Doomed to Repeat History?
Lately the South African press has been inundated with news stories about the so called doom pastor, a pastor that has been spraying doom, the insecticide in the faces of his congregation, supposedly as a means to bring them healing for various types of ailments. When things like this happens, a barrage of vilification and righteous indignation comes flying from practically all corners of society. The question can arise about what non-believers think. I certainly cannot begin to claim that I represent all non believers, but I am fairly sure that my opinion is held by others of the areligious position as well.
If you are curious as a believer about what this atheist thinks, I can help, but it may not be the answers you were looking for. Whenever I see situations like this one, where people are victimised by their beliefs in such extreme ways, the first thought on my mind is that it is business as usual for religion. While society reacts so viscerally toward insecticides being sprayed in peoples’ faces, there are many instances of people being harmed by their own religious convictions on a daily basis, and seemingly nobody pays attention to these types of harm.
Jehovah’s witnesses refuse potentially life saving blood transfusions on a religious basis, Jews cut the genitals of baby boys, Christian Scientists deny medical treatment for themselves and their children, many evangelicals demonise LGBT people and promote their mistreatment and abuse, many Muslims reject organ donation.
Some forms of harm are more broad, and even more damaging. Many people throughout history have killed innocent human beings in the name of their faith. Many American evangelicals reject stem cell research and the former president G.W. Bush was instrumental in slowing down stem cell research due to religious beliefs. Many believers reject modern science on a religious basis, some even believing that the world is flat, or that the world is less than ten thousand years old.
The sum total effect is that these religious positions weigh down humanity in a personal, moral and scientific sense. When more people are victimised by religion, whether it is doom in their faces or the cutting of a baby boy’s penis, seeing one as patently ridiculous but another as an acceptable social practice is merely a function of time. People are used to the latter, while the bizarre and alarming nature of the former is obvious because the victimisation is novel.
I certainly don’t want to imply that all religion is bad, or that religion drives us inevitably to harm ourselves, but that religion and harm have a long relationship dating back through history. We should be more incensed that there are still places in the world where people are accused of witchcraft and killed, or where atheists are hacked to death in the streets because they dared to express their positions on religion.
The general consensus society reaches in situations like the one of the so called doom pastor is to blame the person as the perpetrator, but I think a good argument can be made that the preachers, rabbis, imams and priests that convince people to act against their own best interests are just a symptom, and that the true problem lies in what these religions teach. Generally speaking, religions don’t teach doubt, scepticism and self reliance, but rather teach gullibility, obedience, servility, and dependence. This potent mixture is the doom that we as a species have had sprayed in our faces for millennia, with consecutive narcissistic cults of personality herding us into the slaughterhouse.
That’s not to say that all religions are all bad all the time, because they probably reflect the societies they come from, which were neither perfect and infallible nor fundamentally corrupt and always wrong. The question should be whether an alternative history where people were taught to question authority, disobey harmful commands and apply scepticism and careful thinking to ideas would have had the same problems to the same extent. I am quite confident in saying that it would not have been so.
I am a secular activist and atheist who has spent many years discussing religion online with strangers. I believe that changing the world starts by changing minds, and changing minds starts with open discussion and inquiry. I am the P.R. representative for the South African Secular Society and in my free time I run a blog that is mostly about religion called Massive Activity, play games on Steam, or do amateur music recording.