By Larry Roszkowiak
With all of our recent concern about contracting Covid-19, we’ve lost awareness that we regularly encounter people who suffer from something equally deadly — something that most likely first infected the earliest of humans ages ago. Even though it’s responsible for millions of deaths, century after century, our species has yet to fully confront it. Now is the time.
It’s time to begin considering religion as a disease.
The model fits. It’s contagious. It can be benign or malignant, dormant or virulent. The very old and very young are the most vulnerable.
The most common symptom of religion is vacuoles of intellectual atrophy. When belief supersedes knowledge, the ability to acquire information, and then synthesize it into knowledge, falters from lack of use. In many cases, this ability suffers damage, yet continues to attempt to function, thus producing “knowledge” that is hopelessly flawed.
External symptoms of religion can include the spontaneous and unexplained suspension of knowledge that had been both legitimately acquired and confirmed. This causes sufferers to make decisions based on faith and belief instead of facts and observations.
A high-level symptom often observed is the situational rearranging or suspension of ethical codes. This can apply to the ethical code of the individual, and that of the larger group, up to, and including, the entire society.
My parents showed neither knowledge nor commitment to any religious specifics, yet they hauled us to church every Sunday, and packed us off to fake schools every September. By doing so, they acted as carriers.
My siblings and I were infected. As kids, we were told, and actually believed, that somewhere there was a powerful old guy who watched everything we did and judged us. We also were told that this grand being’s almighty judgments could be swayed and influenced. This influence was most commonly achieved through incantations, potions, charms and cash. As a child, I started to see this “god” as something akin to a crooked sports official who takes bribes, even while the match is in play.
With time, the siblings and I recovered. We developed antibodies which we passed to our children. The disease, however, mutates, leaving all of us still vulnerable to infection.
Our opinions come from the same perspective as our fantasies. My own opinions are from the perspective of someone making public policy, because that’s my fantasy.
Religion sufferers can often hold a perspective that’s rooted in an afterlife. This causes their interactions with their surroundings to be skewed by the professed belief that the events of life are of little consequence.
Unfortunately, religion sufferers are easy targets for liars. People who’ve contracted religion don’t have to be pried off of reality, because they’re already in a state of free-float. Once you believe water can be walked upon, you’ll believe anything.
Religion, and our vulnerability to it, are consequences of evolution. As humans grew more intelligent, we developed the ability to conceive of the future. Nature abhors a vacuum and rushes to fill it. Whereas absolutely nothing of the future can be truly known, our evolved brains hungered to fill that vacuum.
An accelerated version of this happened to dogs. Dogs’ natural evolution was hijacked by humans. We domesticated dogs and then bred them for various qualities. By breeding dogs for their ability to relate to humans, we also jump-started the development of their intelligence. As in humans, this intellectual development gave dogs the ability to sense the existence of the future. (“Oh no! They’re taking me to the vet!”) After a few thousand years, dogs’ slavish dependency on humans became too egregious to ignore. Losing even their hygienic skills, dogs had become vulnerable to religion. Humans stepped in to fill the void. The parallels of a human praying to a god, and a dog performing inane tricks for a snack, should not be lost on any observer.
Predatory behavior is an instinct. The human species is even known for intramural predation. Predators are naturally opportunistic. Humans, overwhelmed by their newly acquired cognizance of a future, were vulnerable, and a new type of predator evolved. Today, they’re known as “clergy.”
Predators seek the vulnerable, and religion cultivates extraordinarily vulnerable people. The aforementioned intellectual atrophies allow many religious sufferers to be easily turned into thoughtless followers. What they hold to be faith is often little more than a cultivated, intellectual laziness.
The specifics of the spirits and societies that populate any particular afterlife vary from culture to culture, and even from century to century. The wise rulers, and scurrilous villains, of the various afterlives were possibly lifted from the juicier social scandals and political events of the culture at hand.
Through some social process similar to molecular cohesion, the sufferers of religion tend to congregate and, in the worst cases, organize. In this way, the disease protects itself. The dynamics that develop in religious organizations in many ways mimic those of insect colonies and crime syndicates. All wealth is channeled upward to central individuals who are protected by a hierarchy of attendants. Those at the lowest levels are expendable pawns.
The pawns sedate themselves into accepting their role by having “faith” that those at the top will someday recognize their silent subservience, pluck them from the crowd, and joyously welcome them into the ring of the elite. In religions this is often called “paradise” or “heaven.” In the present economic system, it shows up as “Undercover Boss.”
It’s possible that both art and science could be seen as companion maladies to religion. Art and science, however, have a built-in integrity that religion lacks. Art is fantasy presented as fantasy. Science is fact presented as fact. Religion is fantasy presented as fact.
Religion is not innocuous. It is not to be protected. It needs to be treated.
FFRF Member Larry Roszkowiak was born in New Jersey.