Saturday, September 15, 2007
Religion and Freedom
Religious adherents should distribute according to the laws of thermodynamics. The degree to which they don't is a measure of their lack of freedom.
Let me elaborate.
Given that there is no verifiable proof of the correctness of any religion, one could make the naive assumption that they are equally likely to be true (or false).
If you accept that premise and given the easy spread of information via books, news and now the internet, if all things were equal it is not unreasonable to expect the number of adherents to the 3 major religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) to be somewhat equal in any given country. In a truly free country people should be free to switch between one and the other or abandon religion completely. So freedom also would lead to a significant population of atheists.
Again, very naively, you might expect the following (in alphabetical order):
Three things that would prevent this process of equalization are:
1) Once you are in a religion, it is unlikely that you will leave it due to being told that it is "bad" to do so. So religion is basically a "land grab" situation, the one that picks up the most adherents ultimately wins. All 3 or the "major" religions have this element to them. In the case of Islam, it seems that this is punishable by death. In the case of Christianity, you are threatened with eternal damnation.
2) People already in a religion tend to try to "convert" others. To not be part of a religion is to be ostracized to some degree. If you don't think this is true, try being an atheist in a small town in the Southern United States.
3) The state sponsors a religion - so there are direct benefits to be derived from adhering to that religion.
All three of these items reduce the influence of free thought on a person's choice of whether or not to follow a particular religion. If a person does not have the mental capacity to question their religious upbringing, does not want to give up the social acceptance and group reinforcement of a religion or is simply coerced by the government of their country, they will remain in a given religion.
The existence of an East-West divide in terms of religion (Christianity/Judaism in the West, Islam in the East) bears witness to the influence of these three thought-stifling factors.
To me, a decrease in the religious polarization and an increase in the number of atheists (such as has happened in the United Kingdom and other Western European countries) is evidence that people in those countries are thinking for themselves and are not being unduly influenced by their government.
However, the fact that the United States and many Arab countries still remain religiously polarized seems, to me, to provide evidence of thought-suppression. The inherent need of a particular religion to be self-continuing has been allowed to take root and not be challenged vigorously. These countries may be guilty, each in in their own way, of providing an environment that does not allow people to make a truly free choice between the religions, or for no religion. The fact that a majority of people in a country believe in a given religion is not evidence that the religion is true. Conversely, it raises a red flag - these countries probably have less freedom than others.
Time for today's quote:
I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do
because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.
-Susan B. Anthony
Until the next time, gentle reader, I remain,