Supposedly, there are things we just can’t talk about. Some say if you want to keep your friends; don’t talk about politics or religion. Is that true? Do we really have to keep off the touchy subjects to avoid conflict, or is our resistance to talk about it the cause of conflict? Conversations about religion can run the risk of becoming awkward or uncomfortable, even offensive. One’s religious views are not the popular topic of small talk and everyday conversation. Discussions about religion are usually lightly skimmed over in passing, confined to heated debates in class, or in a joke, which, if funny, may produce a nervous laugh. What are we worried about?
Religion is a private matter, and people’s personal religious views are not to be disturbed. To openly bring up the subject or examine it, may be offensive to someone and often it’s best we don’t say anything. It’s ideal for all of us to keep our religious views to ourselves, to not hurt anyone’s feelings or get our own hurt. As long as believers aren’t pushing their views on other people, shouldn’t we just leave religion alone? Religious belief isn’t hurting anyone, right?
Many may not think so, but religion does cause suffering and always has. Throughout history and today, people have fought each other over their religious beliefs. The Spanish Inquisition was one of the bloodiest times in history and that was because of how they treated heretics. The witch trials in early America and Europe killed countless of innocents, using insanely cruel torture methods, all because of foul accusations. Hitler, amongst other powerful leaders, have used religious beliefs to justify inhumane genocides. The attacks on 9/11 were carried out by Muslim extremists who believed that in sacrificing themselves to destroy American infidels they would be rewarded with eternal paradise, and be rewarded 72 virgins. Aside from religious fuelled conflicts worldwide, imagine how many murders and other evil acts have been done in the name of religion. It has stopped millions from using medical aid, allowing sex education, and misinforms people with twisted history and pseudo-science by avoiding evidence in an age of inquiry.
Maybe all these atrocities are the cause of religious extremism. Maybe it’s only specific kinds of religion and how they interpret their faith. Maybe what these radical fundamentalists believe is a skewed version of what faith is really about. Most of us know that religious extremists are the source of many murderous events and also agree that it’s certain militant minorities that simply just go too far. But is it? A better look into why their beliefs drive them to do such cruel acts on humanity might show better insight. Well, the conventional religions follow holy books as the basis of their beliefs. In these holy books, you may think you’d only find good moral guidance, or good teachings. It’s no doubt that you do, but if you look further, you’ll find commands and teachings of hate and war from the same holy scripture. So it’s very important we understand where “extremist” views come from.
The majority of religious people keep their faith in moderate conditions, don’t interpret their holy books literally, and uphold peace and unity. For these people religion is not used to create suffering but to ease suffering. Moderates do their best to keep violence and hate out of their faiths and keep it personal. But if a moderate can justify their faith by religious doctrine and subjectivity, why can’t an extremist? Extremists use the same faith to allow them to act this hateful or violently. We can all plainly decipher between the good and bad in doctrine, but if we can do that, then it can’t be the source of moral judgment. If their judgments aren’t based on religiosity, then from where? It can all be very confusing.
After all that, many would say that religion is simply about faith. Faith is the defining feature about religion, and is taught a virtue all over the world. But what exactly is faith? It’s the glue that hold all this together, so it’s imperative we understand what it is. Faith is the belief without evidence. To believe in something in the face of contradicting evidence, or against one’s rationality is faith, and it’s exactly what’s being taught by religions. This can be trivial, especially in a world full of scientific advancement and a deep need for rational decision making. To have faith running for office, teaching children, or giving health treatment, can be very harmful, as someone basing their decisions on something without any evidence for doing so, can lead to misinformation and drastic effects.
In the past few decades, a huge surge of religious interest has developed. More and more people are turning to religion for answers, in an age of science technology. Groups of scientists and philosophers have openly criticized religion and faith. With them has come a wave of non-believers that have chosen to no longer shy away from speaking out about religion and science. The population of non-believers is growing in numbers, but nothing compared to that of religion. This increasing group brings the debate between science and religion, reason and faith, back to the forefront.
In response to the new voice of non-believers, religious writers and head figures have launched rebuttals, arguing that faith is a virtue to be appreciated, and that non-believers are hurtful and only rant. Those criticizing the new secularists, say that faith is about encouraging believers to do good and have moral structure. They argue that where religion has caused such pain, the good outweighs that. The religious response hasn’t done much to non-believers’ original arguments, as the arguments against religion and faith include the exact arguments believers try to use. Believers use creationism as science, and argue that faith overrides reason. The movement of non-believers emphasize that modern science does not point to any supernatural deities, and that the use of science and reason can prevail over faith. Either way, the debate is yet again going back and forth, except this time we may have the knowledge to actually settle it.
Just recently, many of our fellow UCSB students protested against the actions of Scientology, demonstrating earlier this month against the church. The protest was part of a nationwide campaign against Scientology. The group was not critical of religion in general, but against the crimes committed in its name.
A new UCSB student group has even formed, Scientific Understanding and Reason Enrichment or SURE, to promote the use of science and reason against the practice of religion and mysticism. The group meets every Wednesday at 6pm at Theater and Dance 2600.
The documentary emphasizing the new science and religion debate called The Root of All Evil by biologist Richard Dawkins will be played on Feburary 20th at 7pm at the SRB multipurpose room, and is hosted by UCSB’s own SURE. One of the most prominent of the open critics of religion, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, is said to even speak at the event.
Can we really afford to keep quiet about religion? The clash between science and religion is becoming an even hotter topic, now that many are beginning to join this new religious uprising. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, religion affects almost every aspect of our lives. It affects how we’ll raise our kids, what we teach in classrooms, people’s political affiliations, where we put our money, our health, our wants, our needs, and our general state of mind. Religions have helped and hurt BILLIONS of human lives, and now there’s the long anticipated initiative to examine religion with objective, rational, scientific inquiry. Maybe we should stop closing our eyes, plugging our ears, and shutting up about religion. Maybe it’s time we use the best of science and reason to break the silence.