I think Arthur C. Clark summed up the absurdity of religion quite well in the book 3001: The Final Odyssey.

Civilization and Religion are incompatible.

Imagine you are an intelligent extraterrestrial, concerned only with verifiable truths. You discover a species that has divided itself into thousands-no by now millions- of tribal groups holding an incredible variety of beliefs about the origin of the universe and the way to behave in it. Although many of them have ideas in common, even when there’s a 99% overlap, the remaining 1%’s enough to set them killing and torturing each other over trivial points of doctrine, utterly meaningless to outsiders.

How to account for such irrational behavior? Lucretius hit it on the nail when he sad that religion we the byproduct of fear- a reaction to a mysterious and often hostile universe. Four much of human prehistory it may have been a necessary evil- but why was it so much more evil than necessary- and why did it survive when it was no longer necessary?

I said evil and I mean it, because fear leads to cruelty. The slightest knowledge of the inquisition makes one ashamed to belong to the human species…one of the most revolting books ever published was the Hammer of Witches, written by a couple of sadistic perverts and describing the tortures of the church authorized- encouraged! To exact “confessions from thousands of harmless old women before it burned them alive. The Pope himself wrote an approving forward!

But most of the other religions, with a few honorable exceptions, were just as bad as Christianity.

Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the whole affair is how obvious madmen, century after century, would proclaim that they-and they alone!-had received messages from God. If all the messages had agreed, that would have settled the matter. But of course they are wildly discordant-which never prevented self-styled messiahs from gathering hundreds-sometimes millions-of adherents, who would fight to the death against equally deluded belivers of a microscopically differing faith.

There’s never been anything, however absurd, that myriads of people weren’t prepaired to believe, often so passionately that they’d fight to the death rather than abandon their illusions. To me that’s the definition of insanity.


~ by Jay on September 1, 2007.

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