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For millennia, these analyses of the world made sense because they fitted the available facts. Religion explained the world - for our ancestors, religion was science. If crops failed or people died unexpectedly or prayers were granted or denied, the gods were responsible - for gods, like men and women, were unpredictable beings.
But as thousands of years passed, philosophers, who were the precursors of modern scientists, began to see that the world obeys the fixed rules of nature, not the whims of specialist gods. In many communities the old gods disappeared, to be replaced by a single, all-powerful God for whom thunderstorms and burning bushes were nothing more than party tricks with which he occasionally astonished his followers.
4.1b Religion as morality
Over time, therefore, communities developed moral codes – rules about life and property and sexual activity - that helped us to control our behaviour. Details varied from community to community, particularly where sexual partners were concerned, but the basics were the same: do not kill, steal from or commit sexual misconduct within the community.
An individual is weak and can break their own moral code. A community is stronger and can impose its morality, but individuals can find ways of flouting the community code. Besides, community leaders weaken and die and their moral code can change. The strongest moral code comes from the gods or god, for it is they who see everything and live forever, who have power over life and death and who demand the greatest respect.
This identification of religion with morality has lasted for thousands of years and become so entwined that most people cannot distinguish between them and many believers assume that without faith there is nothing to prevent us behaving immorally. But, as we will see in Chapter Six, a rough moral code that arose out of primitive ignorance is no longer valid. Jewish / Christian / Muslim morality is based on superstition, not human welfare; instead of protecting all members of society, it creates inequality and tension, privileging men over women, believers over non-believers, heterosexuals over homosexuals, ignorance over knowledge and bigotry over mutual respect.
4.1c Religion as community
Religion’s third crucial role among primitive humanity was to unify communities. Faith in a common god or set of gods and adherence to the rituals of worship were essential in encouraging first villages and then larger and larger populations to live and work together and to defend themselves from an often hostile world.
is explored further in Section 3.
4.1d Religion and consciousness
One of the earliest human mysteries - and one that have not yet fully resolved - is consciousness. Our minds appear distinct from our bodies; in sleep our minds may be active while are bodies are motionless; in death our bodies appear alive while our minds have disappeared. If our consciousness is separate from our physical self, where does it come from? where does it go?
Religion provided an answer. Our consciousness is a soul created by God (Jewish / Christian / Muslim version) or an eternal part of the cosmos (Hindu / Buddhist version). Conveniently tied into the idea of an immortal soul is the religious perception of morality - do as God tells you and you will be rewarded or punished for all eternity.
Believers will deny it, but it seems increasingly likely that our consciousness is granted by biochemistry, not God. When our brain cells die, so too does our mind. It happens too soon for most of us and, if science-fiction proves fact, it may be that our descendants' consciousness will live forever in some mechanical or other form. That, however, may be as more curse than blessing.
4.1e We have outgrown religion
It is true that religion was essential in early human development. Without it, the human race might never have evolved to the world it has created today.
But we have long outgrown the need for faith. Belief in a god no longer explains either our origins or our consciousness; religious commandments make a mockery of morality, and we have only to look at the Middle East to see how easily the association of religion and community creates hatred and violence.
Unfortunately, although we have long outgrown it, religion refuses to fade away. Nourished by ignorance, arrogance and greed, religion today lies to us about our origins, makes outcasts of innocents and licenses bigotry, violence and hate. It is time to abandon religion and, if we must pray, let us pray for a world without God.
Chapter Four: Section 2 In the genes?
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If God existed, he would...
admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create
recognize that eternity is meaningless
deny both heaven and hell
disown all men and women who speak in his name
denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"
help the human race to thrive without him
If God existed, he would be an atheist.
What is the difference between science and faith?
science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything
faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing
Which do you trust?
"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"
Check the answer