Our attitude towards religion

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

Blog: Today, 30 November 2011, by way of a second posting, we reprint an email we sent about a year ago to a Jehovah’s Witness. This summarises our attitude not only towards Jehovah’s Witnesses but also towards religion in general. However, as we have stressed in our Mission Statement, we respect the right of others to take a different view to the one we take.

28 November 2010

Dear Jehovah’s Witness,

I am replying to your email of 12 November 2010.

As you know, I concluded around the age of 15 that there was no such thing as god and I have never had the slightest interest in religion since then. All my studies and my experience of life since then have confirmed to me the wisdom of this conclusion and I have never at any time had the slightest doubt about its correctness. I do not believe that there is the slightest evidence that god exists.  When I stopped believing in god, I felt an immense relief. It was like throwing away a crutch when I realized that I could walk perfectly well without it. And that is still the case.

Let me set down my view of how religion arose. Primitive peoples generally could not – and many people today still cannot – bring themselves to face up to the alarming fact that they face extinction when they die. As a result, they invented, out of thin air, an elaborate mythology involving the existence of a god or gods, sometimes accompanied by angels and saints, and usually – this is the key point – involving an afterlife for themselves in which they would be “saved”, ie would not face extinction.  Some of these myth-makers wrote down their fairy tales in books, which they called “sacred”. Some of them went further and claimed that this anthropomorphic character they had invented, which they called god, had actually written their books for them. In my view, this is all claptrap resulting from wishful thinking.

The earth is round but for a long time – until the Portuguese navigator Magellan circumnavigated the globe in 1519-1522 – most people believed that it was flat.  If someone who still believes that the earth is flat wanted to discuss their belief with me, there would be absolutely no point in such an exchange of views.  Just as there is not the slightest evidence whatever to substantiate the view that the earth is flat, the same is true, from my standpoint, as regards the view that there is a god.

Of course, people can delude themselves into thinking that something is so when it is not. And there is no proposition for which the mind of man cannot piece together some kind of apparent justification, often using complex arguments, detailed calculations, selected quotations cherry-picked from scientific papers, etc.  However, the driving force in the case of those who believe that god exists is the wishful thinking I have already mentioned. They want to believe. Therefore they find reasons to believe.

It is all so easy.  For believers, their destiny is mapped out for them. Their private life, their social life, their public life – and, not least, their supposed afterlife – are all settled and arranged. They don’t even have to think. Their thinking has been done for them.  They just sit back and do what they are told. The Bible says this, the Koran says this, the Bhagavad Gita says this – so that is what we must do. This is to abnegate each individual’s personal responsibility for doing their own thinking – not leaving it to some other person or institution to do it for them.

I am a democrat. This means that if someone believes that 2 and 2 equal 5 or that the moon is made of cheese, I accept that this is what they believe. However, it does not mean that I think that their view is reasonable. On the contrary, I think their view is baloney. However, they have a right to think what they think if that is what they think. This is what tolerance of diversity means. However, to tolerate the views of others does not necessarily mean to approve of them.

To take an example. Suppose two architects are considering where to install windows and doors in a new house. One of them may have one view of where they should be positioned, the other may have a different view.  However, both opinions may be sensible and both parties, while having their own view, may still find the views of the other to be reasonable.

This is emphatically not my view as regards people who believe in god. While I respect their right to do so, this does not mean that I think it is a reasonable position to hold. On the contrary, I think it is an absurd view to have, particularly in this day and age when so much progress has been made in terms of human knowledge compared with the time of our primitive ancestors and even compared with the 19th century when lots of eccentric religious sects were part of the furniture. Now, however, we are in the 21st century and there is no intellectual justification, in my view, for clinging on to antiquated superstitions that most educated people have rightly abandoned.

Indeed I go further than this. It is my view that religion is not something anodyne, something neutral, but rather a set of beliefs which is positively harmful.

I have noticed, for example, that missionary creeds like your own latch on to less well-educated people, often immigrants, and provide them with a ready-made community of friends and acquaintances in exchange for a readiness to be brainwashed. Religious people also tend to brainwash their own children.

As is often the case, there is also the question of money. There are a number of religious creeds in which senior figures have acquired substantial wealth as a result of contributions from their congregations.  I have no doubt that the acquisition of wealth from gullible believers is a major incentive for those pulling the strings.

There may be special problems, moreover, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, if my information in this regard is correct. Here are three instances:

Some religions, regardless of their beliefs, do at least engage with people in this world and seek to help the poor and the disadvantaged (eg Christian Aid or CAFOD). However, I have been told by a Jehovah’s Witness that the focus of Jehovah’s Witnesses is on the next world, saving souls for the afterlife, etc, rather than on alleviating the plight of those suffering in the actual world in which we happen to be living.

I have also been told that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote in elections. In the West the right to vote and hence influence the political framework that directly affects people’s daily life in the here and now has been painstakingly secured over many centuries and at great personal cost. Indeed many of the world’s peoples still lack that right and, as a result, remain subject to tyrannical regimes.  To refuse to take part in the political process when one enjoys the right to do so strikes me as worse than perverse.

Then there is the appalling refusal of Jehovah’s Witnesses to accept blood transfusions. To me, this is nothing short of criminal. If someone dies as a result of not having a blood transfusion, then I believe that anyone who is responsible for preventing that person from having a blood transfusion should be prosecuted either for murder or for aiding and abetting.

Enough said, I think. I devoted an inordinate amount of time and thought to religion up to the age of 15. I dealt in depth with all conceivable questions ranging from the “proofs” or “evidence” for the existence of god to the origin of the world and our species. I came to the conclusions that I have outlined above. I see no reason to reopen this particular Pandora’s box.

With best wishes


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