This is an essay I wrote for a 3rd year philosophy final year exam in university. We were asked to choose our own topic. While the title mentions religion, the essay is specifically about the Christian religion, as this is the religion to which I have been exposed to at length. Please discuss.

Religion as An Operating System, A Control Mechanism, A Reality

The desire to believe in an afterlife, an organized system, and essentially, an ever-present babysitter, appears to be hard-wired into humans everywhere throughout all ages. Evidence of religion in human society dates back as far as three hundred thousand years, to the Paleolithic era, and religion is still a prominent aspect of many lives today, affecting and influencing those who believe and those who do not in kind. An important question to consider is this: What is religion? What defines this institution, what are it’s parameters and characteristics. A religion is a cultural operating system with a set of tenets, do’s and don’ts, teachings, mythology, and typically hierarchy, based around a belief in a magical or supernatural entity. It is important to identify and acknowledge the fact that to believe in a religion which worships a deity or multiple deities is to believe in the supernatural. Religious people are magical thinkers. Incredibly, this does not prevent religious people from gaining important positions in governments worldwide, in schools, etc. To take the United States of America as an example, not one of their past Presidents have ever identified themselves as a non-religious person, all identifying with various branches of Christianity. This means that for over two hundred years, the person ostensibly responsible for the well-being of 300 million people has either been influenced in all of their decisions with regards to said 300 million people by their belief that a mythological omnipotent tyrant directly and wilfully responsible for the genocide of multiple nations due to prejudice against homosexuals, the sexually promiscuous, and the disobedient was watching them at all times and judging accordingly, or that the person in charge was a liar. This seems like a sorry and wholly unnecessary state of affairs. For a nation so large to be governed by someone who is not themselves governed at all times by reason, but by magical thinking also, is deplorable.

How, then, is this state of affairs permitted, time and time again? This would bring us back to the apparent innate tendency in humans, even in this age of technology and information, to gravitate towards superstition and magic. The argument that this is harmless, or that faith can have positive emotional responses is in my opinion, unacceptable. Too much violence has been performed with the righteous justification of religion to support it for religion, as a whole, to ever be considered harmless, and the harm done by sexual repression, gender repression, and repression of the mind in my opinion far outweighs any placebo simulated notion of peace of mind achieved by people engaging in what are arguably ignorant practices. Bertrand Russell once pointed out that it is not the business of sceptics to disprove the dogma of orthodox religious practitioners. He proposed a scenario in which he suggested that in space was a teapot, too small to ever be seen by humans, regardless of equipment. He further suggested that, given the fact that this somewhat preposterous statement cannot be disproved, if he declared it an unacceptable and unreasonable act to believe that the teapot did not exist, people would ignore him or think him mad. However, he added, if belief in the teapot was in ancient texts, and taugh as doctrine and dogma to young minds in schools for a long enough period of time, the act of believing the teapot to be fictitious would inevitably alienate the non-believer and draw suspicion as to the well-being of their mental health. I firmly agree with Russell, reinforcing my opinion that magical thinking strengthened by indoctrination is an ignorant practice. [1]

The above scenario highlights how it might be easy to abuse religion. In fact, I wish to make the point that as well as a cultural operating system, religion can be a control mechanism. Not so long ago in Ireland, the Catholic Church actively, unabashedly controlled the opinion of the nation by having the Bishops tell their catholic congregations who and what to vote for. The bishops were of course told what to say by their superiors, as is the case in the hierarchy of the Church. Therefore, because of the forceful and often violent imposition of a belief system into Ireland from a greater force, and the installation of this belief system into the minds of people through repeated indoctrination every week, one man as far away as Rome could choose to drastically influence the vote and the legislation of a foreign nation as he saw fit, possessing a greater degree of control than many of the local politicians.

The point of interest has often been made that many religions share the same set or a similar set of tenets or commandments. This point is often made conversationally to draw attention to the similarity of different religions, while glossing over the fact that millions of people are members of an operating system that commands them to do things, or to refrain from doing things. Part of the problem is that religions doctrine is malleable, and entirely in the hands of those in power, theirs to shape and twist to support a wide variety of actions. The teachings of the allegedly peaceful preacher Jesus Christ, (New Testament) founder of Christianity, have often been deliberately misinterpreted to justify violence, although paradoxically enough, many Christians consider the Old Testament to be the word of God also. The two do not go hand in hand, as the relatively peaceful New Testament contrasts drastically with the Old Testament, which in my opinion is difficult to view from a reasonable perspective as anything other than a deeply malignant book, advocating slavery, violence, vengeance, persecution of homosexuals, persecution of women, persecution of the sexually promiscuous and any who do not follow the strict tenets laid down for the reader. Terrence Mckenna once compared science and religion in a lecture of his, stating that in the realm of modern science, to disprove ones own theory can be viewed positively, due to the fact that some things cannot be proved, but only be empirically disproved, thus ruling out the possibility of their existence. This is viewed as progress. In religion, however, McKenna made the point that one never admits to being wrong, but simply “further elaborate[s] the story to save whatever preposterous notion has been exposed.”[2] With this state of affairs, it is clear to see the that is is this flexibility which has helped evolve and sustain religion. It is difficult to empirically disprove such a concept. The notion that an intelligent presence, invisible, undetectable, immeasurable by any instrument, is despite this somehow omnipotent and has created everything including ourselves is so incredibly ridiculous and elaborate, crafted with such blatantly deliberate impenetrable stipulations, that it brings to my mind the idea of a child playing cops and robbers who, upon being “shot”, insists that no, they have not been shot, because they have a thousand invisible bulletproof force-fields all around them, at all times, forever. Made of guns. It is not possible, in my opinion, to empirically disprove such notions to any real degree of satisfaction, which does not excuse the belief system from being categorically insane.

To elaborate on this, consider the fate of a person who suffers from delusions. One who imagines that they are being watched by unseen forces, that these forces are all powerful and magical, that they can hear their thoughts. Let us not even dare to imagine they might start to hear voices. This mental state brings to my mind two things: paranoid schizophrenia, and religious thought. As with Russell’s Teapot, one can see how individual insanity is a negative thing, but collective insanity is not insanity at all. Insanity is, after all, defined by the majority. The idea of people deluding themselves in this manner is even defended by those who are not themselves deluded, but simply respect peoples’ right to delusion. Another advantage favouring the system is the reverence associated with religion. This reverence and respect is crucial to the survival of religions, in my opinion, as it prevents religious thinkers from considering and discussing the possibility that they are wrong (and insane). Consider, to return to the specific religion of Christianity, the mythology surrounding the foundation of this religion, the life and death of the preacher Jesus Christ. The point is frequently made that were Jesus alive today, he might well be committed to an asylum. In fact, if I am entirely wrong, and the Christian mythology is right, God exists and Jesus is on his way, then that’s likely where you’ll find him. However, the point is often made with an air of horror or disbelief, people shuddering at the thought of this hypothetical situation. I believe that it is due to the illusion of reverence perpetuated by various religious institutions that many people do not consider religious myth with logical minds. Nothing is sacred. I consider it likely that Christ was indeed a real man. Let us return momentarily to the idea that today, he would be locked up for sounding crazy. We seem to have overlooked something, and that is the fact that when he travelled the land insisting that he was the son of a god with magical powers, he was locked up. Given that the era in which he lived was more prone to corporal punishment, he was simply crucified for good measure. I think that there are two alternatives to Christ being the son of god. He was either a con man who couldn’t keep his mouth shut, or a deluded man who didn't know better than to keep his mouth shut. His followers insisted that he wasn’t dead when he inevitably got himself killed, much in the manner of Elvis fans. Questions that should perhaps be applied to religion more often: which scenario is more plausible? Which scenario is more likely?

It is possible, non-empirically, (in the sense that literally anything up to and including celestial teapots and bulletproof children is possible), that Jesus was telling the truth. It is further possible that any one (or any number, if there are no territorial disputes) of religions are correct in their teachings, and it is possible that the worlds really was created by an invisible man/unfurling embryo/hatched egg/master sculptor. The problem is that it’s simply so incredibly implausible. In a situation such as this where no empiric evidence is available, one must make a logical evaluation of the situation and, if possible, decide upon the most likely scenario. Consider the following: you drop a penny down a dark well. You do not see it land, and cannot account for it’s whereabouts. You hear a splash directly afterwards and someone suggests to you that that was a fish, and that your penny remains in stasis halfway down, defying gravity. You cannot prove otherwise, but logic dictates that your penny has fallen as pennies are wont to do, and the most logical assumption is that your penny splashed. I think that the ability to approximate, to make logical choices, to separate fact from fiction must be kept separate at all times from our innate desire to believe in magic, from wishful thinking. The phrase “I know” is bandied about and debated often. Arguably, we know nothing and our present environment is an illusion and we are actually all static pennies. But I can safely say that in as much as I know anything, I know there to be know God, no magic. The difference between my statement and that of a religious person stating that they know there to be gods and magic is that mine is not based on hope and gut feelings, but on a logical evaluation of my environment based on experience and a working knowledge of that environment. We each have a different operating system, and on this topic, arguably even a different reality. Given the fact that one system is governed by logic and one is not, the fundamental importance of the difference between our statements is an issue that logical argument, unfortunately, might never solve.
Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us.