The other day I was listening to one of Seth Andrews’ Thinking Atheist podcasts. This one was based on the subtitle of Christopher Hitchens’ masterwork, god is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything. I found myself musing about that business of poisoning, and in the process of my musings, opened an instance of Microsoft Word and began committing my thoughts to bits and bytes. The following are my thoughts on the matter:
Religion poisons everything in the same way that ignorance poisons new ideas, growth or development. It presupposes answers which are at minimum non-functional and at maximum diametrically opposed to those answers which do in fact work. When confronted with its error, it does not amend its position, but insists on it, further claiming that it is being persecuted and put upon by the world. It will state that such attacks were foreseen by its founder, that those so assaulted are blessed for keeping the faith, and that a reward for such fortitude will be forthcoming, not in this life, but in one to come.
Religion is the rock which will not be moved. It styles itself as absolute, outside of the common order because it is decreed by an implacable authority to be so. It resists any form of change, and any alteration from its original form it does entertain will likely be the result of further putative revelation to the cognoscenti of that particular system. The problem with these revelations is the same as with the original text: they don’t necessarily have anything to do with reality.
There is a curious problem with reality: it can’t be negotiated with. The laws of physics and nature aren’t subject to badgering, threats, or whining. Anyone who lives and acts and thinks that they can flout the authority of those principles will sooner or later find him- or herself on the short end of them, and experience which may very likely involve a visit to an emergency room if not a morgue. Is this an extreme example? Yes. Does it still apply? Same answer.
The word “poison” as used in chemistry denotes a chemical which slows down reactions, the opposite of a catalyst. This definition’s applicability to religion is clear. Religion has opposed stem cell research, one branch decries blood transfusions as opposed to the bible, and another insists that no medical action can be superior to the direct ministrations of their god. Almost as problematic is their tendency to thank their deity for their recovery or that of their friends who are under medical care, rather than to offer appreciation to the doctors and nurses and other staff who actually did the work which got that desired result. “God guided their hands,” they will doubtless proclaim, when what really did the guiding was multiple years of study and hard work.
It’s doubtful, though, that the most potent poison could cause a chemical reaction to run backwards, yet this is what the Young Earth Creationists would have human understanding do. They would have us deny all the evidence which points to a planet which is 4.5 billion years old and a universe which clocks in around 13.78 billion years of age in favor of one which was created, formed and populated in something less than 168 hours, the proverbial seven days of biblical creation. They would refute the tremendous numbers of fossils, DNA and radiometric evidence which would confirm Darwin’s original work in favor of a story written at a time when no one had the slightest clue about deoxyribonucleic acid or mitochondria or radioactive half-lives. They would have us teach this useless doctrine in schools, indeed, replace the teaching of evolution with it, to please their god and agree with his supposedly “holy” book. Were they to succeed with their efforts, the study of biology and related understanding of medicine would be irreparably damaged.
If religion can be said to poison anything, what it clearly poisons most effectively is PEOPLE, particularly in how they think and from there, how they behave. It sets in their minds ideas – memes – which demands to state what its proponents want to be in opposition to what IS. Religion is a large portion of the reason why the word “compartmentalization” and the phrase “cognitive dissonance” were created, to permit people to be able to function despite the lies their belief system tells them while still clinging to those beliefs. If religion poisons the person and their actions, then the product of actions fomented of religion are also poisoned. And as ubiquitous as Homo sapiens is on this planet, the potential for religion to be present, to interact and influence and poison is equally widespread.
Religion can truly poison everything … if we let it.