The meat of this post is a few paragraphs below, but I wanted to share some thoughts first...
As many of you know or have already guessed, I am an atheist. Contrary to popular belief, I don't kill babies or eat puppies as a result. I simply have no reason, not a single shred of proof or evidence, for the existence of a god or gods. Gods of all sorts have come and gone throughout our history... some have faded away into myth, like the Greek and Roman gods of old, while some have maintained a foothold in modern society, like Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. All religions, from ancient Egypt to Sumeria to Aztec Mexico, have the same basic goal: control. Religion is a means of controlling a society and its population. Religion initially springs from a need to put answers around natural phenomena that a culture is unable to explain through mundane explanation, and more often then not fail when human knowledge expands to a point where religious explanations are overturned in favor of empirical evidence.
This is perfectly displayed with the collapse of ancient Greek religion. Over time, it became obvious through observation and application of scientific method that a giant, immortal being was not throwing lightning down from the clouds, that the sun did not ride across the sky in a chariot.
At any rate, that desire to explain the unknown is quickly used by those who wish to wield power over a group of people. It's an easy thing to do, really. If you are a member of an early society, and you want to be in charge, simply assign mysterious and frightening phenomena to supernatural forces, and then claim that you speak to, and therefor FOR, those forces. If you are convincing enough, you will instill enough fear of this possibility into the society. Thus religion is born, and your community is now under the control of that religion. The problem of course arises when someone else from somewhere else comes along with different answers from a different supernatural being... and depending on how convincing that person is, you might have a problem on your hands (Christians call this missionary work, by the way).
I think that over the course of our development as humans we've needed that structure... that ability to assign something to the things we don't understand, in order to function and start crawling out of the caves and start living in organized, fruitful communities. Religion has embedded parables into our culture that teach some basic lessons of right and wrong, and convey the customs of the time. The biggest problem I have with chrsitianity now is that too often christians look to a literal interpretation of the bible, a book written 2000 years ago by barely literate goat-herders. The lessons were relevant to the culture and society of the time, but they do not translate well to today's culture. The bible is full of hateful racist and misogynistic verbiage that was far more commonplace and acceptable in the time and place it was written. It is the same with other religions, including islam. Unfortunately there are many cultures who still enforce a strict adherence to these writings, and women and minorities are still persecuted and oppressed as a result to this day.
I was raised an Irish catholic in a section of Boston that was, and still is, very religious. I was an alter boy for a time and was confirmed when I was about 12. However, I was also a fairly intelligent and very curious young man, and as a result of the very teachings I was given to become confirmed, I began to have serious questions and concerns about the writings in the bible. So I began to research some of this stuff, and actually read the bible for the very first time. I was amazed at how much I was expected to swallow. The more I learned, the more and more clear it became that the bible was no more factually correct than Aesop's fables. I think it's safe to say I was an atheist by the time I was 18.
But, being an atheist in the mid-80's in Boston was not something you could just proclaim. Even then, I wouldn't admit to being an atheist... to those who would ask I would simply say "I'm not sure what I believe" and leave it at that. I spent many years playing the role of the agnostic for fear of the stigma attached to atheists.
As I got older and more educated, my refusal to accept religious claims was only reinforced, and I began to read books about the atrocities committed in the name of religion (the crusades, the Inquisition, to name a couple) and I began to embrace my atheism even more. I had become an atheist because I was unable to accept the obvious problems with religious doctrine, but I've become a more outspoken atheist as I've gotten older because religion continues to make it impossible for me to do otherwise. I've come to feel that religion does far more harm than good, and continues to be nothing more than a means of control over a population. And outside of the abject inhumanity of fundamentalist islamic sects in the middle-east, there is no better example of this than the Roman Catholic Church of which I was once a member.
And there is no better example than the story of the 9-year-old Brazilian girl who was raped and became pregnant. This poor, innocent little girl was raped by her step-father and became pregnant... with twins. Carrying twins to term at her age would likely have killed the little girl, so her family and her doctor decided an abortion was the only safe, humane thing to do. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church doesn't understand the concept of humane action when it opposes its outdated dogma. The local bishop ex-communicated the doctor and her family for having an abortion. The little girl would have been ex-communicated too, but catholic doctrine does not allow for ex-communication of people under the age of 18. While this is absurd, of course, it is not all that surprising. The catholic church's position on abortion is that the blob of cells is far more important than a living, breathing 9-year-old. And you may think this is just something that happened because it's Brazil and they are more fanatical... well you'd be wrong. The Vatican has weighed in on this, and has defended the decision of the bishop. A vatican official was quoted as saying "This is not just theory. And you can't start backpedaling just because the real-life situation carries a certain human weight." Yup... you read that correctly. According to the vatican, strict adherence to doctrine is paramount, and exceptions can not be made under any circumstances.
Yes, ladies and gentleman... it is time to grow up as a society. These are not the governing morals we want to continue to be driven by. Religion is never content to be left alone and keep to itself... it insists itself upon society... it demands respect where it has not earned it, it expects to be treated with deference and be given special treatment... it pushes its beliefs into places that should remain secular. It will not leave well enough alone. It never has, it never will. I've read in many places recently that we need to "play nice" with religion in order to further the goals of secular society, that being the "angry, uppity atheist" only hurts the cause. That's code for "sit down and shut up", and to that I say, fuck no! I am angry because stories like the one above make me angry... and if they don't make you angry then there's something wrong with you, and you need to adjust your moral compass. I will continue to write in outrage and continue to push the message that it is time to cast off the shackles of religion and leave it behind along with the other fairy tales we've dismissed.
Defenders of religion claim that we need religion in order to maintain a proper morality. I've seen too many examples of "christian morality", like the one above. I'm not religious, but I have morals as strong as any christian... stronger, in my opinion, as I don't share, for example, a hatred of homosexuals or beliefs that cause me to say "praise jesus" when a relative is spared their life in an accident that also took the lives of other innocent women and children. Was Jesus not looking out for them? My daughter has never known religion in any formal way, and her morals are spot on... in fact even at her young age, she is far more giving, caring and empathetic than most of her peers that go to church every Sunday and bible school in the summer. And she doesn't need the fear of burning in eternal fire in order to know the difference between right and wrong and act appropriately. Funny that.
I was once afraid to admit that I was an atheist... but every day that I live and see how religion affects the world around me, I'm more and more proud of it. You should be too.