What we need is a new religion. You may be surprised to hear me say that, since I have been known to be critical of many religious practices. I have always said, however, that religion itself is not the problem. The problem is that religions tend to be disconnected from real life. To have faith means to accept the teachings of a religion without any real evidence in support of those principles.
We all know the problems with religions, at least with religions that other people belong to. Everyone can see what is wrong with everyone else’s strange cults. Everyone thinks their own one true religion is, in its pure form, without flaw. If its adherents sometimes do evil things, it is because they are imperfect in their faith.
Take a hard look at your own religion. Consider this: if your faith teaches that true believers will be eternally rewarded, and those who do not accept the official doctrine are doomed to be eternally excluded from that reward, that is a serious problem. That leads you to devalue the unbelievers. If your gods have no problem with tormenting or destroying the damned, why should you care what happens to them?
It is wrong to believe lies
Every religion that is dependent on faith for its existence generates that kind of distorted view of reality. The problem is faith itself. Being based on faith, religious doctrine lacks an anchor in the real world. Once an idea becomes an article of faith, it is immune to criticism within the faith community. For instance, take transubstantiation, the concept that the bread consumed in the communion service is literally human flesh. The Christian denominations that hold to that belief require their members to believe it. It may be discussed, but the truth of it may not be questioned. The fact that chemical analysis shows the bread to be bread is easily explained away by redefining terms: the chemical composition of the bread is not part of its “substance.”
So faith prevents religions from adapting to new-found information. Now, to be fair, there are religious groups that permit their members to hold varying beliefs. I used to belong to such a group, the Unitarian Universalists. Their approach is a big step in the right direction, but it comes up short. The UUs still respect the varying forms of faith held by their members. Every person deserves due respect as a fellow human being, but their individual beliefs deserve respect only to the extent that they reflect reality.
Let me make clear that individuals have the right to hold whatever strange beliefs they want, and there is no problem with that until those beliefs start to damage the lives of believers and those they live among. The issue is that religious groups hold faith itself in higher esteem than the lives of those affected.
Faith: the original sin
Which brings me to the most important characteristic of a good religion: it should stand firmly against religious faith. Things ought not be believed on faith, but because of evidence that they are true.
If we operate by evidence instead of religious faith, we can refocus our attention on more important things. We don’t need to defend the idea that Earth was created 6000 years ago, or think about how to protect the life of a human embryo. Instead, we can study how recent findings on how our brains work might influence our attitudes toward capital punishment. Perhaps we can develop a more realistic attitude toward other cultures and reduce our tendency to resolve issues with warfare. Maybe. At least we won’t be training true believers to fly into buildings or murder abortion providers.
So let’s move with this idea, a new concept, a different way of looking at things. We don’t need a denominational structure, pastors or missionaries. I don’t think we should call it a religion, since that term has so much baggage. Maybe we should call this way of looking at the world “reality.” Then I guess the adherents of it will be real people.
After I put down the words “religion” and “reality,” I experienced a bit of déjà vu. I did a search and rediscovered a site I remembered having seen before, the Church of Reality. I am not currently associated with the Church of Reality, nor have I been in the past. Although I do not completely agree with all of their principles, I think they are largely on the right track, and I am happy to give them a nod. They call themselves “realists,” and they seem like real people.