I think that culturally, religion has an important place in the world. Whole countries are defined by religion (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy…) but only a few of those countries are theocracies. To turn your back on religion is ignorant. It exists. It has existed for centuries and it is a changeable thing, which is why is can be dangerous. Faced with change, most institutions react violently. People can react and adapt with more flexibility than institutions. Also, it’s important to know how much money and power is wrapped up in organized religions – look at the two most modern ones for example – Scientology and Mormonism. There is an incredible amount of money and power at stake, and these two institutions are actively seeking ways to gain more money and power, which brings me to the individual caught up in religion. Using religion to control people is nothing new. Controlling women was probably the first goal of organized religion. Controlling natural resources by binding certain races to certain geographical regions is another. Or controlling different casts of people to make sure that they stay in their place. There has never been a religion not implicated in politics or where wealth has not been a factor. As in any organized institution where there is an incredible amount of power or money to be made or lost there will be certain people designated to keep the others in line. There will be a hierarchy, to consolidate power. There will be, for the more weak-minded followers, the mystical and magical side of religion, as well as faked science. There will be the hell and brimstone threats if you don’t toe the line. They will try to convert you, and if you do not believe in God, they will threaten you. There is nothing as dangerous as a powerful institution that feels threatened, and it will fight back. It will also try to get as many followers as it can by promising various things like land, paradise, moral goodness.
I will not deny that religion is good for many things. It tells people not to kill each other, to love each other, and to try to get along. Basically, it has put into a code some pretty basic things that you’d expect your nursery school age child to learn at home like sharing, not kicking the fallen playmate, and not pushing Mary off the swing. And then there are the 8 Beatitudes, which are really lovely, and which no one really pays attention to anymore, because they seem too socialist or maybe even communist, maybe. Because Jesus said such great things, I think studying the New Testament is a good idea, if you don’t have a built-in moral compass, then it’s probably a good idea to choose Jesus’s words to follow.
I went to Catholic school, I was a Sunday School teacher. Intellectually, I used religion like one uses a history class. I believe that knowledge is power, which is why the church is so wildly against scientific research and science in general. Looking back over the ages, you can see where the church did its best to stomp out progress. The church, despite claims to the contrary, never tried to stomp out or stop a war – in fact, most religions will cheerfully fight to the death if it means getting rid of the competition. And this include atheists, who have, throughout the centuries, been prosecuted just as avidly as other enemies of the grand institution which is organized religion. So count me atheist, please. There is no God, there is only Us, the vastness of space, and the earth we live upon. So we better learn how to get along and take care of our planet. It would make things a lot easier if we agreed that the time for organized religion is over. The time of corporate control of natural resources and wealth is over. Do away with greed, with excess, and with waste. The time has come for people to help each other, to care for one another, and to throw the false prophets, tyrants, and warmongers off their thrones, because they are using religion to keep people in line in order to make obscene profits on oil and war.