Devastating the devastation of devastating arguments against religion

Roman Catholic monks of the Order of Saint Benedict singing Vespers on Holy Saturday at St. Mary's Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey.

Roman Catholic monks of the Order of Saint Benedict singing Vespers on Holy Saturday at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey. (Source: John Stephen Dwyer)

I once was more easily drawn-in by the concourse of religious versus secular debates one could find anywhere from social media to shopping centres. They are debates essential to human flourishing, I think, since they wrestle with the fundamental questions and presumptions of our existence and therefore our living. Not one to normally shy away from argument, I have recently been consciously distancing myself from such conversations, though – especially in the online sphere.

My main reasoning is that the arguments are repetitive and a bore. Nothing new is learned nor gained by either party. An ideal debate is one which refines the positions, though I should note that this does not necessarily mean that either position need be ‘weakened’ in the mind of the debater. But to break my silence in reverence of this argument’s regular and peculiar futility, I wanted to briefly reply to an article refuting some of the common arguments of atheists.

Why has this broken my silence? Quite simply, because I have noted the undeserved traction it has gained with otherwise intelligent, well-meaning Christians in my circle of acquaintances and, dare I admit, friends.

The first claim refuted in the article is that of religion being the primary cause of war. Cited is the authoritative Encyclopedia of Wars, which claims that only some 7% of all recorded wars were driven by religion. Not being a particularly novel statistic to employ in one’s counterargument, it is a simple task for even the most novice of discerning observers to propose the question: By what definition? The definitions, upon closer inspection, are highly specified and unmatched to the common parlance, giving rise to the misapprehension. In effect, the Christian or religious defender deliberately oversimplifies the complexities and motives of ‘war’, reducing it to the single dimension they most commonly complain about anything else being reduced to: religiosity. At best, then, this is a misunderstanding of an academic text and at worst another dubious hypocrisy.

Surprised by its omission, but easily found elsewhere, is the natural extension of this bone of contention: that Stalin and Pol Pot and all these other wicked, godless men committed terrible genocide – in the name of godlessness, is the implication. (More commonly still is the insistence that Hitler was an atheist, despite there no being no clear evidence of his personal beliefs.) Perhaps in this extension, though, is the revelation that the faithful are flocking to a peripheral issue rather than appreciating the salient point: that there is no logical pathway from irreligion to violence, but that there exist many logical pathways from religion to violence. Again, the godly defender tries to have it both ways, claiming her critics are untrustworthy for their simplifications but then wavering into fly-by-night oversimplification herself. Then again, irony has never been more lost than on some believers.

Second on the list of ‘devastating’ arguments reads the claim that religion’s days are numbered due to the progress of scientific inquiry. To refute this, the author quotes the growth figures of major religions (and irreligion) from the World Religion Database. Naturally, these show the rapid growth of religions in the Developing World, particularly Asia. Perhaps in another bout of unappreciated irony (upon entering the realm of objective facts there can be no pseudo-philosophical meandering which rallies any serious offence or defence) in this case is the term projection and its implications appearing entirely lost on the author. I just mentioned exactly why these projections would have to show the rise of specific religions from specific parts of the world which are experiencing specific and unmatched population growth. Hint, hint.

Perhaps what actually is devastating is the lack of family planning options in India and elsewhere due in no small part to the archaic, poverty-binding views espoused by ‘saints’ like Mother Teresa. Perhaps what is devastating is so many’s lack of access to education, incidentally the one thing that repeatedly correlates with irreligiosity and less-fundamentalist religious views.

Penultimately, the topic of the History War of the Dark Ages raises its ugly head. While the Higher or Later Middle Ages were quite amenable to the progress of science, acknowledgement must be made of the stagnation of the Early Middle Ages. Expand one’s study to the entire period, and with it, the social and economic life of its inhabitants, and their many religiously-derived detriments become apparent. To put it plainly, the Dark Ages might not have been as Dark as originally thought, but they were still dark.

The final ‘devastating’ argument presented for ridicule is the outdated Christ myth theory. How laughable indeed. In light of modern evidence it is a truly ridiculous theory, and perhaps the only one worth refuting by this author. Though, in unknowing disparagement, even U.S. comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher fell for this old-hat gimmick. Then again, he also pouts an unhealthy and unethical denialism of vaccine efficacy and safety, and to suggest anyone be altogether infallible would no doubt be asking for a miracle – even by religious standards.

What might have appeared to some as a brief polemic of polemics is actually a hapless list of ill-thought and, at times, strawman defences to some of the genuine questions that bears considering for believers and non-believers alike.

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