My modest and not original contribution to a 2,500+ year old debate about religion is my contention that the three Abrahamic religions are essentially the same. I have written about Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Despite their superficial differences, all three religions feature an all-powerful deity who actively intervenes in the universe and metes out punishments and rewards in the afterlife based on a person’s behaviour in this life. And the punishment side of the afterlife is always emphasised; just read the gleeful descriptions of the Fire (capital F) in the Koran if you don’t believe me.
Followers of the various Abrahamic religions claim to have the key to everlasting life. So long as a person follows the rules for getting to heaven set by their particular group – Ultra-Orthodox or Reform Jews, Catholic or Protestant Christians, Sunni or Shi’a Muslims – then you get to spend the rest of eternity living it up in heaven. The delights of the afterlife range of the debauched delights offered by Islamists to their sex-starved followers (72 virgins, constant erections, etc) to the vicious contemplation of the suffering of the unfortunate denizens of hell described by Thomas Aquinas. All I can say is that having this key doesn’t seem to make religious people very happy.
Followers of Islam seem to be particularly unhappy at the moment. Despite the constant reassurance of the fate of unbelievers and hypocrites in their “holy” book, some Islamists seem pretty keen to speed up the process of getting people to their preordained fate. From Nice to London to Stockholm, demented addicts of religion have used their vehicles to help (!) an all-powerful deity get his hands on even more infidels. Perhaps they worry about their own fate; so many of these recent killers seem to have led rather sinful lives before their conversion to radical Islamism – don’t forget the get-out-of-jail-free card in the Koran promises heaven to those who kill in Allah’s name – Koran 4:74, among others.
Whilst the Islamists are making all the running at the moment, Christians and Jews are no more happy than when casting the first stone. You name it and some religious person has denounced it – science, evolution, the abolition of slavery, women and gays being given equal rights. As I said, having the key to eternity doesn’t seem to have made religionists very happy or less hungry for power here on Earth. And whilst they sell heaven to their foot soldiers, some religious leaders don’t seem all that keen on meeting their best mate. “Those whom the gods love die young” – the late, unlamented Ayatollah Khomeini sent teenagers to clearing mines in his war with Iraq whilst living to the ripe old age of 86.
Perhaps religious people are unhappy because of the oppressive nature of the countries where they live…
Map 1: world’s least free countries
Map 2 : world’s most religious countries.
Perhaps they should live in these countries…
Map 3: world’s most free countries.
Map 4: world’s least religious countries.
There’s a strange symmetry in these maps, isn’t there? I wondered who is responsible for most of the oppression in maps 1 and 2?
I have my own pet theory about why religious people are so unhappy. Readers may recall a rather embarrassing attempt by some nonbelievers in America to rebrand themselves “Brights” instead of atheists, due to the negative connotations of the latter. The implication was that religious people were less than bright. I don’t hold with this view. I don’t automatically assume that religious people are stupid; I think that a lot of religious people are well aware of the serious weaknesses in their belief systems. Unfortunately, they have chosen to react to criticism of their religions with over-the-top aggression. They have to defend the smallest aspect of their religion from criticism because they don’t want the absurdity of their bigger claims being challenged. It is much easier to argue in favour of a person’s right to wear a headscarf than to provide proof for the existence of your imaginary friend.
I think that a lot of the hysterical assertions of religious believers are down to the general weakening of religious belief. The Christian godman Jesus is as relevant to the lives of most Westerners as the godman Heracles; equally the flying horse Muhammad rode to heaven is about as believable as the story of Pegasus. As deep space probes reveal the wonders of the universe, who cares about childish stories about talking snakes and the sun setting in muddy pools? As biologists work to map the human genome, who wants to hear about demons that cause mental illness?
Religion had a good run, dominating most human societies for the past five millennia. But it ruled societies where people were afraid of thunder and worried about where the sun went at night. Religion belongs to the infancy of our species; as St. Paul said, “when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” It is time for the human race to outgrow the primitive fears that gave religious charlatans and their phony “explanations” the chance to rule for so long.