So what is the problem with religious beliefs?

Posted: April 22, 2008 in Atheism, Australia, Evolution, Religion

There are many reasons for why I am an Atheist but does that mean that I do not like religious beliefs and practices? That is, in a way, a loaded question that can very easily be misconstrued or offence taken from.Now previously in this blog I have examined, albeit if briefly, why I am an Atheist. After publishing that entry, I realised I had missed more than one reason but that is neither here or there now – those that were included, I think, are more than enough justification for my stance.

As an Atheist, does that mean that I hate religion? Does it mean that I wish to see religious beliefs wiped from the face of the Planet? No, for that way leads to the very problem that many religious movements are causing this very day as I shall discuss later.

Justification. That is probably one of the problems I have for verdant religious beliefs, there simply is no objective justification for it. Many people speak of personal experiences or feelings which lead them to believe in a higher power but there is no way at all to verify these claims. There is no more justification or rationale behind that particular religious view than a man who claims that he is the reincarnation of napoleon, or a man who wears tin foil hats because he believes that the CIA/KGB Gestalt are trying to read his mind. Very few people indeed would claim that these are examples of rational thought or beliefs. Yet, with no more evidence than these delusional and paranoid examples, people claim that there is a supernatural creator being who intervenes in various aspects of existence. They call this, so I understand, ‘faith’.

But, as mentioned, faith is a subjective thing indeed. It can not be empirically tested, measured or gauged. Other people can not see it; other people have no way of testing whether a faith based belief is true or not. Instead, they are asked to simply have faith of their own and accept the belief and respect it.

Now if people wish to have such beliefs, lacking in evidence or whatever, then that is not a major problem in itself. After all, that is one of the cornerstones of a decent society (or at least how contemporary society defines decent) – the right of free speech and choice of beliefs. Only the most radical and backwards of people would wish to choose to eliminate that right. People can choose what they wish to belief, evidence or not, rational or not.

Religious beliefs, however, seem to have obtained some sort of special status within society which makes it an entirely different beast than to paranoid delusions and theories about being reincarnated dictators. Perhaps it is a throwback to earlier, simpler and more ignorant times but religious beliefs are afforded special rights, privileges and protections that other beliefs are not.

Religious organisations are given tax free status for reasons I have been unable to understand. You have organisations like Benny Hinn’s, Scientology and Hillsong which are clearly more business orientated than religious organisations that use this provision as a means of making a whole lot of cash. Even so, why do religious organisations need to be exempt from taxes? None of the major churches seem to be short of funds by any measure, so they are under no real threat of going under if they suddenly had to pay their fair share to keep government services running. Yes, charitable causes are also tax exempt and charity and religious groups often go hand in hand (For example, the Salvation Army who do an excellent job all the time of helping the unfortunate). That being said, charitable organisations could easily remain tax free while religious ones not – all it would take would be to separate the two from each other. The Salvation Army, to use it once again as an example, could simply establish a sub-group within itself which deals with charity matters. That sub-group would be tax exempt while the religious part could pay its fair share. This measure would sure help in stamping down on the rather questionable practices performed by various ‘religious’ groups and actually assist in bringing back credibility to religious groups by weeding out those just looking to make a quick buck.

Some will not agree with this line of reasoning and that is fine. But ask yourself this, if a group of people got together who held that belief that they were all Napoleon and set up a small church where they worship the Grand Prime Napoleon, would you be comfortable with them not having to pay tax? Their belief would not be supported by any sort of evidence and rely solely on faith … which is exactly the same as any religious organisation I can think of currently in operation.

Some may even be thinking at this time that having to pay taxes would be a form of discrimination against religious organisations. But how is it discrimination if they have to simply follow the same rules and laws as everyone else? Businesses have to pay tax; citizens have to pay tax and so on. Yet religious organisations have somehow achieved a privileged status, one which does not create any clear tangible benefit for society (such as charitable or educational groups create).

But this special status also goes beyond mere concepts of tax law (which can admittedly be extremely dry and sleep inducing). In The God Delusion, Dawkins (not everyone is a fan of Dawkins and that is fine but the example he uses is till perfectly valid) brings forth the case of a church which was allowed to imbibe and use drugs which were illegal to every other member of society, merely because the members of that church thought that being high/stoned got them closer to god. There is not one piece of evidence to support this claim and yet people in great pain from illness are not allowed access to cannabis and other (currently) illegal substances which have been proven to lessen or eliminate pain. What silly and preposterous nonsense; what if anyone tried to claim that robbing banks or urinating in public brought them closer to god?

Similar to this is the example of privately run schools who also, at least in Australia, gain automatic exemption from anti-discrimination laws for not only which students they allow to be enrolled but also which staff they employ and the conditions they impose on those staff members. I personally know of a case where a person was hired at a private (catholic) school and the conditions in her contract were draconian at best. For example, her employment could be terminated if she stopped living in her life in the style of a what the school defined to be the ‘christian way’. This included such absurdities as living with a member of the opposite sex out of marriage even if that person is just a housemate and it is entirely platonic in nature. Some may argue that the person agreed to such conditions willingly when she signed the contract but that is missing the point entirely; every other private organisation has to abide by antidiscrimination laws no matter their business philosophy or personal beliefs of the CEO. So why do private organisations/schools run by religious organisations get this special treatment? What matter is it of the schools if a female staff member has a male housemate? What matter, to go to extremes, is it of the schools if that same female staff member enjoys sexual interaction between males, females or even both at the same time? There is a clear line between the private and working lives of every Australian citizen and anyone with any sense of decency would respect those boundaries.

So now we have cases of religious groups being afforded special privileges in the form of exemptions from law (tax, criminal and antidiscrimination) for no clear reasons.

As stated, people have a right to belief in whatever they wish but that does not extend to forcing the rest of society to live by the restrictions or conditions of those beliefs. There are many cases of people doing such, usually for religious reasons in recent times. The most obvious of examples for this would undoubtedly be the seemingly never ending Evolution debate. Well, debate would be the wrong word really; it could be much better described as scientists with the facts shaking their head slowly in disbelief while the other side sticks their fingers in their ears shouting “LALALALALA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” repeatedly. But I digress…

To make a long story short, the evidence for Evolution is truly massive indeed whereas the evidence for either creationism or intelligent design is more or less non-existent. Both of these later examples are based in religion and not science as anyone who understands science could succinctly inform you. Yet it is a case of someone with a faith based idea trying to change aspects of society even though there is no evidence to support their case; in this case many proponents of such silliness attempting to impose their personal beliefs to change science education.

There are many other examples of faith based beliefs attempting to be imposed on a secular society, from controversy over the ‘Ten Commandments’ being placed inside courthouses (even though they have nothing to do with criminal law or even morality), Specific menus being placed into school and office canteens (recent case with a British school introducing a Halal only menu). Such things seem to effectively discriminate against any members of society which do not share those beliefs. Why should children have to eat a halal meal when eating beef from a cow slaughtered in the usual way is just fine?

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Comments
  1. Carlos says:

    Everyone can believe what they want. No one will force their beliefs upon you. I see evolution as one of many faiths without the belief in God. If you look at evolution objectively, it takes as much as or more faith as other faith-based religions to believe that in the beginning that there was nothing and all of a sudden, BANG, stuff just appeared out of nowhere. Nobody admits it or talks about it but there is a lot of faith involved there. How can you just make something out of nothing and then over the course of billions of years arrive to where we are now? I applaud all atheists for their unbelievable faith in a theory.

  2. Matt says:

    You demonstrate your own ignorance. The Theory of Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of the Universe or life as we know it. The only thing the Theory of Evolution does is explain the diversity of species on the planet.

    As for the Big Bang, the evidence for it happening is massive indeed – from background radiation, the behaviour and characteristics of lights, the movement of cosmological bodies and so much more. To say “everything came from nothing” is really not doing the theory any sort of justice at all much akin to claiming that it is only through a key that a car starts – bypassing all the extra parts (engine, electronics, etc) that are also needed.

    I suggest you brush up on your research somewhat.

  3. arthurvandelay says:

    I see evolution as one of many faiths without the belief in God.

    As you said, everyone can believe what they want. (Actually, I don’t really accept this. You can only believe what you are convinced there is good reason to believe. Belief is not a matter of whim.)

    If you look at evolution objectively, it takes as much as or more faith as other faith-based religions to believe that in the beginning that there was nothing and all of a sudden, BANG, stuff just appeared out of nowhere.

    If you look at evolution attentively, you wouldn’t claim that evolution has anything to say about the origins of the universe, or–as you so eloquently put it–“stuff just appeared out of nowhere.”

    Nobody admits it or talks about it but there is a lot of faith involved there.

    That’s usually a good sign that you’re advancing a strawman argument. Doesn’t your Bible say something about not bearing false witness?

    How can you just make something out of nothing and then over the course of billions of years arrive to where we are now?

    (Ahem. False witness.)

    I applaud all atheists for their unbelievable faith in a theory.

    And I applaud your chutzpah in purporting to be able to tell atheists what they believe, regardless of whether or not they actually believe what you say they believe.

  4. Kimberly says:

    Good morning, Matt!

    Thought I’d pay you a little visit ;-D

    On the tax issue…separation of Church and State buddy…you want that right? Charitable organizations and churches are ineligible for federal funding, therefore remain tax exempt. This keeps the church from politics and politics from the church. And yes…many have tried that whole “let’s call ourselves a church and we can do whatever we want.” It happens. There will always be those who will try to dodge authority or use religion to escape the confines of what they feel are imposed moralities.

    As to faith…my friend…how can I adequately explain it? Perhaps a quote from C.S. Lewis:

    “I find that I do not exist on my own, that I am under a law. Something that is directing the universe, and appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.”

    For those of us who are Christians, and in my case a traditional Latin Mass Catholic, he offers the following observation:

    Some people may say, “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” He responds, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher…… You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”

    “You can shut Him up for a fool,” Lewis says, “you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

    Definitely not wanting to engage you in an argument my friend…you are worthy debater! Just thought you might like a view “from the other side…”

    Have a great day!

  5. AV says:

    Charitable organizations and churches are ineligible for federal funding, therefore remain tax exempt.

    Not exactly. Many private entities don’t receive federal funding, but still have to pay taxes (e.g. company taxes). Churches and charities are tax exempt because they are non-profit organisations.

    This keeps the church from politics and politics from the church.

    This is a condition of tax-exemption. The cozy relationship between churches and the Republican Party in the US is a testament to how stringently this condition is enforced.

    Some people may say, “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” He responds, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher…… You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”

    How about a man who may have had some good ideas, but was honestly mistaken about his “Son-of-God” status? Lewis (who I would have thought was smart enough to know better) commits the genetic fallacy by arguing that if Jesus was a madman, his ideas on x must be worthless. See Iron Chariots Wiki on this.

  6. AV says:

    “I find that I do not exist on my own, that I am under a law. Something that is directing the universe, and appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.”

    Argument from incredulity fallacy. “I can’t explain where my moral ideas come from, therefore God must have put it there.”

  7. […] benefit for society (such as charitable or educational groups create).1 Matt’s Notepad – So what is the problem with religious beliefs? [↩] « Clinton, McCain, Obama und die Impfgegner Dieser Eintrag wurde von Benjamin […]

  8. ozatheist says:

    really good post, and there’s plenty more problems with religious belief than the few you mention here.

    the tax thing is a huge issue and one that is exceptionally easy to fix, as such: “religious organisations are no longer tax exempt” there done (if only I had the power!)

    I think you will find that a lot of the charitable arms (at least the bigger ones) of religious groups are already separate entities or are at least able to show on their books which bit is which.

    A classic case of a religious organisation being tax exempt and making lots of money by that status is Sanitarium. This company is owned by Seventh-day Adventist Church and pays no income tax. Kellogs (I think it was them, but it doesn’t really matter who) tried to take them to court many years ago because they couldn’t sell their product as cheap as Sanitarium because they (Kellogs) had to pay tax. If you want to read Sanitarium’s take on the matter check this page. They say because all the profits go back to the church which then uses (some of) the money for good works it’s OK. Of course what isn’t mentioned here is that a lot of non-religious companies also pour huge amounts of money into all sorts of charitable works, and don’t get quite the same tax benefits. They also state “There is no commercial advantage to Sanitarium from its taxation status.” How they figure that I have no idea, they pay NO income tax as compared to any other profit making business, so how do they work out that’s not an advantage????

    (Sanitarium; owned by Seventh-day Adventist Church, 100% of profits go back to the church, pay no income tax – just some of the many reasons I never knowingly buy any of their products, and never will)

    What irks me is “the Federal Court had confirmed that businesses were not taxable as long as the profits were entirely used for the charity and to advance religion” So companies like Sanitarium, which is not a charity per-se (it makes food), don’t have to pay tax and don’t even have to give much of their money to a proper charity. I can understand tax exemption for a charity helping the sick, infirm, poor, etc; but how is ‘advancing religion’ useful to anybody?

    (footnote: Sanitarium is a worse case scenario)

    Onto your friend Kimberly…

    On the tax issue…separation of Church and State buddy…you want that right?

    Yes, we want that, more than just about anything else, Full separation of Church and State, No tax or anti-discrimination exemptions for Religious organisations (tax exemptions for accredited NPO/NGO is fine), No tax exemption for anything that promotes or advances religion.

    Charitable organizations and churches are ineligible for federal funding, therefore remain tax exempt.

    Say What! So the $150+ million the Federal and NSW state governments are ‘giving’ to Catholic World Youth Day is just a figment of my imagination! A lot of charities survive on federal funding. There are charities that run various disability homes which get most of their funding from the government, there are religious organisations that get federal funding to run health and employment services, etc etc. I understand that ‘churches’ can’t directly get funding from the government (particularly in America), which is as it should be, but they can get a lot indirectly, ie C-WYD.

    (Disclaimer: some of the above may only apply to Australia, other countries may be different)

    “I find that I do not exist on my own, that I am under a law. Something that is directing the universe, and appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.”

    I don’t know why people keep quoting Lewis, the guy was deluded and not very rational, he should have stuck to writing fairy stories. You don’t need a ‘something’ to know you are doing wrong. If you go down the path of ‘God as the moral authority’, what happens if you take god away. Would you instantly start raping and pillaging? I’d like to think not, and with over 80% of people in prison in America being religious there isn’t much evidence that being without god makes you a criminal.

    There are plenty of reasons why humanity has, on the whole, decided murder, theft, and other ‘wrong things’ is not conducive to the furtherment of the community, there is no need to put a god in the equation.

    sorry for the long rant matt

  9. twilit says:

    Wonderful post…I’ll be checking out the rest of this blog.

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