FreeThought Fort Wayne

        Be Reasonable

What’s the harm?

Posted by JD on November 13, 2008

There have been many questions posed to me over the years by believers; some good, some bad.  There are also many of the same old chestnuts that make their regular appearance in my conversations.  Today I’d like to kill four of those birds with one answer.  And they are:

  • Why not believe in God?
  • What’s the harm in believing in God?
  • Aren’t outspoken atheists just as dogmatic and absolute as the outspoken religious?
  • How can you be so arrogant as to believe we are all there is in this universe and that we don’t need God?

Because of the close relationship of these questions, they often come up together in the same conversation in one form or another, often in a similar progression.  It usually goes something like this:

IE [Internet Evangelist]:  “You must be the only idiot alive to not know of God’s existence!  Why wouldn’t you believe?  What do you have against God?”

Me:  “All of the evidence we currently have overwhelmingly points to a lack of creator god in our universe.  All organized religions contradict each other and contain numerous inaccuracies.  We can also see how all of the different religions have evolved over the centuries.  We also know much about the psychological benefits and hindrances religions can cause.”

IE:  “Yeah, you might think you are smart, but what if you’re wrong?  Is it worth the risk?  How can you be so certain there is no God?”

Me:  “I’m certain no god of any organized religion exists.  Which god are you referring to anyways?  Yahweh?  Allah?  Zeus?  Anubis?  You are talking about Pascal’s wager.  The problem is you don’t know which god to bet the farm on, and if you’re wrong you’ve spent all of your time, effort and money on the wrong pursuit.  It’s a moot point anyway, because all organized religions are fallible and imperfect; hence, man-made.  Just because we don’t know everything about the universe, it doesn’t mean god is hiding behind everything we are ignorant of.  Although our ignorance is always the first thing labeled God.”

IE:  “Well, you can’t PROVE there is no God.  So you are just as bad as evangelicals preaching the gospel.  You preach there is no God when you can’t even prove He doesn’t exist!”

Me:  “The burden of proof is on the person who makes a positive claim of the existence of anything natural or supernatural.  There has yet to be a single piece of solid evidence to even come close to proving the existence of any God.  I can claim to have seen Santa Clause, but without the flying reindeer and elf factories I have no proof.  I talk about atheism and everything relating to it because I know there are many, many negative and horrible things that religions not only encourage, but thrive on.”

IE:  “Why would you take away what little comfort in life many people have left?  The only thing that gives many people hope is religion.  Why would you want to destroy that?”

Me:  “If we all sought education through reason, truth and enlightenment as the foundation of our societies, much of our suffering would be eliminated, and there would be more comforts and happiness to give people not just hope, but dignity, pride and reason to live.  No one wants to add to the misery and suffering of the human condition.  We all want to improve our lot in life.  False religions give false hope and security.  They make us live for a fictitious god and the fantasy of living forever in happiness after we are dead.  We can do much better than this on our own.  Religion feeds off of our fears, desires and suffering.  It is a parasite whose only real purpose is the illusion of peace and bliss for profit.”

IE: “What makes you think we can just cast God away and live for ourselves?  That’s just plain selfish and hedonistic.  It’s humbling to know that there is someone who created me and I have a special purpose in this vast universe of my very own.”

Me:  “It is the height of arrogance to believe we are the center of the universe created especially for us as a test before we live for all eternity bathing in god’s glory.  It is the irony of ironies that the most egocentric concept conceivable is considered humble and pious while the thoughtful realist is painted as a self-absorbed, sociopathic egomaniac.  I guess thinking this way makes swallowing the bitter pill of guilt and sin that is religion much easier to bear.”

I hope to cover more specific reasons for why religion is generally harmful in later posts.  There are many, and I couldn’t hope to list them all in one spot, let alone remember much of them off the top of my head.  Leave a comment if you think of some good examples of why religion is harmful, and I’ll try to include them in the next post on this topic.


6 Responses to “What’s the harm?”

  1. agnohumanist said

    Great post, Theo! I always enjoy your defenses of rationalism. Here’s an example of arrogance on the part of the religious. A local military guy–actually a good guy, but misguided, I feel, in this particular instance–gave an interview to the local paper on Veterans’ Day. In it, he talked about how he just knew that god was protecting him in the many dangerous situations he’d been in–bullets whizzing by, mortars exploding near him, etc. My question is, what does he think about the poor guys who got killed or severely wounded? That god didn’t give a crap about them? Somehow he deserved god’s protection but they didn’t? That is more than a bit arrogant, in my opinion.

  2. David Spaulding said

    Very well written and of course, rational. Here’s a quote that I like:
    “Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?” (Carl Sagan)

  3. Anon said

    If you are looking for examples of problems with irrational thinking, checkout:

    It covers more than just religion.

  4. dystressed said


    I am at a loss for words. Your post was great. I am going to add something in my post about Skeptoid’s 10 most wanted celebrities endorsing bad science.


    That poor veteran really does sound arrogant. I feel sorry for anyone who lost relatives in that same war.

  5. agnohumanist said

    I think one of the most powerful ways that religious belief is harmful is that it teaches people, from a very early and impressionable age in most cases, to believe in things for which there is no compelling evidence. That makes it much easier for them to be deceived later by unfounded claims by corporate advertisers, quack health practitioners, and–most dangerously–slick politicians.
    Example: Many times in the last couple years, I’ve had students tell me that they think the world will end in 2012. Why? Because the Mayan calendar says so! I am usually able to at least create some doubt in their minds about this ludicrous claim by essentially asking, “If those Mayans were so smart, why did their empire collapse? Do you seriously think that they had the ability to see clearly hundreds of years into the future but couldn’t prevent their own demise?” It’s fun to see the wheels start turning in their minds as they apply just a smidgen of critical thinking to the claim. I have found many children, when gently guided in this way, to be capable of more independent thinking than some adults!
    I often find it useful to quote Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

  6. theodoersing said

    Thanks guys for the great examples.. That’s like the third time that has been recommended to me. I’ve looked at it, and it is indeed a great site. I find it curious many religious shrug off individual harmful effects of religion that we mention individually, but when you see them listed like a wrap-sheet it is overwhelming.

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