17 October 2005

Why religion is dangerous.

My post about last weeks' Guardian articles on religion has got me thinking more about why religion is a problem. Whatever the truth of the 'Paul study' linking religion and social dysfunction, religion is still potentially very dangerous to society.

Firstly Robert Winston's article in the Guardian brings up the distinction between 'intrinsically' religious and 'extrinsically' religious. The intrinsically religious are the true believers rather than self serving 'extrinsic' charlatans who are just pretending to believe for selfish reasons. This is a very important distinction which I will talk about below. Winston also mentions that research suggests that people can be genetically pre-disposed towards belief. This has very interesting ramifications.

There are many recent reports about the continuing decline of religion in the UK. Unfortunately most of this decline is going to be amongst established more liberal and moderate religions that accept evolution. This will mask the rise of the more fundamentalist and extreme rightwing 'US led' evangelical religions. This is actually depressingly predictable.

As religion becomes more obviously absurd and marginalised in the face of growing scientific knowledge, religion as a meme has to become more virilent to survive (just as any organism would evolve 'hardiness' to survive harsher environments).

If the theory that people are genetically pre-disposed to belief is true, this explains the growth of other mysticism to fill the void.

Although established religions are in decline, mystical belief is still being satisfied with astrology, ghosts, UFOs, you name it. This is dangerous because it leaves the way open for the right wing evangelical movement to move in.

By their very nature, left wing organisations are more likely to be atheist. What we need is a virilent left wing form of religion to satisfy this genetic need some people have for belief that atheism just won't satisfy.

Since the collapse of Communism, which may have filled the gap in Europe in the past, there is no virilent left wing religion around for these pre-disposed people to look to. (Communism of course was never allowed to get a foothold in the US, hence the cynically clever use of evangelical religion over there by the right wing).

So I suggest atheists like myself might have to point believers towards excellent organisations like the Christian Socialists or maybe even the Quakers.

Much as it would pain me to give up on persuading people of how wrong they are to believe in God, if they are genetically pre-disposed to believe, it may be very difficult for me or anyone else to persuade them otherwise and at least we could point them in the direction of true 'intrinsical' religiosity rather than falling into the hands of the religions run by 'extrinsic' charlatans who are just using religion cynically to advance their right wing point of view.

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