Against personal belief in religion

I just finished listening to the lunar society podcast episode with [[Charles Murray]], author of The Bell Curve. Near the end of the podcast, there was a discussion on religion. I think it’s worth writing down my thoughts on religion generally.

I went through a phase when I was 6 or so where I transitioned from being religious to being strongly anti-religious. When I was young I felt scared at night. Praying to god helped me not feel afraid. It was as if the prayer protected me from the darkness. At some point a switch flipped and I asked the question: what if the thing in the darkness wasn’t the devil, what if it was god. What if they were one and the same. What if the force in the darkness was the same force that purported to be in the light. I didn’t know at the time but this kind of idea had a long history (Gnosticism).

When I was older I read atheist books a bit. Atheism was part of my identify. (This was a mistake, as always keep your identity small). I also read or was exposed parts of the bible and Quran, some by myself and some through religious education classes in school. The more I read the clearer it became that:

  • Much of what was written in holy books was clearly false
  • Much of what was written was evil

I think both of these problems are independently enough to make me non-religious, but I think the second objection is especially strong. Not everyone has good epistemic norms or knowledge of the facts of history, hence not everyone is capable of spotting the inaccuracies in holy books. Everyone should know that slavery, killing innocents, rape and genocide are bad and any being which rewards and accepts them is not worthy of worship.

I can accept that people believing an evil thing may be socially beneficial. Maybe certain beliefs/norms are better than the alternatives, the things that fill the god shaped hole in people’s minds. Maybe they’re powerful social coordination mechanisms. Still, it being good for most people to believe X does not mean I want to believe it.

A side note here: the obvious problem here is that there are [[Two Definitions of Religion]]. What most modern western religious people believe is very far from what the holy books say. A fair objection to my points above is something along the lines of "Yes the Bible/Quran/Torah is evil but the set of beliefs most self-professed Christians/Jews/Muslims you meet do not include murdering homosexuals or men’s dominion over women". I find this somewhat convincing but I guess that my response is along the lines of:

  • Many of the parts people do believe (e.g: Hell in which sinners burn for eternity) are still sufficiently evil to render the whole evil
  • If you read Mein Kampf and cherry pick all the parts without anti-semitism, racism, calls to violence etc… at some point you’ve gone sufficiently far from the source material that it no longer makes sense to use the same label.

Still, I’m not sure I’m correct. Yes religion as it says in the books is evil. Still if people have religious beliefs that lack the evil parts, (e.g: Quakers, Mormons, most Christians I’ve met) then it seems wrong to judge those beliefs/people more harshly simply because they draw their intellectual lineage from partially dark roots.

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