Faith, by definition, does not base itself on facts or logic. Unsurprisingly, that has a wide variety of – when you think about them – extremely weird consequences. In countries with Sharia law, artificial insemination may only be performed by a woman’s husband and only with a husband’s sperm. In In parts of India, they throw small children from rooftops to improve the children’s luck and health. Someone managed to convince a woman in Switzerland that she can live off of sunshine and that she doesn’t need food…so she died of starvation. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions, effectively preventing donating or receiving blood or organs. The Catholic Church considers condoms evil, but does not seem to mind millions dying from AIDS as a consequence. Abortion is not allowed, regardless of e.g. rape, health hazards etc. Religious differences have forced or prevented countless marriages…it is woefully easy to continue this enumeration ad nauseum. All of this stems more or less from faith, which is based on promises, instead of evidence and logic. All of it is useless, a lot of it is dangerous and some of it is fatal.
A less clean-cut consequence of faith and by extension religion is the cultural context it creates when it reaches a certain critical mass. The cultural context is one of prescribed instead of provable truth, authority figures, censored and auto-censored thought, rampant discrimination along religious, gender and other lines, familiarity with halting rational thought when it reaches dogmata or heresy…basically, ideal conditions for development of fanaticism. It is the kind of fanaticism that yields mass suicides, terrorism (e.g. poisoning school girls because they’re not supposed to get an education), extreme oppression (e.g. murder and torture by the Catholic inquisition), death threats and burning embassies because someone made a film featuring the prophet Mohammed. It is the kind of fanaticism that prevents homosexuals from attending school and that punishes gay sex by death. It supports the most extreme forms of gender inequality: a Muslim woman can’t marry a non-Muslim man, but the reverse is allowed, all women have to be under guardianship of a male relative or husband, women must get consent from their guardian to get a passport, go study abroad or undertake major surgery (!), must get consent from their husband to get a divorce (!), can have one husband, but a husband can have more wives; all positions of power within the Christian Church (priests, bishops, popes) are reserved for men, all Church policy matters decided by men alone etc.
A number of rules, practices and traditions in religious societies sabotage education: girls as young as 14 allowed to get married, homosexuals not allowed to attend school, extremists poisoning school girls to scare them away from getting an education, introduction of catechism in public schools taking away precious pupil time from actually useful subjects… But it’s not always the direct effects on education that are the most problematic. Not leaning on reason as its foundation, religious teaching promotes the 19th century style of education in which the teacher is the absolute source of absolute truth. He spews facts at the pupils and humble pupils are valued according to how much of them they can memorise and parrot back…roughly the exact opposite of teaching children to understand, evaluate, reason about the world around them, solve problems, look for solutions, which are the kinds of skills that make them adaptable, creative and confident. In markedly religious societies religious values and rules take a toll on education, which in turn sabotages progress and well-being in a society while at the same time allowing societal power structures to control an uneducated population more easily.
Hypocrisy with religions is the rule, not the exception. When Nazi doctrine provides ideological support for Nazi crimes, it is globally prohibited (as it should be), but when Christian doctrine provides the same kind of ideological support for centuries (!) of crimes and atrocities during the Middle ages, such as those committed by the “Spanish Inquisition” or as part of Crusades (aggressive wars, pillaging, massacres, cannibalism…), there is of course no such doctrine prohibition (see Part 1 of this article to understand why). If Stalin was a monster for killing millions, shouldn’t Christians consider Yahweh even more so, having supposedly drowned almost all life on the planet? The Christian Church declares care for the community as one of it’s key objectives, yet e.g. in Croatia, it is often the case that churches are constructed on school playgrounds, displacing children onto streets. The Catholic pope warns against superficial glitter, dressed in and surrounded by more gold that most people will see in a lifetime. Again, I could continue ad nauseum, but the point remains that religion pushes the boundaries of hypocrisy so far that people become accustomed to it and learn to expect it. What long-term effects such a role-model has on society is anybody’s guess.
Religion is a major drain on a societies resources. In Croatia, the Catholic Church gets 55 million Euro per year (directly, that is: the actual cost is likely an order of magnitude higher): that is 3.5x more money than the aggregate national subsidy for higher education (about 15 million Euro) or 50% of the total yearly budget of the second largest Croatian city. There is a similar tax in place in Italy and probably in a number of places around the world. The Catholic Church has a building with related real estate in almost every neighbourhood of every city, in every town and every village: there are few organisations owning more real estate than they do. That, by the way, is also the size of the self-propagating indoctrination machine. I’m sure similar is true for other dominantly Christian, Jewish and Muslim countries.
Then there is the matter of wasted time as a precious societal resource. Say a country has 85% declared believers (of whatever faith) and that they pray and attend service a conservative 4h every week. In a country like Italy (60 million people), that is 12 billion hours per year. This means little to most people, but maybe it would mean more if I said it is the same amount of time a company with 6.3 million employees could put in per year: that is more than Google, Apple, IBM and Siemens combined – 9 times more. I would say that this time, energy and effort could be used for better purposes, but that would somehow suggest that using it for prayer and service attendance is also good, which is not the case. Instead, I would say Italy might be lending money to Germany, not the other way around, if Italy had another 6.3 million employees. Or that they would be the most educated country in Europe if the time was spent on whole-life learning. Or the absolute champion in health if the time was spent exercising. Instead, people whisper their desires to a hypothetical bearded man whose main requirement of them is obedience.
Because maximising their power is a good self-propagation strategy (again, see Part 1), they will tend to work against state secularisation, almost by definition. In other words, left to do as they please, religions are increasingly obtrusive and imposing. Money in the USA has the words “In God we trust” printed on it and their congressional sessions start with a pledge including the phrase “one Nation under God”. Managers of public hospitals and universities complicate and prevent access to contraception to their staff because of religious beliefs. In Italy, Croatia and quite likely many other countries around the world, taxes to finance religious organisations are mandatory for everyone, regardless of personal conviction. In Croatia, there have been cases where military personnel has been called to discipline because of failure to attend religious service. The Catholic Church requires equal rights for school catechism (which it effectively already has), when it is a mockery of education that it is taught at school at all. In one case the Church even asked the Prime Minister – a self-professed atheist – to justify (!) why he was absent from religious service held in celebration of a state holiday.
Then there is Islam, which in many countries is obtrusive to the extreme. Sharia law is a core part of national legal systems in some 15 countries and it dwarfs the Catholic church at its worst (arguably, during the Middle Ages). In countries with Sharia law, extreme and violent penalties (including the death sentence) are prescribed for things like eating the wrong kind of food, promiscuity, gay sex, rejection of faith, walking around without a male guardian, depicting their prophet Mohammed etc. It goes without saying that religion maintains a key role in politics, culture etc. The impact on freedom of speech, education, science, selfdetermination etc. is effectively impossible to measure.
Another hard to measure cost of religions comes from spreading the concept of absolute authority and, more generally, teaching subservience to authority. When coupled with tolerance of injustice, the only possible social effect is massive anaesthesia of any attempt to modify the status quo. This, in part, enabled Christian institutions to retain their power through the Middle Ages, protecting the powers that be from popular unrest, revolutions, the guillotine and the firing squad. It was all, of course, at the expense of the people, indoctrinated or not: it was the people who still had to toil away in copper mines, rice fields and on fortress walls, who had to bare increasingly unbearable taxes, who had to stretch at the end of the tyrant’s gallows…until it would all fall apart in violence and blood. “The meek shall inherit the Earth…” – religion’s role was to delay this reaction: sometimes by a few years, sometimes by a few centuries, but always to the untold suffering of what is today called “the 99%“.
It has been shown that belief in a god is inversely correlated with IQ, i.e. almost 100% of people with an IQ bellow 90 believe. At the same time, national leaders are (possibly contrary to some beliefs) people with above average intelligence. This strongly suggests that they were not very religious, yet when “in God we trust” is printed on money, “one Nation under God” is part of the national pledge of allegiance and 80% of the population is religious, there is extreme pressure to conform. In general, looking at it statistically, it is likely that political leaders in religious societies are either religious and not very intelligent or are deceitful and atheistic. Depending on how cynical you let yourself be, you might say that this explains a lot about the state of affairs in the world today…
As I write this, it feels like I’m only scratching the surface of the deep wounds religions leave on societies, like there is no end in sight. I could go on about various cultural impacts, paedophilia committed by the clergy, systematic concealment of crimes committed through the long years, etc, but the point is simple: religion has no more place in modern societies than do slavery, tyranny, aggression and the like. While it is far from obvious in which way the situation will develop, there are signs of hope: about 210 000 Catholics have left the Catholic church in Austria from 2007 to 2010 (and the trend is accelerating), service attendance has halved between 1990 and 2006 in traditionally religious Ireland and so on. In the meantime, if nothing else, we get first row seats in a massive, global, social experiment second to none that is religion: a world view built around a decision to believe what you’re told instead of what you see.