God and religion

October 26, 2006

I read some reviews of Richard Dawkins’ latest screed against God. This post presents the salient counter arguments from those reviews. The main point is that the existence of God has been debated forever and Dawkins doesn’t bring anything new to the debate. Dawkins tries to demolish those arguments again, but it’s pointless, really. Of course the Big Three arguments for God are rubbish, but it really doesn’t matter. There’s no connection between the existence of God and the giant religious institutions that cater to that belief. Even if I concede that God might exist, what then? There’s no way to determine what God wants, if anything, from us. There’s no way to know how God feels about adultery, gays, infidels, circumcision, or anything else. By the way, why does God want a piece of your dick? How does the Pope know what God wants us to do? This is a much more fruitful argument than merely debating the existence of God.

Religion is simply a codification of a group’s cultural values. Those cultural values are developed like any other fad or meme (I’m looking at you, Web 2.0!). When enough people believe them, they are included as official rules in the religion and backed by God’s authority. So if you come along later and point out that the custom is a meaningless fad, you can be killed in God’s name for blasphemy. Even without religion, however, most cultural rules are stupid. I’m reminded of this every time I’m forced to wear a tie. The important difference is that religion makes it very difficult to change old rules. Did you know Catholics still perform exorcisms (a lot in Africa)? They can’t change the rules because it would admit fallibility, which undermines all their other wacky rules. The other problem is that religion often short-circuits the brain; “God wants you to kill” is a legitimate argument. But religion as a harmless social organization is quite alright with me. Isn’t that what Unitarians are? They seem like nice people.

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