Just a (not so) quick follow up to my previous post.
I have heard it said (by some on both sides of The Question) that even if God does not exist, people shouldn’t “pick on” religion. After all, they say, it’s produced such nice things in the world and so many people are comforted by it — even if it’s false, shouldn’t it be considered a helpful, harmless delusion?
Now, often when someone says this, whether a “religious type” or an atheist (and again, I have heard it from both), the rancor from others tends to begin shooting out like magma from volcanic vents… “What about the crusades? They certainly weren’t helpful or harmless!” “Oh yeah? Well what about Stalin and the slaughters performed by secular, godless tyrannies? They’re even worse!” etc., etc., etc.
It’s not to say that there aren’t points to be made in such thoughts. I think that anyone who subscribes to a belief that was used to justify the actions on either side of the Crusades ought to feel compelled to thoroughly examine those beliefs and to take a hard, honest look at that time in history (as well as some others). Also, I think that those who dismiss the acts of Stalin and others and say things like, “Well, they weren’t really atheists/godless/nonreligious/etc.” will ultimately find themselves on horrendously shaky ground and risk defining “atheism” out of existence.
And in the other direction, too: Those who use the Crusades as “proof” of the falsity of Christianity show a pathetic level of understanding about the diversity present in what is called “Christianity” (for example, I am a Christian, but I do not subscribe at all to the beliefs on display in the Crusades, nor was my church in that age any part of them), and those who say that Stalin’s atrocities prove atheism is “wrong” might as well say that Hiroshima proves that “E=mc²” is false. These facts provide bits of information and evidence of certain larger truths, to be sure, but they are not the “silver bullets” they are often depicted to be.
[OK, I’ve wandered too far astray from what I was trying to say. Back on track!]
My point is, though not an atheist myself, I definitely agree with those atheists I have heard or read who take issue with the belief that religion should be left alone because it seems nice and harmless, even if it is false. Like them, I would prefer to live in a world in which truth prevails, however painful that truth may be.
For instance, while I vehemently disagree with Richard Dawkins and the astonishing overreach that is the Darwinism über alles approach to reality, I can understand his passion. He believes (wrongly) with absolute (though misplaced) conviction that there is no God, and he feels compelled to evangelize the world with that “truth.” He seems to truly believe that it is better for the world to know the truth than to live in deception or delusion. I believe that, too — I just disagree with him as to which side of the argument is lost in deception/delusion.
Carl Sagan, as I have noted before in other posts on this blog, was once my hero. The religion he stood for was the religion I wanted — and one cannot watch his magnificent (though ultimately flawed) television series Cosmos and say with full sincerely that he had no religion. Naturalism and Darwinism were, to him, as much a religion as Catholicism or Buddhism is to others, and watching his program and reading his writings as a child I stood within the walls of the cathedral he built and gazed about in open mouthed wonder, walking from station to station and peering in awe at the statues of the saints he offered for veneration.
I have since learned better, and now I look forward to seeing Mr. Sagan in the second resurrection (Revelation 20:11, Ezekiel 37) where he can truly begin to see a wondrous purpose to the Cosmos that he never understood in this life — the unseen side of the Great Tapestry. But though we stand on different sides of The Question, I completely share his sentiment when he said, “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
Best to let the discussion be animated and passionate than to allow delusion to persist without confrontation, methinks. Not that we can’t be civil, and not that there aren’t times to be not-so-civil. But I don’t want a world that only seems “kind” to me if, in reality, it is unkind. I don’t want a deception designed to keep me reassured when I should be in doubt. I want the truth.
And it seems to me that if we can’t have a society in which all do not already know the truth — deeply and fully — then the best available alternative is a society in which all devoted to seeking the truth with open minds and willing hearts.