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The psychology of religion, part IV
Religions and the problem of dogma
Author’s note: Many readers who find this article are likely to be religious. This article is not a criticism of you as a human being. It is, however, a criticism of some of the things you may believe to be true without having any valid reason for doing so. Cultures are psychologically powerful but often irrational. If you’re offended, I understand. If you want to go away and never come back here, that’s fine. I hope you wake up from your faith somewhere else because faith is also belief in the absence of any evidence.
Definition of dogma
1 a: something held as an established opinion especially: a definite authoritative tenet
b: a code of such tenets pedagogical dogma
c: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church
From the Merriam-Webster dictionary
Humans have a tendency to assign value to ideas based on wholly inappropriate factors. Thus bad ideas become culturally dominant regardless of their merit. This is a method of social control used by elites and rulers for many thousands of years. When humans invented writing, it became all that much easier to take bad ideas, write them down, and then claim those ideas as the final word on the state of human affairs. Dogma is a monopoly on authority that is without merit.
Bad ideas can be extremely popular. The same Christian dogma that is culturally dominant in the United States in 2022 was used to justify owning other human beings here from the 17th century until 1865 and is still being used today to justify bigotry and prejudice among some groups of dogmites. Inter-religious conflicts have caused far more harm to humans throughout history than almost any other single cause. Prayer is a useless exercise in massaging one’s own ego and pretending to do something without actually doing anything except wasting the time of everyone involved in the praying.
Religion is mentally lazy
The holy texts of the world’s Abrahamic religions were all written thousands of years ago and all make claims that they are the unchanging, perfect words of a supernatural being who created the universe. Fundamentalist practitioners of these three faiths, of whom many hundreds of millions walk the planet today, have an old, outdated, and incorrect worldview that they feel justified to force upon other people by the texts themselves. But these texts do not cover most of the conditions of modern life. There are instructions not to eat pork or shellfish but nothing is mentioned about whether it is OK to have your DNA sequenced. That’s because the patriarchs who wrote the texts imagining what the deity wanted from us had no clue about DNA. You would think it would be mentioned!
The bottom line is that religion acts as a coping mechanism to help people avoid actually thinking about and working together to solve real-world problems. The most religious people in the world also tend to be the poorest. There is a correlation between one’s real or perceived level of helplessness and religiosity.
Let’s get back to dogma. A dogma is a belief or collection of beliefs that cannot be doubted or questioned. Such beliefs retard human progress because they do not leave any room for newer, better information that can result in positive changes. “It’s true because the Bible says so” is not a good enough answer because there is absolutely no evidence that the book is what it claims to be: the authoritative instructions of the being that created the universe. Faith is not always problematic, but dogmatic faith is because it claims authority that it cannot rationally defend.
As an atheist, I have a duty to keep an open mind. While I currently do not see any evidence of any gods existing in the universe, it would be dogmatic of me to state this as irrefutably proved. That is simply not true. A lack of evidence proves nothing. Just as dogma has no authority without dogmites willing to defend and proselytize the dogma by force. Christianity dominates the West because of dogmites who used force to spread it, not because it is correct in any claims of authoritative knowledge. The same applies to Islam’s dominance of the Middle East. Neither body of dogma has any evidence to back it up, but there are nearly a billion people who claim allegiance to each. Many of them have never closely examined the actual teaching of the faith they identify with. They are simply culturally compliant with the accident of the time and place into which they were born. Dogma does not limit itself to religions. Study the reasons why psychiatrists were once referred to as alienists for a non-religious example of philosophical dogma that damaged an entire field of emerging science for centuries.
All dogma is bad, and all Abrahamic religions are also dogma because their teachings have the authority of a supernatural all-powerful creator of everything behind them. Dogma causes unsupportable cognitive biases and cognitive dissonance. An integral part of Abrahamic faiths is the mechanism of passing them on to new generations. This cultural requirement is present to ensure that the dominant social structure maintains itself even if better options for managing social systems have been discovered. That is why modern Christians and Muslims have to do mental cartwheels to avoid the dark pasts both the faiths have supported and insisted were the will of an all-powerful deity. Not so long ago, this deity wanted Muslims and Christians to own human slaves and slaughter anyone who practiced a different version of the faith. Many fundamentalist Muslims and Christians would enthusiastically return to the period of history where slaughtering and enslaving all your enemies, real or perceived, is the order of the day. The faithful Abrahamites spend a good deal of their time arguing with each other about who is more right or wrong and engaging in whataboutism. Anytime a logical fallacy is pointed out the only answer the apologists can offer is their nonsensical dogma. But reality smacks that thinking into oblivion if you allow reality in. Nothing in the Quran explains the actual laws that govern the universe. Nothing in the Quran can actually justify the morality of owning other humans and marrying children. The Christian books are just as filled with obvious shortcomings claiming to be divine. Beautifully written passages from thousands of years ago should be viewed for what they are: old knowledge that does not apply in the here and now. Are there nuggets of ancient wisdom in old holy texts? Probably. Should one base one’s moral and ethical baseline on these books? Absolutely not. That’s a fool’s game when viewed through a rational lens.
In part five of this series, I will address how religious dogma traumatizes and damages developing young human minds, as well as discuss why I think teaching children any religion should be prohibited. In a progressive society, adults should be free to practice any non-violent religion they wish to, but they should not be free to force their children into the same set of dogmatic beliefs.