When I was a boy, I recall my early education at St. Thomas More primary school, a fairly decent and pleasant Catholic primary. The teachers were decent people; I made a number of friends and left in 2002 with a good opinion of the school.
Imagine my disgust then, when I discovered during Secondary School that Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians, had tortured many of my countrymen for daring to own a Bible
in the English language, as well as burning ‘heretics’ at the stake. This left a bitter taste in my mouth, as a child I had been slightly interested in religion – the grand ceremonies, the beautiful garb of the clergymen and the bountiful promises that lay beyond my mortal life: of an eternity of bliss and comfort, with my just-deceased Grandmother for instance, and other deceased family members and friends.
It was around the age of seven that I took a particular interest in science: more specifically space. I would read every book my parents purchased on the solar system, planets, astronauts and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. After my family lived in Singapore for around six months, I returned to London and to grade 3, where I gave a presentation on the solar system that received top marks for enthusiasm and my giant poster I had taken from my bedroom wall.
I took my confirmation at the age of eleven, and I can remember just how pointless the whole process was. By that time I was a firm agnostic (just to cling to the childhood hope that a magnificent benevolent being was looking out for me), and upon closer inspection of what was being read to us at church services and religion class, I realised that it was quite simply: fantastically unbelievable.
If you are to believe that our planet, the universe, and all life in it was created by a supreme being (we will use the Judeo-Christian God ‘Yahweh’), then there are some pretty obvious points to consider:
It is estimated that at least 99% of life on Earth that has ever existed is extinct. One would think that an omniscient and omnipotent being would have factored for this tremendous waste of effort.
The readings of religious scripture make no mention of certain things like bacteria, microorganisms, atoms or neutrons, photons or electrons - the fundamental building blocks of our universe. Perhaps because the people of four-thousand years ago had no idea they existed?
In the case of modern humans being on this Earth (Professor Richard Dawkins estimates that number being 250,000 years), then you are faced with quite a few harsh realities about our creator, which I will touch on soon.
That God would have isolated certain cultures and regions to form their own religions, and thus be condemned to an eternity of suffering, no matter how good a person they were in their earthly life.
Every year, nine million children die before reaching the age of five. To put that into perspective: That’s one-thousand per hour, and by the time you have started reading this piece, and when I reach the end of this sentence, perhaps a dozen more have already perished in suffering and in misery. Imagine how their parents, brothers and sisters have prayed, and how dearly they cling to their hopes for a celestial rescue for their three-year old child stricken with disease and malnutrition. How are they answered?
To elaborate on a previous point: humans have been around on this earth for a minimum of 100,000 years, and anything up to 250,000 years. For sake of argument, let’s settle at 200,000. For approximately 196,000 years, the Earth’s people lived in misery. Children dying as infants, mothers perishing in child-birth, and the average life expectancy of around 25 years old. God watched with complete indifference, occasionally intervening via way of a burning bush, extremely suspicious stone tablets and (my personal favorite) giving permission to Moses and his people to ruthlessly slaughter the Amalekites
“Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey ” – (1 Sam 15:2-3)
Then, 198,000 years from the dawn of man, Heaven intervened, and sent his first-born Son (or God himself? I can never remember which) to Earth, in one of the least literate parts of the Middle East, to wander the desert as a walking dead, before his planned human sacrifice in quite a brutal, slow and painful manner, before apparently rising from the dead and ascending to Heaven.
There is where the miracles of the Bible
stop, conveniently Jesus Christ seemed to choose a group of illiterates as his disciples, so it was not for a few centuries that his feats were written down long after the passing of everybody that would of witnessed these events.
What followed was a couple of thousand years of quite cruel human existence. The Emperor Constantine of Rome, decided to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, setting up a whole number of disputes with people of the Jewish faith and descent, who became despised for the execution of their lord and savior, despite the fact that it was God’s plan the entire time. We also had the crusades, a lovely tale of horrific fighting between Christian and Islam over holy land near and indeed Jerusalem itself. The Inquisition, during which a great scientific mind like Galileo was sentenced to house arrest until his death for the heresy of voicing the fact that the earth revolved around the sun, and so on, as well as the rape and torture of children in Church-run institutions all over the world, from Uganda, to the United Kingdom, to my new country of citizenship - Australia. On March 12 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a number of apologies for the above crimes and many more, the confessions of quite the guilty conscience.
If we are to believe in this almighty creator, then we are created ‘evil’ and demanded to be ‘good’. As a straight male, I hold zero resentment towards homosexuals, yet I have been taught they shall burn for all eternity in hell. Josef Ratzinger (the current vicar of Christ on earth) declared homosexuality to be a ‘moral evil’ yet played a heavy hand in dismissing a case
in which Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy was accused of raping over 200 deaf boys at the religious school he ministered
, among others.
I think this is due in a large part, to the way in which Catholic leaders are chosen. Told to repress their most natural instincts of sex and love, for a life of chastity and servitude. Does it really come to a shock that so many children are raped from years of living in this system? Priests and Nuns alike are forbidden to even masturbate, leading to an unhealthy build-up of sexual frustration. This is a lethal cocktail for child-rape, with young, innocent children, often living at the church by way of sanctuary, to be abused by these holy men. But the open relationship of a man is evil? This is a disgusting hypocrisy of the highest order.
I haven’t even touched on the actions of the Church in other areas: the forced conversion of Indigenous peoples in Africa, South America and Australia, to name but a few. The spreading of the lie that condoms INCREASE the risk of becoming infected with the AIDs virus
, and the horrors of Rwanda; where catholic leaders called for the slaughter of their brothers and sisters from their pulpits and church radio stations. This is a rather summary list, but I hope that it instills the same shock and anger that it does in me.
Religion and Women
“Man enjoys the great advantage of having a god endorse the code he writes; and since man exercises a sovereign authority over women it is especially fortunate that this authority has been vested in him by the Supreme Being. For the Jews, Mohammedans and Christians among others, man is master by divine right; the fear of God will therefore repress any impulse towards revolt in the downtrodden female.”
Simone de Beauvoir - The Second Sex 1949
But, not to keep Christianity in the limelight, it has always struck me as disgusting, how the female population of this planet are treated in almost sub-human ways. Religion tends to have quite a remarkable hatred of everything about women, and none more than the idea of them having sexual freedom.
To illustrate a little of what I mean, miraculous births are a common motif in religious texts. To illustrate this point, a few examples:
-Jesus Christ was immaculately conceived
-Buddha was born through a slit in his mother’s side
-Perseus was conceived through Jupiter by a golden shower (haha!)
Religion seems to display a certain disgust for the rather gritty realities of natural birth. The screaming, pain and menstrual blood. It goes on to degrade women to a second-glass citizen. In Taliban-Afghanistan, a woman would be mercilessly beaten for being out of her own home without a male chaperone. My own mother was walking to the beach in Egypt wearing shorts, and men and woman alike spat on the ground behind her as she passed. Women are a horrendously repressed people in the eyes of faith.
In Islam, a man can marry up to four wives, and discard them as he wishes by saying “I divorce you” three times. The wife can be as young as nine, and all that is needed is the father’s consent, despite any protest the mother may have. A nice little spot of legal paedophilia for your reading pleasure.
Another aspect of Islam is the idea of honor killing. If a man is sitting at home, and his twelve year-old daughter wanders in after being gang-raped on the way home from school, he can slit her throat where he stands, to preserve his families honor. I recall a harrowing story where a 16-year old Jordanian girl had her throat slit by her brother after having been raped by another of her brothers. Or when an Egyptian father paraded his daughter’s severed head through the streets shouting: “I have avenged my honour”.
I haven’t even begun to touch on the practice of genital mutilation. In western society, it is a fairly common practice to remove the foreskin of an infant boy. This is a Jewish tradition, that started with a sharp stone, and no doubt left many boys dead after their wounds becoming infected. The purpose of this is to deprive sexual pleasure, and the mandatory covenant is horrendously painful and can be a life-threatening action, even in modern-times. Now, that is often waved off in Australian society as ‘something that happens’, and can even be considered something quite normal. Amazing how genital mutilation can become overlooked.
One aspect that is scarcely discussed in polite society is the female version. Originating from African tradition and also used in fundamentalist Islam. The practice of holding down your six-year-old daughter, tearing off her underwear and removing her labia with a knife. This is for the exact same reasons that a Rabbi would perform a Briss on a baby-boy. More horrifying still, is the practice of sowing the vaginal canal shut, until the woman’s wedding night. If a woman is found not to be a virgin, her male relatives may kill her, without fear of punishment.
To paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens: “There exists one proven cure for poverty, and that is the empowerment of women. If you emancipate them, take them off the animal-cycle of reproduction, and give them an equal citizenry and say in affairs, the entire economic, social and cultural base of that village rises”
Religion has done everything possible to trod on women as if they were cattle, made only to fuck and carry your offspring, rinse and repeat.
How can these disgusting practices go on? We are fortunate to live in a world that is becoming increasingly secular. Imagine the horrific fate that would of awaited Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection in medieval Italy? He would have been tortured and burnt alive for the greatest work on the origin of life on our planet. Religion holds an extraordinary contempt for the work of science and reason, the enlightenment of our species and our ascent to our true potential.
It is telling, that when Moses ascended from Mount Sinai, clutching stone tablets with a rather arbitrary list of commandments to live by, that he did not return with perhaps the cure for disease, the methods in which to increase the living standards of humanity, perhaps a guide to hygiene so that so many of his brother and sister could live longer and more fulfilling lives? Religion is so painfully man-made that it borders on comical. It was science that eradicated small-pox, brought an end to polio and has saved so very many lives around the globe through modern medicine and advances in technology.
I think it is about time for a New Enlightenment. Four men are responsible for leading this call (sometimes referred to as the Four Horseman of New Atheism):Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens. I would like to close with another Hitchens quote, which I think is particulary magnificent:
““Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” - Hitchens (RIP 2011)