justify laziness, detriment, or atrocity. Human inquiry and skepticism have lifted the veil of religious benefit, only to reveal a damaging, horrific underside. The shackles of spiritual confinement are no longer required by an intellectually maturing America, and emancipation is within the reach of the masses. Unchain yourself from the dying beast and join a renewed, secular world – untold beauty and inspiration await. Enlightenment is yours for the taking.