There is probably no area of human philosophical exploration that
has caused more debate, often to the point of bloody wars, than religion.
Everyone, it would seem, has a definite and unbending opinion in this area,
and everyone, it seems, is equally convinced of the moral and supernatural
authority of their position.
To me, religion as a general topic comes down to a discussion of only
a few basic points, with many stories, arguments, and other explorations
evolving from each point. However, the fundamental questions addressed
by all religions are still the same. These are:
1. Where did we, as a species, planet, or whatever, come from?
2. Where are we going (or what is the meaning of death)?
Most religions will then extent the use of god from merely being a "starter" force, to being a "governing" power. Some will have god play a part of daily decisions, overlook all situations, etc...However, I am of the opinion that the validity of what in Christian terms is now being misnomered as "creation science" has been sufficiently proven to be false as to not warrant too much discussion. Suffice it to say that the basic failure of any scientific assignment to the existence of god is its inability to do that which any scientific theory that is seen as useful must do, make predictions. If you are truly adhement about god as anything more than a starter force, then I have a separate essay which discusses god as governing power.
Is there, then, a "starter" force that is supernatural? Well, the honest answer to that question is, "I don't know."---nobody does, as no one can, for they did not witness the creation of the universe. Religion will then tell you that you must believe it. Faith is the tool by which religion makes truth. To me, it seems awefully short-sighted to put one's faith and living style into something that, by its very nature, cannot be proven.
Humans are composed of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen, along with a few other elements. From these basic elements, molecules, then cells, then more and more complex structures form. The brain, probably the least understood part of the human system, governs how we use those structures. The argument comes into play when we consider the question of the difference between conscious and unconscious states.
There is a definite difference in states that exists between a person who is living and one that is not. We can explain this in terms of electrical impulses from the brain, or we can explain it in terms of a soul. The true debate boils down to whether or not we acquire our personalities as a result of the alignment of our atoms and our environment, or as a result of our god-given soul and our environment. I see no reason to believe that we must attribute our actions to such things as souls. It seems to me that the main reason people accept the concept of souls is that they refuse to see themselves merely as a collection of atoms.
People aspire to believe that they are individuals. Some say that the lack of a soul denies them that possibility. I do not agree. Some say that the entire theory that there is no soul must argumentally lead to life being pre-destined. Again, I do not see this as being the case. The reasoning behind those two assertions is essentially the same. There should be no doubt that there are enough combinations of atoms to provide for different patters for all people (in fact, if we look at DNA, it is unique to the individual, thereby proving that point). Does this, however, therefore not imply that all decisions that one will take in their lives can be determined by examining their particular set of carbon atoms---in essence, if we had the scientific knowledge to do so, could we therefore "model" a person and their decisions? A rather simplistic argument could be that it is impossible to predict all decisions one would take in life because, merely by doing so, you change what happens. More in depth analyses would lead us to conclude that it may be that one can theoretically design a model to predict someone else's decision---hell, we do it on a smaller scale all the time, so do psychologists, etc---but I don't think that that fact in and of itself changes anything about the reality of our situations, even if it could be done.
Let me try to clarify my position using a simple assumption. The goal of life is to be happy. Whether you reach that happiness as a result of helping others, helping yourself, or what have you, I would say that happiness is the end goal. Having said that, allow me an extension into a metaphor. In this case, I'll use chocolate as a happiness device, but anything you might view as such can be used in its place. Suppose a person has never had chocolate. they meet a person, identical in every other way, who has had chocolate. the first person, not even knowing what chocolate tastes like, feels as if he is missing nothing. however, the second person, having tried chocolate, sees that the first person is missing something that could make his life happier. would you not agree that, if the first person liked chocolate, trying it would make his life better....in a microcosm type sense, it would make his life fuller...he would have experienced more things, therefore truly known that he was living as happily as he could be. I realize that most religious people don't have that kind of self-doubt, but that is because they have been taught since an early age to avoid it.
Getting back to religious terms, I am sure that there are some people that will not have sex until they are married purely because of religious reasons. In other words, they are being kept from something that is almost universally agreed upon to increase their happiness because of their religion....and sex is only one of many things upon which religion imposes artificial barriers. Accepting the fact that one can relate relative happiness, it must then follow that religion is an obstacle, not an aid, in reaching happiness.
I do, therefore, feel strongly about religion as a philosophical barrier to the individual. However, I do see the benefits of religious moralism, organization, and tradition as a societal instrument. Most religions have codes of conducts, definitions of right and wrong, and, on the whole, instill a sense of duty to the community on an individual. Those aspects of religion are positive for the whole of a religious community. I am, therefore, NOT anti-religious in policy. That is to say, I think that every person has a right to believe what they see fit to believe. Whether they have reasoned unto it by their own deductions, or they have been convinced of it by their upbringing only calls to question their intelligence in having faith in their beliefs. Where religion becomes intolerable is where it invades on others' rights to practice what they believe. When one is so compelled by one's own religion as to see people of other religions as heathens, then religion fails to be the unifying force it was designed to be, and becomes one of the most devise forces on the planet. You cannot argue logically against a person whose beliefs are not based on logic. That is fanaticism, and has and continues to cost the world a lot of needless death.
Furthermore, I will say that a simple belief in god is not, in and of itself, harmfull. Having a belief in something that has no bearing on your life is inevitably irrelevant....and useless. That is to say, believing in god as a "starter" force does not forbid you from having your chocolate or living your life to the fullest any more than does it command you to kill anyone who disagrees with your beliefs. However, attempting to explain the universe in such a manner is merely unnescessarily adding a level of complexness to the explanation; in essence, if you believe that god created the universe, then who created god?
It is only the application of that belief into moral, ethical, and social codes and beliefs that is detrimental (essentially assuming the unprovable as a base axiom for a system, and then using that assumption as justification for refuting things which would otherwise be seen as true). History is replete with examples of this. Brave men like Coppernicus, Galileo and Darwin dared to ask questions which, under the previously religious-driven system, already had answers-- that were not sound. In essence, assuming that the earth was at the center of the the universe was not, in and of itself, harmfull. However, ignoring any proof to the contrary under religious pretenses most certainly was. In fact, it was not until my lifetime that the Catholic church finally apologized for the death of Galileo. That kind of lack of tolerence for new ideas is, to me, probably the scariest thing about religion. One of the goals of science (and mankind) is to understand all that is understandable. If what you (or society) aims to discover is at odds with your beliefs, then it will cause stagnation in your (or society's) evolution. Basically, because of religious beliefs, people may attempt NOT to discover new information. Then, should the information be discovered for them, some may even refuse to accept it. That is when religion is an obstacle to growth---both as an individual and as a society.
At heart I am agnostic (or a weak atheist, for formal definition purposes) ....the reason for that being that I do not know if there is a greater intelligence governing this universe---a greater "reality" as Webster's defines God. However, when any religious person will ask me, I will say atheist, as I do not believe in there being any sort of supernatural being governing the universe---as Webster's defines it, someone worthy of being worshiped. In my opinion, that's just an individual refusing to accept personal responsibility for their actions. I think that, if the word god is properly defined, I cannot argue against its existence...we have no proof either way.... but, how most people perceive god, I most certainly do argue about it.