Concluding Remarks on Religion by Peter Meyer
In his book The God Delusion Richard Dawkins argues very well (within the limitations of his erroneous physicalism) that the concept of a supernatural personal God who designed and created the universe, watches over it (and us), and intercedes occasionally, is a delusion.
More exactly, religion, or rather each of the five religions considered in this article, is a collective delusion: a delusion held in common by many people (the belief of each of them reinforced by their seeing that many others believe the same thing). Some collective delusions are harmful to their followers (e.g., Scientology) whereas some are relatively benign (e.g., the ancestor worship of China and Vietnam). In no case, however, should any religion be granted any respect unless there is clear evidence that it has beneficial effects for its followers (rather than its proponents), and certainly no religion should be granted any social or political privilege simply because it calls itself a religion. No representative of any religion (no monk, priest, pastor, rabbi, mullah, swami or lama) deserves any respect other than what is due to them as scholars, artists, entertainers, dispensers of wisdom or by virtue of their personal qualities as human beings. Absurd, ridiculous, harmful, pernicious and morally reprehensible beliefs, attitudes and practices should be exposed as such, and not granted any respect simply because they are part of some religion. And religion should absolutely have no part in education (except as a subject for study), politics or the administration of society. Free inquiry, open debate, publication and dissemination (e.g., via the internet, if it remains free) of the results of that inquiry and debate, and the freedom and opportunity for people to educate themselves and to engage in discussion, will do more good for humanity than slavish adherence to the teachings, admonitions and strictures of any religion or all of them.
Organized religion, like war, is a racket. A priestly caste makes a living from it by exploiting aspects of human psychology, such as the fear of death, human propensities toward guilt and shame (a speciality of the monotheistic religions), the desire for "freedom from suffering" and for "salvation", and the (entirely commendable) aspiration for spiritual knowledge. While there is nothing wrong with providing financial or other support to someone who provides a benefit, e.g., a shaman in a traditional society who is able to heal as a result of his journeys into the spirit world, one does best to avoid any religious teacher who requires payment for the granting of some alleged spiritual benefit (such as an "initiation"), though one might willingly pay to acquire the pleasurable conviction of having received such a benefit, or to be entertained by some exotic performance involving the uttering of mantras, wafting of incense and ringing of bells. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a financial contribution toward food for a collective meal after a satisfying evening of singing hymns in praise of Lakshmi or other deities, but suspicions should be aroused when many people (sometimes hundreds at one event) are required to pay a hefty fee (like $50) for the bestowal of some alleged spiritual benefit and no accounting is ever given (except in vague terms) of where the money goes.
Some exponents of religion say: "The most important thing is faith! (In our religion, of course.) If people don't have faith, and follow our moral teachings, then what's to stop them from lying, stealing and killing each other?" Firstly, this position assumes what is false, namely, that humans are inherently vicious and must somehow be restrained from evil actions. Secondly, religious faith has never stopped religious people from lying, stealing and killing, even killing others of the same religion (examples could fill many pages). Thirdly, if some religious people do not lie, steal and kill, why assume it is due to their religious faith rather than to their inherent moral awareness?
Proponents of a religion often try to justify it (as above) as providing moral guidance, but what is offered is actually just the assertion of some supposed authority — Jehovah, Jesus, the Buddha, Allah or whatever. And these "authorities" differ, so on what basis is a decision to be made as to which moral precepts express true morality? If there is such a basis for deciding among them then those precepts themselves are not needed. And there is such a basis: Ethical conduct is that which seeks to avoid inflicting actual (not supposed or imagined) harm upon others (both other humans and other forms of life); where alternative courses of action all involve some actual harm to others then the moral choice is that action which results (or is likely to result) in the least harm. This is sufficient as a basis for moral action. No faith in Jesus, Jehovah or any other "authority" is needed in order for this basis to be quite clear. And one important implication is: If an action does not result in actual harm to any other living being then it cannot be considered immoral (and if it is not immoral then it should not be illegal).
Though human dignity entails leading an ethical life, there is absolutely no need to lead a "religious" life, and one who wishes to free themselves from delusion will not do so. It is sufficient to live so as to do no harm to others (except to prevent harm), to live honestly, to face life with optimism, courage and curiosity, and to endeavor to improve oneself and contribute something of worth to humanity, while at the same time always seeking to free oneself from false beliefs acquired unconsciously, and to understand how the world really is (at various levels) and whether there may not be a path beyond the death of the body to some place unconstrained by the limitations of this physical world.
All major religions arose many centuries ago, when human mentality was comparatively undeveloped and was characterized (at least among most people) by simple-minded thinking. Those religions developed when humanity was still in a childlike state, with people ready to believe whatever they were told by authority figures. In recent centuries our species has advanced beyond childhood into adolescence (but not yet adulthood). The stories that are still told by religion, which are fit for children, are no longer fit for intelligent people in the 21st Century. This does not mean that materialism or physicalism should be embraced. Rather we need (for the survival of the human species) to attain a widespread understanding of how the world really is, including its spiritual dimension as well as its physical. As Stanislav Grof has said, through psychedelic (and similar) experiences "it is possible to obtain profound revelations concerning the master blueprint of the universe designed by cosmic intelligence of such astonishing proportions that it is far beyond the limits of our everyday imagination." Indeed. It is now possible (as it was 2000 years ago, before the sacred rites of Eleusis and similar initiatory practices were forcibly suppressed by the Huns and those of a similar barbaric mentality, a mentality which persists even today among those politicians and lawmakers maintaining their pernicious "war on drugs") for anyone to obtain a realization that our everyday world is just a part of a far larger spiritual universe whose nature utterly transcends our ability to understand it, and in comparison with which the materialist and self-centered concerns (beyond survival) of most people — still stuck in our species' adolescent condition — are unworthy of our human potential.
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