The Final Word

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." - H. L. Mencken

The Divine Default is an attempt to highlight not just the often irrational attributions to God but also the corollary that any divine intervention on someone's behalf is deemed worthy where others are not. When millions of young children will die this year because they don't have access to clean water or food (items that we as Americans take for granted), we should be honest about the obscene nature of attributing anything positive to God. When someone says that God has given them the strength to get through a tough situation, we should recognize the egotistical hypocrisy of that kind of attribution because the corollary is that this same God didn't feel it particularly worthwhile to save the ten or so children who died of preventable causes while you read this paragraph.

I believe that we all need to practice a little more cosmic humility because the truth is that we don't understand everything. With a global population of 7 billion and growing, the arrogant certitude of our religious convictions is not the type of discourse that will help us live together in peace. Pretending to know things that are completely unknowable is not the best course of action. With every faith laying claim to the true God(s), the simple fact is that they can't all be correct. Logically, the vast majority, if not all, are wrong. This is perhaps the single biggest reason for making the case that religion is a manmade invention. If there is a God, He is most likely not a personal deity who authors books and occasionally answers prayers.

To be religious is to believe that God created this massive universe for the sole purpose of maintaining a relationship with one species of primate on a small planet orbiting an ordinary sun in an ordinary solar system in an ordinary galaxy which is just one of many galaxies. We're told by the religiously faithful that the universe is fine-tuned for life and meant for us. Considering the fact that the universe is actually extremely hostile to life, it's much more likely that it is our species that is fine-tuned for the universe. If life on our planet were completely wiped out, there is no reason to believe that the universe would care one bit. The universe wouldn't bat an eye at our extinction just as it didn't bat an eye when 99.9% of all animals on our planet went extinct. We can look up to the cosmos and see stars much like our own sun blowing up every second of every day. It becomes an exercise in egotism when we link the merciless destruction occurring in the cosmos to a god who cares about our personal problems and is willing to suspend the laws of the universe - in our favor - to answer prayers.

To believe in the Christian God is to believe that millions upon millions of people throughout the course of human history are literally burning in a lake of fire as we speak because of what they didn't know they needed to know. Through no fault of their own, they were never told the importance of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they were born in a culture where Christianity is not influential. Should a reasonable, moral person believe that someone in a remote part of the world who had never been exposed to the story of Jesus will be penalized for eternity for a crime they weren't even aware of? Surely a being capable of creating something as grand and awe-inspiring as the universe is capable of devising a better solution to safeguard the eternal well-being of human souls.

If God has explained to us our purpose, does it not strike you as odd that we are essentially treated as slaves? Religion dictates how we are supposed to act, what we should eat, what we should wear, and even how we are supposed to think. Islam provides instructions for virtually every facet of life from sex to banking. Christianity tells us that we can be convicted by God for just the feelings we have or the thoughts that might occur to us. Jesus was in essence the first person to enact thought crime legislation. What kind of relationship is this when even thought-crimes are punishable? That is the very essence of a totalitarian dictatorship. Some people are quite content to be slaves and may even feel pride in their shackles, but as the English might say, that's not my cup of tea. For me, the purpose of life is not to worship a celestial dictator and slaveholder. I firmly believe that we must determine our own purpose, and I have determined that my purpose is to maximize my happiness as well as the happiness of those around me. We should attempt to do this by trying to reach the Pinnacle of Morality on our Moral Ladder with every opportunity we get. We can only be certain of receiving this one life so it seems to me that arguing over the validity of the next life is not the best way of maximizing our time.

There has been great effort in the United States to achieve religious tolerance, but toleration is the not the end game nor is it a panacea. We have tolerance not because of divine mandate but rather because we are a secular country with secular rules. In other parts of the world, the tolerance that we enjoy in the United States does not exist between faiths. To a Christian, belief in Jesus Christ as our savior is the only way to reach Heaven. No matter what else that Christian might have in common with a member of another faith, the non-Christian is going to Hell. A Muslim believes that the Qur'an is the perfect word of God, and once a Christian or Jew has been made aware of that belief and subsequently rejects it, the Christian or Jew is destined for Hell. The Mormon faith is quite explicit in its belief that every denomination of Christianity was misguided, corrupt, and unacceptable as told to Joseph Smith by God himself. When God says that non-Mormon versions of Christianity are "an abomination in his sight", how far can we really expect interfaith dialogue to go? As nice as the concept of tolerance may be, it has to be mentioned that tolerance is clearly not something that is endorsed by the god of the monotheistic religions. Intrinsically indoctrinated into these faiths is the basic tenet that every other faith is wrong and those believers are on the wrong path. Therefore, commandments such as "Thou shall have no other Gods before me" translates into a material belief that every other faith, and by extension the believers, are wrong and represent a potential landmine. Infidels are everywhere as is temptation to be led astray to a foreign god. The term "tolerance" implies a non-judgmental acceptance of other faiths that are, according to scripture, irreconcilable and forever at odds with someone's belief. This becomes even more disconcerting when we recognize that most people didn't even have a say in originally picking their religion.

Why does faith deserve respect? What is honorable about believing something without sufficient evidence for doing so? There isn't a single area of discourse outside of religion where this practice would be respected, and yet we continue to coddle religion in a way that is detrimental to our continued survival. It is socially taboo to question someone's beliefs no matter how bizarre they might be. Sam Harris illustrated this concept by saying that religion "allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions what only lunatics could believe on their own. If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you've lost your mind. If you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you're just a Catholic."

The bottom line is that we do not have to respect any religious belief - only the person's right to hold such a belief. Someone may believe they have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. I think they are wrong, but as long as their belief doesn't infringe upon my rights, I respect their right to hold that belief. Unlike Christianity, I don't believe we should legislate someone's thoughts nor do I think it appropriate to invade the sanctity of another person's mind. A human being has the right to believe whatever they like as long as their actions do not negatively impact someone else. For this reason, I question the legacy of extending tax exemptions to churches. Churches in the United States own between $300 and $500 billion in untaxed property75. In an age of austerity, why are we still giving up in excess of $71 billion dollars a year in tax revenue? If God will provide (as it states in multiple Biblical passages), we shouldn't be forced to extend tax breaks to churches when that money could be used for education, research grants, or infrastructure. Religious organizations often provide useful social welfare functions, but these tax breaks are fiscally irresponsible.

Because of its pervasiveness, religion should not be taboo. It should not be a topic that is sheltered and unapproachable. Religion has historically been a prime source of hatred in our world. When people will literally kill others over the publishing of a religious cartoon, we have to question the sanity of religion. When people believe that temple garments can protect the wearer both physically as well as spiritually, we have to question the sanity of religion. When a televangelist screams that tornadoes are God's way of telling people to come to Him but overlooks the fact that "tornado alley" is right in the heart of America's Bible Belt, we have to question the sanity of religion. When a person believes that their spirit or soul (called a thetan) can be cleansed of spiritual impediments from past experiences using a modified ohmmeter and that a galactic ruler named Xenu kidnapped 178 billion people, flew them to Earth in spacecraft resembling a DC-8, buried them near volcanoes and blew them into the air with hydrogen bombs, we have to question the sanity of religion. When a woman will not leave an abusive husband because she fears that it will make God angry, we have to question the sanity of religion. When a gay teen commits suicide because of Biblically-justified persecution, we have to question the sanity of religion. When women have to be subservient to men instead of being treated as equals, we have to question the sanity of religion. When a Christian child in Pakistan faces the very real threat of death because of blasphemy of the Qur'an, we have to question the sanity of religion. When someone is willing to strap a bomb to their chest and detonate it killing innocent men, women, and children in the name of the Almighty, we have to question the sanity of religion. To do otherwise would be a dereliction of duty to our brothers and sisters.

The usefulness of the holy books from the world's "great religions" has run its course. There is nothing of value left in the Qur'an or the Bible for example that we can't derive from a more secular source. Faith makes tremendously spectacular claims with tremendously insufficient evidence to do so. As I've shown in this book, we don't need the Bible to form the basis for determining our morals which is evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of us are not fundamentalists. It is absolutely possible to be moral without worshiping a god that purports to be all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing but can't seem to be all three at the same time. I've also shown that it is possible to be charitable, kind, just, and tolerant without being religious. Religion isn't going to help us find cures for any diseases. It isn't going to help us find alternative energy sources. It isn't going to help us explore the wonders of the universe. Religion concerns itself with the intangible by placing tangible demands and pretending to be anything but a collection of flawed books written by imperfect human beings with limited knowledge.

Consider the fact that for centuries, we believed that the world was flat and that we were the center of the universe (sadly some still believe this). For much of human history, we believed that sickness and disease were punishments from God, and we believed this because we didn't have a better explanation. After all, Germ Theory wouldn't be validated until the late 19th century. We are learning more about our world every day and at a pace that exceeds anything that we've ever seen in human history. The Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Qur'an, and Tanakh have been wrong on virtually every important fact about us and our world that there is no reason to believe in any of their metaphysical claims. Not a single line in any of these books suggests that they were written by an omniscient being. In fact, there isn't a single line that couldn't have been written by a first-century person. For example, when Muhammad is asked to explain why a child will look like one parent instead of the other, he is told by the angel Gabriel that it is wholly dependent upon which parent sexually climaxes first during intercourse (Sahih Bukhari 4:55:546). If the male climaxes first, the child will look like the father. A claim like this is almost comical today. Our knowledge of genetics renders this type of claim absurd. Each time we learn something new, religion is forced to give a little bit more. History has shown that religion has been forced to cede a lot of ground in both scientific and moral matters over the course of the past two millennia and it will be forced to continue to do so. It's your choice whether to believe in scientific accounts or religious accounts. It's your choice to decide which method is a better way of determining fact from fantasy. We should no longer feel obligated to make intellectual accommodations to irrational religious beliefs. The man who is blind to the atrocities committed in the name of religion is a man who is blind to reality. It's time for mankind to open its eyes and determine whether or not its perception of reality is reasonable and intellectually honest.

Kierkegaard once said, "There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true." As a species, we have not found a better, more consistently reliable way of determining the truth than the scientific method. I will be the first to admit that science isn't perfect - not by a long shot. We've gotten things wrong. We've even gotten things spectacularly wrong, but therein lay the single biggest difference between science and faith. Where science has failed, the failure was discovered and corrected by science. Science evolves by building upon truths. The same cannot be said about religion. Religion does not change. Everything that was written thousands of years ago must remain the same regardless of any evidence to the contrary. The Bible and the Qur'an are not open for editing. Those of us who elevate science over faith do so because we understand that the self-correcting nature of science makes it more useful and accurate over time. Scientific conclusions change whenever new evidence is presented warranting such a change and the change is always upward. The direction of that change is a very important distinction. Scientific changes rarely lead to a less trustworthy conclusion. Science may be flawed at times, but the scientific process is not. The same cannot be said about our holy books. Over the course of centuries, we have seen the differences in these directions become more pronounced. I'm reasonably certain that you cannot name me one thing where religion has demonstrably proven modern science wrong. We understand more about the world and our place in it than the character of Moses could have possibly dreamed. Knowledge obtained by observation will always be superior to knowledge obtained through revelation.

Instead of spending time and energy on reverence for our religious leaders, that admiration should be applied toward scientists - real life humans who are much better equipped to uncover the actual truths about the universe. If we are to stand in awe of anything, it should be the fruits of their labor. The actual universe is so much more beautiful, complex, and awe-inspiring than any superstitious belief in Heaven or Paradise could ever be simply because the universe is real. Science is real and it shouldn't be so easily dismissed when a religious contradiction arises. If human beings have the ability to think critically using rational arguments, intelligent communication, and emotional maturity, then we have the ability to evaluate specific claims of truth. We do not have to accept any religious claim because we want it to be true, it makes us feel good, or because it simply is being asserted. We can ask for the evidence. We already do this in every other discourse of our lives. Religion does not deserve an exemption.

In the spirit of intellectual honesty, it is imperative that we not only admit but embrace our ignorance. We shouldn't claim to know something when we don't. This means being open to changing our minds when new facts warrant the change. If we are told that God stopped the sun in the middle of the sky for nearly 24 hours to allow Joshua to finish his battle, we would do well to question the evidence before accepting it as fact. That type of claim is not just religious - it is also a cosmological claim about the way in which our universe and our solar system work. Our scientific knowledge is advanced enough to realize just how impossible that claim really is without invoking the Divine Default. As such we should be open to changing our minds on the historicity of the claimed event and at the same time recognize the deterioration of credibility for the original source. Far too many people refuse to change their beliefs even in the presence of invalidating evidence. Refusal to change belief is a refusal to make an honest attempt at finding the truth. The Dalai Lama once said "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change." Imagine if every religion took that same position.

In the end, it all comes down to choice. We can choose to believe in things because the evidence suggests it or we can choose to believe in things precisely due to a lack of evidence. We can choose to be open to reason and logic or we can be closed off from it. We can choose to indoctrinate our children into a specific faith or we can choose to let them decide for themselves. We can choose to discuss differences rationally or we can choose to use violence to get the results we want. We can choose to be good out of compassion for our fellow man or we can choose to be good out of divine fear. We can choose to seek knowledge or we can choose to be content with what we know. Ultimately, the choice is ours.