In my discussions on the subject of religion, I noticed with regret that most of the people with a negative opinion about religion have this view because they consider religion having a negative impact on society. Religion is considered, especially by young people, as an oppressive institution that “tells you what to do” and “exploits people”. This view is supported by the image that most people have in their mind for the “dark” medieval era versus the modern “enlightened and progressed” age of science in which we live.
This view is simply wrong for a variety of reasons that I will analyze immediately.
1. The Middle Ages was not a dark period. This characterization has been invented by a particular person and then its use was spread as part of the anti-Christian rage which engulfed people after the enlightenment. To totally characterize an era of 1,000 years as “dark” is at least arrogant and shows a highly suspicious oversimplification effort. In the Middle Ages the “exact” sciences did not really progress much as compared for example to the ancient Greece era, but there has been huge developments in the “humane” sciences. Never had man dealt so strongly with who he is, why he exists, what is moral, what is good, what is bad. As for whether this period was religious, one must have in mind that there was no separation of religion and science back then! Any bad things we see happening at this time mostly happened because society was 1,000 years before our own and not necessarily because religion prevailed. And it would be important to say that if Christianity did not dominate back then things would be even worse and more brutal – just imagine what would happen if the church with the authority it had did not come out to say that killing is a sin and that if you kill someone you will punished eternally in hell. The church made mistakes, that is for sure. But even these mistakes are exaggerated. For example, the Inquisition did not kill millions (total deaths amounted to a few thousand victims) nor did it without reason. Whatever it did, it did so under specific political conditions, the knowledge of which could change the mind of people who speak so harshly against this institution. (No! This is not to justify killing! Any killing is wrong and un-christianic! I am just stating the facts in order to show that such an “evil” church did not differ much than any modern state which kills people in the name of its interests) Bruno was burned because of beliefs that today someone who likes science would classify as highly religious. Galileo was a petty fraud who played with his friend the pope to an extreme and who ended where he ended because of his arrogance and not because of the evil religion. (Galileo’s fraud case, as the relevant case of Hypatia – was used fraudulently by opponents of religion to invent the infamous “war” between religion and science that exists only in their minds) The burning of whiches had resulted in a few thousand dead (instead of the “millions” usually assert by hardened atheists in their claims against Christianity) who even more often were men and not women and who were not condemned by the church but by the state. The religion was often used as an excuse for political decisions or political acts and to collectively blame religion for all the evils of the time is equivalent to blaming science for everything bad that people did in the name of science during the 21st century. The Middle Ages gave us Humanism (yes Humanism began to “dark” and “oppressive” Christian Europe) and then the Enlightenment – which in any case could not exists in a really dark and oppressive region such as the Middle East. The “religious” Byzantium had two “Renaissance” periods long before the West had any. Universities started from monasteries (and Dawkins teaches at such a university). People were looking into how the world works because they believed that they can understand the mind of God made him (the ideological basis of science).
2. The modern era we live in is considered “enlightened” and “progressed”. But in how many areas are we really progressed? In technology we certainly are. But this does not mean anything per se. More than 1000 years from now people will consider us almost “barbarians” with our poor technology of today. The technology has not much to do with science as some would like to believe. Invention is one thing and science that leads to the explanation of how and why the invention works is another (many inventors did not even know why their inventions worked, something which we “learned” after many years – the word “learned” in quotes because with science we can never really know something but only express theories). Moreover, the technology has a dark side that few want of us want to refer to (alienation, dehumanization, loss of skills, etc.) In medicine we are also progressed, but we should be careful to examine in which areas and why. Modern medicine successes are more related to technology than science today. And not forget that medicine relates to many things that most people people would characterize as purely “religious” in nature, such as faith (see the “unexplained” phenomenon of placebo) or love (if it the logic of cold science had prevailed, we should kill the weak and not help them – the first hospitals were launched in the “dark” Middle Ages as sites of charity to the poor). But how progressed are we in other areas such as personal happiness, personal psychology, ethics? In an era where depression is the No. 1 disease, how easily can we talk about “progress”? In an era where parents give up their children, where killing babies is considered a “right” and where the killing of civilians is considered “collateral damage” (let’s compare it to the rules of war between knights in the “dark” Middle Ages) how easily can we talk about humanity? At a time when cold science can sterilize some people in the name of eugenics (which was for years practiced in the US and other countries long before the evil Hitler), and which attributes everything to bad genes, how easily can you speak of “progress”? (Let us compare this with the Christian philosophy of free will) At a time when millions die either in world wars (as compare to the… zero world wars during the “dark” Middle Ages) or by some… atheist (see Stalin) how impertinent you need to be in order to speak for the dead of the “dark” Middle Ages? At a time where we tag as racists those who speak in favor of what is normal, how can we have the nerve to talk about logic? At a time when cold science has made everything in the universe look like lifeless machines made up of electrons and dark matter wondering in a cold dark cosmos, how can we dare talk about the era of “enlightenment”? At a time when our thought is so impregnated with philosophical doctrines (e.g. materialism, mechanistic view of life, etc.) how can we dare speak about dogmatism? (especially if the dogmatism to which we refer to has to do with things like love and forgiveness) At a time when science claims that it can do everything (even… resurrect people) how can we be so sure that the same things did not happen once before? At a time when science itself has proven that he can not prove everything, how hypocritical are we to talk about science that will lead us to the Truth? In a world which has been lost in nihilism and materialism, religion seems needed more than ever.
3. Religion actually does tells you what to do. But as an advice. But why is this a bad thing? Parents tell their children what to do, out of love and concern. It is then up to the child’s own free will whether to listen to them or not. We have so much belief in the “everyone does what he wants” philosophy that we do not even want to hear any prompts whatsoever. But one trip made without any compass is doomed to fail… Who disagrees with the “Thou shalt not kill” advice? Is is bad because religion says so? While if the same thing is said by… Sociology it is automatically tagged as good advice? If God says something it is “a tale built to exploit people” but if the same thing is said by a particular theory (which based on other axioms or on other data could give a different result) it is correct and one should listen to it?
4. Behind every discussion about religion as a secular institution there lies the controversy whether God exists or not. Because ultimately if God exists, then how can religion be bad for just telling the truth? Whatever way you analyze it, the whole discussion is ultimately reduced to this simple question: Do you believe in God? This issue requires greater analysis and I have written several related articles. Arguments in favor of His existence are many and strong – clearly stronger than the arguments against His existence. The basic position of atheism that the universe exists by chance and without reason is simply absurd and strongly unscientific. The basic position of the anti-Christians that man is simply a set of meat and bones moving like robots obeying to whatever their genes dictate is so childish as a worldview that everyone can recognize how wrong it is based what he experiences, understands and feels during a normal day. In a universe without God and without sense … what is the point of talking about good and bad (i.e. for bad religion and good science)?
~ Spiros Kakos, August 2016, Athens, Greece