If there were no religions, what would the atheists fight?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

And I quote: ". . . what is the next biggest problem for the people whose current biggest problem is religions?"

Pfft! Religion isn't the 'biggest problem' for any atheist I know or have known. It ranks well below family, profession, education and finances as a source of concern. Not only do these concerns exert more influence on us than religion does but we can exert more influence on these concerns than we can on religion. Get it? There are many more important things in life than religion. Those for whom religion is the 'biggest problem' are the fundamentalists, zealots, extremists, jihadis and terrorists who blight society with their willfully mindless, totalitarian and intolerant ignorance (a.k.a. denial).

Has anybody else noticed how denial has a way of coming back to bite us on the butt? If you watch or read the world news, I don't see how you can have not noticed. Any day, any time: religious strife (mostly involving Islam) dominates the news. To quote Ayn Rand (not my favorite philosopher):

"You can avoid reality but you can't avoid the consequences of avoiding reality."

If a religion does more good than harm, I have no problem with it. I may be wrong or missing something but I don't think most religions are terribly harmful. One form of religion, though, stands out for its perniciously detrimental effect on humanity: monotheism. The worst of the (major) monotheistic religions are the proselytizing ones: Christianity and Islam.

We've all heard about what's wrong with these religions: so I will focus on what's good about them. I'll address what is objectively positive about these two religions and, in the process, hope to show that not even the positive is as good as you might think.

Many believers cite certain aspects of religion that hold strong appeal for them: a sense of community, camaraderie, solace and comforting ceremonies, rituals and traditions. I'm not addressing these subjective, personal, aspects of religion: I'm addressing objective aspects relevant to society and humanity as a whole.

Try as I might, the only thing that comes to mind is charity. While charity is objectively good, Christianity and Islam are terrible at administering it. According to The Economist:

The church is the largest single charitable organisation in the country. Catholic Charities USA, its main charity, and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff and serve over 10m people. These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies.

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? Well, what about the 62% that comes from taxpayers? That's the majority of the charity money they distributed. Here's a graphic to show the details:

In 2010, only 2.74% of church spending was for charity. Of that amount, 62% came from taxpayers.

After doing a little math (4.7 x .38), it's revealed that the church spent only 1.786 billion of their own money on charity. Still think that's impressive? Well, what if I told you that their total spending (for all activities — not just charity) for that year (2010), in the U.S., was 171.6 billion dollars? That's right, only 2.74% of the church's spending was for charity — but if you subtract the taxpayer amount (62%), just 38% of that (1.04% of total church spending) came from actual church money! Only 1% of church funds is spent on charity!?! How do they get away with it in a country as prosperous as the U.S.?

Do other Christian denominations do any better? I'm sure that some do but, judging from TV evangelists, I lean toward pessimism on the question.

And what about Islam? As it turns out, Islam is a very charitable religion. But it's got one problem: virtually all of Muslim giving goes only to other Muslims. They're not very charitable to us infidels. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Zakat:

Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ [zæˈkæːt], "that which purifies"[1]), or alms-giving is the practice of charitable giving by Muslims based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all who are able to do so. It is considered to be a personal responsibility for Muslims to ease economic hardship for other Muslims and eliminate inequality for followers of Islam.[2] The practice is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

As a mandatory obligation of Islam, Zakat is treated something like a property tax in some Islamic countries. There's also a voluntary form of charity called Sadaqah. There's nothing in the Quran or ahadith that prevents giving Sadaqah to infidels. However, Muslim clerics frown upon doing so.

Of course, there's also the matter of charity going to terrorist organizations. This is difficult to prevent because the Quran and ahadith encourage (in no uncertain terms) contributing to Jihad.

So, with Christianity and Islam, charity is not all it's cracked up to be: especially in comparison to secular charities like the Red Cross (4% overhead), Doctors Without Borders (1.1%), Oxfam (6%), Stand Up to Cancer (9%), Kiva·org [Loans that change lives] (0%), Charity Water (11%) and many more.

I call religious charity positive but only with some major caveats. Other than charity, what has religion done for mankind (objectively speaking)? Yeah . . . you're drawing a blank too, aren't you? Art comes to mind but it's not as if the inspiration and creativity of artists wouldn't have blossomed without religion. Maybe you have some nominees you can offer in the comments to this post.

If there were no religions, what would the atheists fight?


Is there anybody who is an actual hard atheist—one who says that they are certain, beyond any doubt, that no God of any description exists?

? Which God? All but one.

Answer by Jim Ashby:

I am "certain, beyond any doubt" that no REVEALED God exists. And when it comes to revealed gods, I'm talking about the (allegedly) monotheistic God of Abraham: the God claimed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Abrahamic religions are ancient religions that grew out of an era of abject ignorance. The founders of these religions thought the world was flat and that we see by projecting light from our eyes. Judaism and Christianity even retain elements of the primitive blood sacrifice rituals of prior death cults. Islam substitutes blood sacrifice with blood lust (against infidels).

The God of Abraham is the kind of primitive caricature of a supreme being that only abjectly ignorant people could produce. Their noblest vision of God was as an important ally in war and never gave slavery or the subjugation of women a second thought. It is transparently true that the God of Abraham was made in man's image.

The reason we can be "certain, beyond any doubt" that no revealed God exists is because revealed Gods divinely inspired scripture to show us the nature of God and to spell out his moral requirements of us — especially where our sex lives are concerned. Scripture gives us information. And that information precludes the possibility — beyond any doubt — that revealed Gods ever existed.

The gods of other religions? They're obviously superstitions: I can't take them seriously. The only God I can't absolutely rule out is the cosmic, absentee, impersonal, God of deism and pantheism. My reason for reserving a sliver of possibility for a deistic God is the question of the origin of existence.

There are three basic explanations for the origin of existence . . .

  1. The universe has always existed, without beginning.
  2. The universe spontaneously came into existence, out of nothing.
  3. The universe was created by God ("God did it").

NONE of these are satisfying answers. NONE of them has ever been proven. ALL of them have major logical problems. In the company of the first two, the third one is right at home (Occam's Razor notwithstanding).

The current consensus among cosmologists favors the second explanation. They even back it up with some pretty convincing evidence. But it's not a foregone conclusion just yet. If it ever were proven true, that would be the death knell of the deistic God (of ALL gods, actually, creators or not) — at least, as far as I'm concerned.

Is there anybody who is an actual hard atheist—one who says that they are certain, beyond any doubt, that no God of any description exists?

What is the difference between Jesus and Christianity, Buddha and Buddhism, teachings of sages and holy books that people have written?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

First and foremost, everybody interprets scripture (or holy text) subjectively. What George Bernard Shaw noted about the Bible applies to virtually every religious text: “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.

People will take away from religion whatever they want to take away from (or read into) it. And with a world full of every imaginable type of person, the full spectrum of potential interpretations will occur. There will be liberal and conservative interpretations; apathetic and extremist interpretations; hawks and doves; and everything in between.

This is why scripture should never glorify war or prescribe punishments or condone the subjugation of our fellow human beings (i.e. women and slaves). By doing so, they give divine license to man's inhumanity to man.

What is the difference between Jesus and Christianity, Buddha and Buddhism, teachings of sages and holy books that people have written?