Replacing Religion, part 1

Nowadays, more and more people are willing to publicly state that we need to get rid of religion – something I’ve believed for decades. Recently I heard a prominent nontheist say this, but he followed his statement with the argument that some people need religion, so maybe getting rid of it isn’t such a good idea.

That got me thinking. If people need religion, what do they need it for? Why are so many people – myself included – content without it? What do we happy nontheists use instead of religion to fulfill these needs? If there are secular things that can fill the same role as religion, can religion be replaced?

In this series of posts, I plan to go through these different human needs, explore how they are filled by religion, and try to find secular ways to fill them instead.

One prominent thing people seem to use religion for is to give their lives meaning or purpose. I can easily understand this; after all, who doesn’t want their life to be worthwhile? Yet, no matter how I look at using religion to fulfill this need, I run into some fairly appalling selfishness.

When a person devotes his or her life to some deity as a way to give their life meaning, they seem to do it to win favor with said deity so they’ll be granted eternal life or whatever it is that deity is supposed to offer. To me, that’s about as selfish as a person can get. These people are living their lives for the sole purpose of getting something for themselves.

As for any deity that would give life to a person only to have them spend it worshiping Him/Her/It, I don’t understand that at all. What does an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Creator of Everything need with a bunch of people spending their lives telling Him/Her/It how wonderful He/She/It is (and often trying to convince other people to do the same)? That’s selfish and egotistical.

I have no desire to worship any deity, but if I did, I certainly wouldn’t worship one like that.

So, what sorts of secular things are available to give life meaning? The one obvious answer I could come up with was helping the fellow inhabitants of our little planet: the humans, the dogs, the tigers, the dolphins, the rhinos – whichever fellow lifeforms tug the strongest at your heartstrings.

There are some religious organizations that help people in need – the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the poor – but they all seem to have one heck of a string attached: If you want their help, you pretty much have to convert to their religion and worship their deity right along with them. Why is this a requirement? Why not just give the needy what they need and be happy with that? Doesn’t simply helping other people make one’s life meaningful? Or is it that the “helpers” think they’re winning brownie points with their deity by getting more people to worship Him/Her/It? There’s that selfishness again.

And speaking of selfish – forget the selfish worshippers working for their selfish deity for a moment. How about the religions themselves? What church doesn’t require a tithe of a certain amount of a worshipper’s income, or pass the plate (often multiple times) at every service, or just plain ask for money at every opportunity? What do these churches do with all of this (tax-free!) money? Granted, some of them do give a portion of it to the needy, but from what I’ve seen, a whole lot more of it goes into constructing grandiose temples, and buying pipe organs, stained glass, artwork, and other accouterments to fill them.

A recent example of this is the Reformed Millennium Cathedral, a $27 million Christian megachurch that just opened in Jakarta, Indonesia. Imagine how many needy people could be helped with $27 million! And what does the preacher of the Millennium Cathedral have to say about his brand new, overblown house of worship? “Every religion [tries] to propagate their religion and to get more members. That is something so natural.”

Yep, you heard it, straight from the preacher’s mouth: Religion is about getting more members.

He continues, “…as pastor, I want to preach Gospel, I want to make people know about Jesus Christ.”

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but I thought Jesus wanted his followers to shun wealth and help the needy. Didn’t he supposedly say something along the lines of “If you want to be perfect, sell your possessions and give to the poor”?

Maybe the Millennium Cathedral’s preacher really does want to “make people know about Jesus Christ”, but it doesn’t appear that he knows much about the man himself – or at least he doesn’t think it’s important to practice what he preached.

And just in case you think this is an unusual case, there are three more megachurches under construction in Jakarta right now. I really don’t want to know how many others there are in other parts of the world.

Why do churches spend so much money on material things? Why don’t they use the money to feed and house and otherwise help the needy? Is it that selfish deity again, demanding a grand place of worship? Or is it because the selfish leaders of these religions want the best places to work and live, so they can attract more people to give them more money to help them make their next temple even better? Why are there so many starving people, so many dying children, and so damn many overpriced cathedrals? When does it stop being about conversion and start being about helping other people?!

Okay, okay, enough of my tangential rant…

As far as finding something to give one’s life meaning, it’s clear to me that there are plenty of secular ways to do so – ways that are much less selfish than religious ones. Besides the aforementioned helping other inhabitants of our planet, one could create art (writing, painting, architecture, etc.), study the wonders of life and the universe, teach, become a doctor – anything that improves the world for those around you and those to come. I believe that doing any of these things, and many more I didn’t list, would make life meaningful in a wonderfully unselfish and giving way.

In my next post, I’ll look at a few more needs – and try to stay a bit more on topic.

One Response to “Replacing Religion, part 1”

  1. Came to see your greyhound tattoos, but really enjoyed your writing! (My thoughts exactly!) I’ll be back.

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