Religion, fundamentally, is based on the premise that life as we know it and live it is somehow a failed enterprise with a vital ingredient missing. The world of nature appears cold and hard so there must be something else. There is nothing else. The very concept of “supernatural” is a contradiction. If it exists it is part of the natural world. The universe, by definition, includes everything in it. There are certainly many things we do not know about the world around us, and many things we know but do not understand. Our lack of knowledge in no way justifies the claim that there is some unseen, possibly omnipotent, intelligence at work.v
Religion is, or claims to be, founded on “faith”.
Faith means relying on the truth of something that has little or no verifiable evidence to support it or is actually directly contradicted by the world around you. It has had terrible effects in many different areas.
Faith in the infallibility of scriptures has resulted in people doing terrible things to other people. People have been imprisoned, exiled, tortured, burned at the stake, stripped of their belongings, exiled, and denied access to basic human needs because somebody’s “faith” allegedly mandated such actions. Galileo was forced to remain under house arrest and be very careful in what he wrote and said because somebody’s faith disagreed with what he saw through his primitive telescope.
This kind of blind adherence to beliefs based on faith rather than observation spills over into other areas of life, especially political views. The desired conclusion is reached before the facts are examined. Then the facts which tend to support that conclusion are embraced and anything that might lead to a different conclusion is discredited or ignored. A prime example is a belief still held by many Americans that Iraq was somehow responsible for the events of September 11, 2001. That theory has been thoroughly discredited; there is no evidence linking Iraq to that disaster. Many people still believe it, however, with a blindness that is very similar to the holdings of religious belief.
Religion is based on deciding how the world operates
Embracing evidence that supports that view, and ignoring evidence that conflicts with it. There are basically two kinds of people: those who believe the external world is real and those who do not.
If you believe the world outside of your own mind exists on its own, whether you are in direct contact with it or not, then you must accept the fact that the real world will impose consequences on your actions, no matter what your preferences might be. If you believe external reality, i.e., the world outside of yourself, does not exist in its own right but is instead only “real” in so far as you interact with it, then you may believe that you can engage in risky and even bizarre behavior without unwanted consequences. Hence the concept of “miracles”, which are often cited as proof of some religious doctrine. Once you deny the reality of the world outside of you, anything goes. Ghosts, miracles, fairies, life after death, all of these can be considered as real as the furniture in your living room. The result is that what you believe can be more important to you and more effective in controlling your behavior than what you see and feel and learn. This is not just an irrational point of view. It is dangerous. No matter how strong your faith that trains do not exist, if you stand on a railroad track and wait, your life will be snuffed out.
Religions begin because of a lack of knowledge of what causes things to happen
The eruptions of a volcano or a devastating flood were attributed to some unseen, conscious power being displeased. If people would just perform the proper rituals and make the acceptable sacrifices the volcano would not cover the village with ash and cinders. When it erupted again, it had to be due to someone neglecting their religious duties. The fact that the volcano went many years without an eruption was cited as proof that the religious beliefs were sound. When it finally did erupt, that was used as further proof, because obviously the religious rituals had not been performed diligently and properly. This worked out fine for the priests (or whatever they happened to be called) because no matter what happened, they could cite it as evidence that they (and only they) were privy to the truth.
Religion is running away from life. It regards our lives as we know them to be somehow incomplete and assumes there must be something else. There is nothing else. The world is what it is, regardless of whether we understand it or believe in it.