Most of the world is religious — it has been and will probably continue to be. Yet the demographic of individuals who practice a religion is changing. As more people have access to a diverse and explorative education, the number of congregants is decreasing. Close to a third of the population in the United States now identifies as nonreligious, according to the Pew Research Center.
There is nothing remotely wrong with having a religious belief or affiliation. Everyone believes in something in some capacity. Yet it is worth pointing out the grave implication religion has on our ways of life, our understanding of scientific discoveries, our education and our ability to combat disasters like COVID-19.
Religious practices do condition us to live in a society by providing a system of order and rules, and tell us to do charitable things. But the rigidity that comes with relying on 1,000-year-old documents and ritualistic teachings as guidance also prevents people from being open to different ideologies and being flexible with needed social change. Unfortunately, what one religious culture believes is wrong is almost always in response to something another culture or group is doing. It has little to do with divine intervention even — though it is often justified to be the case — and more to do with suppressing or converting other people.
Look at politics in the U.S.: legalizing same-sex marriage; advocating for transgender rights; defending abortion or the use of herbal medicines such as cannabis; and even to some strange extent gun control, are all examples of movements argued against from a religious viewpoint. It’s not about these particular social issues, it’s about how the nature of change is inhibited by rather domineering social systems that keep people close-minded. We need change; it keeps us moving forward and maintains an equilibrium in society.
In a globalized world, religion is something to be concerned about domestically. Especially as different groups of people migrate closer together, religious differences give a clear indication of what constitutes “us and them.” People are xenophobic and religiously intolerant; it is not their fault, but rather a knowledge system that teaches them there is one correct way of thinking. People are distrustful of things they don’t understand by nature. Religions are largely responsible for the advent of civilizations worldwide but haven’t been the best path forward for developing a so-called evolved society in the modern era. People have done some terrible things in the name of religion, such as crusades, genocide and inquisitions. Even though we pretend we are more evolved now, we really are not — intolerance is still a problem.
Perhaps the biggest concern over the influence religion holds over us is that religion, even in its lightest form, is strikingly close to being a form of pseudoscience. It is not that the beliefs in themselves are wrong, but it is the way people hold them to a higher standard than the fruits of our own discovery. Science is a methodology and a way of understanding that is based on cumulative discovery. It’s about asking questions and using mathematics, reason to propose solutions. It is valuable because it is tangible, it is real. It’s not always correct, but it is set up to be proven wrong so knowledge can be advanced.
The issue is that religious teachings and practices are often contradictory to scientific discovery, almost to the point where blatant facts of nature become contentious. Reliance on a higher power not only at times undermines the credibility of education and the scientific experts; it prevents people from asking questions. Why should one question anything if there is a satisfying and convenient answer in God? The opportunities for self-discovery of belief are often discouraged because religion subsists off of conformity and credulity. That isn’t good for the development of our civilization!
The pandemic we find ourselves in now shows how efforts organized by the scientific community don’t get as much authority as they should when it actually matters. The coronavirus pandemic is bad as it is because many individuals don’t believe in taking the appropriate steps to protect themselves or others as recommended by medical professionals. Some are placing their safety and the safety of others in their faith instead of masks and vaccines, and it’s resulting in people dying.
Situations like the pandemic show exactly what people will do when problem-solving skills and cooperation on a vast level are required. Our response to the pandemic as Americans is a total disaster, and we are lucky it isn’t more lethal, otherwise we all would be royally screwed.
Having faith that our issues will be solved by a higher power — and therefore having a hands-off attitude — is apathetic and interferes with the leadership required from highly educated people. If we can’t put our faith in the right places, we are presented with a serious challenge for our continued existence as a species.