I have delved into many subjects related to the ways religion influences and befouls human relationships, in my books, and on this blog. I investigated religion as a form of illness, as a hidden aspect of human thought, and its many other disingenuous features. The hypocrisy with which Americans extoll our freedoms does not allow for acknowledgement of how freedom slips away at the hands of planted politicians muscled into positions to do damage at the behest of billionaire zealots. We have no tests to show the effects of poorly and maliciously conceived laws, nor to warn us when laws get salted with ordinances that have no relevance to them. I wish to first increase your understanding of my views, and then suggest a kind of test for moral laws (laws dealing with human behavior) to pass before any consideration for enactment. Some may complain this would make it harder to get laws passed. Show, don’t tell me how that would be a bad thing.

My intention, here, is to portray how religion is a most obfuscated, misdirection-driven, vacuously-understood subject of common interest that affects, in some way, almost the entire population of our planet, man and beast. It first was given a position of privilege because it was considered a source of good. It has lately forcefully demonstrated its great potential to cause misery and harm to large numbers of people in one single act as one arm competes with another for territorial dominion. All kinds of apologia get used to justify its arms as innocent of any certain horror with distracting fingers probing at the one arm to be considered guilty, the way an octopus might defend itself against charges of murdering a fish it had consumed. Each arm bears a different name and gets further recognized by place and various differences in features, but all serve the same kinds of purposes, the most important and, perhaps, least recognized being to feed and defend the beast, and to secure its territory in the way evolution demands.

While that may be easy enough to see by any unbiased observer, it sheds no light on the guilt or innocence of the horrified onlookers scurrying to stay out of the way. The obfuscation of religion’s multiple definitions, their conflation into each other, the avoidance of equally valid but arguable other definitions, the separation of gradients into seemingly unrelated labels that range all the way from opinions through faith into fanaticism, all serve to hide the true nature of religion behind which it, in turn, hides in plain sight. We must learn to understand how religion includes all that we, as individuals, believe. All aspects of an individual’s belief interact within the brain to form that individual’s pool of real and false knowledge upon which opinions get formed and from which actions and attitudes result. The edifice we may go to for services may represent religion to us, but it is not religion. We may or may not worship a god, including a god named God, but that god is not religion, the worship is a religious act but not religion, the prayers may be a religious act but still not religion. The Bibles and Korans we may carry with us may be religious artifacts but are not religion.

Religion includes all those things and more. We can see in a typical dictionary how religion presents in two forms known as organized or institutionalized and personal religions. My religion will not be the same as our religion even though we proclaim the same name for it and attend the same edifice. In general, those who consider themselves religious recognize that as a fact, and understand and accept it. Among those who refuse to acknowledge that fact are the atheists whose indignation causes them to do a mad dance while they shoot themselves in the feet. Those who refuse to acknowledge that fact are the atheists whose indignation this idea may inspire. I am an atheist. I fully concur with the sentiment that denies atheism is a religion. It is not; however, atheist individuals are as busy at supporting their religiously held beliefs as anyone else. Atheists who deny esteeming unfounded beliefs are hurting their own interests to do so—but, that’s the nature of religion.

Many dictionaries avoid the full description of religion offered by the Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary:

Main Entry: Re-li-gion

Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at RELY

Date: 13th century

1 a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : CONSCIENTIOUSNESS

4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Many instances of cheap or free dictionaries offer only a variation of the first definition in both parts. It is context, however, not importance, that determines which definitions apply. Atheists typically express statements to which definitions 2, 3 and 4 apply while arguing to defend against accusations of holding beliefs and against acknowledging  anything other than definition 1. Reductio ad absurdum reigns in our midst! It goes into incongruity to argue in support of an idea while insisting you don’t believe it. If you don’t believe it, why should anyone else you would want to convince of its truth? Do you still doubt that and continue to wonder why atheists fail to be convincing? Why not try out the opposite tack and follow this page to its conclusion, while quelling your religious impulses along the way.

To do so, you only need to agree with this: It is belief that drives religion and elicits the complex of features from which it forms. That is it. It simply means that if you believe something, you will act (or wish to act) accordingly. What you act out (or wish to act out) signifies what you believe. That is your religion, clear and simple. All religions are not about gods, whatever yours would have you believe. Think Jainism, or the pure form of Buddhism.

Religious, however, in Merriam-Webster’s contextual definition 3 for that word, means

3 a : scrupulously and conscientiously faithful b : FERVENT, ZEALOUS

leaving only that context to apply to that word. But, fervent and zealous make it clear when applied at the personal level of interest we have here. Normal humans will only be scrupulous, conscientious, faithfully zealous about what they fervently believe, and also against what they fervently disbelieve—unless they fear the social consequences of acting otherwise.

As an atheist, a person without an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, I believe in Nature and trust that the practices of science have proved themselves worthy of a careful kind of zealousness and defense. I say careful because all that calls itself science does not apply the method, and has been publicized as science without deserving that label. That kind of science does not deserve belief nor defense. I also subscribe to a form of ethical hedonism as a moral philosophy for which I have developed a set of rules. I know what I believe. I know that when good evidence shows it to be untrue, I will believe that instead, once convinced. That is my religion. It grows as I learn, and fills me with pleasure.

Why is this important to anyone?

Many of the morals laws enforced in the United States at all the many layers of governance originate from the majority creed and infringe upon the rights of various individuals not part of that creed. To exacerbate that situation, the government has taken upon itself authority to determine which religions are ‘real’ without any tested standards to guide itself. By doing so, it has violated the constitutional injunction against establishment by limiting the right of smaller cults to compete against the majority, and the right of newer cults to compete against the older. An arm has effectively been established as a result, with few growing wise to its creeping covert insinuation over a span of decades. One brick at a time, the wall has been rebuilt into an alter while a cuckolded public smiled and praised its beauty. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have been imprisoned for innocuous actions, their religious rights violated, at immense expense to taxpayers who received no benefit. That cheats the public at no expense to the institution such embezzling practices enriched.

Science has foolishly abdicated its role by refusing to acknowledge any natural indicators for right and wrong, good or bad. It leapt from its throne of Nature’s authority and gave no bit to religion’s bridle, allowing free rein to heinous crimes committed in its name, after each of which one arm slapped the other while innocents scurried away to avoid inclusion in the body count. Any moderately aware American can think of at least three such incidents involving at least two religions.

It seems that, over the millenniums, humanity has settled on what gets called the ‘Golden Rule’ and its inverse, the ‘Silver Rule’, found in many cultures all over the world, as universal moral determiners. Morality is, after all has been said, about the wise practice of justice. That occurs when we become wise enough to realize that how we treat others governs, among wise civil people, how they will treat us.

The problem is that very few people are civil or wise, and most (driven by need or greed) will not much consider how events will play out in a distant future, and will opt for a more immediate scenario. From that, for the sake of justice, arises a need for rules and laws. Also for the sake of justice, I would suggest that lawmakers settle on how the principle of reciprocity given voice in the Golden and Silver rules must function in a modern secular society, and evaluate laws involving interactive behavior accordingly.

The Wiccan Rede offers in a concise form an effective moral statement pertinent to individual behavior in all circumstances, written to cover innocuous activities (paraphrased in a modern form): “If it harms no one, do what you will.” Applied as a team, all moral disputes should reach a quick conclusion using these three rules as a unit. True, to some it may seem silly, especially to those who remain oblivious to the damage done by current practices. Consider the nature of that damage and realize the serious nature of this quest. True, too, many will be offended by some results of applying that team of rules as a standard. Will it be worse to offend someone otherwise unharmed, or to ruin a life by enforcing injustice?—or, do we truly value others differently according to their beliefs?

I will end with some potential actions for you to consider, using the Team of Rules as a guide:

  1. A man habitually works in his yard while naked in full public view.
  2. A woman habitually works in her yard while naked in full public view.
  3. A person uses marijuana while alone on his/her own property.
  4. A person uses marijuana on doctor’s advice to deal with glaucoma.
  5. Everything related to sexuality seems problematic:
    1. Abortion: When does life actually begin?
    2. Should that be a factor?
    3. What about its effects on the world—if prevented? – if not prevented?
  6. A person’s smoking of tobacco leads to lung cancer:
    1. He holds society responsible for his care.
    2. He sues to hold tobacco producers responsible for his care.
    3. The government holds him responsible for causing his own illness.

Bickering over those actions and others like them will likely go on for as long as human beings respond to emotional feelings. Should that condition ever become common, there will be no more poetry, no music, no sweet words expressing love. I will be dead before much longer, so I won’t care. Those of you who plan to live forever might want to reconsider what it would be like to live in that kind of world, and use the three suggested rules to ferret out the actual consequences of all such actions, and apply them according to the actual needs of justice. Let whatever gods are involved deal with eternal consequences for the innocuous.