What does it mean to be an atheist, and why do atheists reject organised religion and the notion of a god? For author Harry Margulies, a leading proponent of atheism, the answer is simple: there is no proof.
Despite this, faith-based reasoning continues to determine the outlook of billions of followers worldwide, while religious organisations have a prominent voice in social affairs. Taking exception at this level of influence, Margulies has just published Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest, which offers an easy-to-follow logical analysis of the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) to uncover their incomprehensible and illogical nature, and the negative impact religious institutions can have on society.
We speak to him to find out more about why it is vital to question religion.
How would you define atheism, and why do you think it is the only logical position to take on spiritual matters?
The atheist has seen no evidence for any God. Atheists refuse to believe in something without evidence or even contrary to evidence. I have a bit of a problem with ‘spiritual matters’ in the question because I feel that spirituality has so many illogical connotations, from the healing powers of crystals to a special connection to the universe that are just about as illogical as religious beliefs. Far too many are prepared to believe in a god figure, without deciding which ‘god’. Atheism is the most logical position because it demands evidence and refuses to go along with what everyone simply believes to be true.
Organised religion is supposed to be a force for good but your book points out that it, in fact, harms many groups within society. Can you explain more?
It is a difficult question to answer but let’s start this way. There are more than 30,000 denominations, each one with a somewhat different way of worshiping Christ. Each one believes that their denomination is the only one which has got it right and all the others are wrong. There is no love lost between Protestants and Catholics, for example, in the name of the same Jesus. Organised religion needs its followers to stay in the fold. God doesn’t fund them; their followers do.
If we step outside of Christianity and look at the Taliban interpretation of organised Islam, that might help offer some clarity on your own religion and whether it remains a force of good.
So, religion and denominations are exclusive and internally are negatively hierarchical. Misogyny is not uncommon. For instance, controlling women and not permitting free love.
Let’s move on to televangelists who have a prosperity gospel and enrich themselves by sucking funds from the poor and the needy.
Just how powerful are organised religions in the 21st century? Why is this bad?
Very powerful and very wealthy, and not subject to the same scrutiny as secular organisations and corporations. For example, according to Christianity Jesus looks angrily at you when you play with yourself but the Church seems to have little issue with sheltering child-raping priests. At the same time as they are shielding the priests, they lobby against abortion. This is proof enough that they are more concerned about the yet unborn than the living victims of their own organisation.
Do you think that religious institutions should be allowed to provide schooling to children, and why?
I wouldn’t want society to decide how I am going to educate my children. Because of that I don’t think I can criticise even what I vehemently oppose, to the extent that I want it forbidden.
How and why did you come to become an atheist?
I started realising at around 14 that there cannot be a heavenly supervisor who knows everything I do, and has known so since the beginning of time, checks what I eat, and from what plates.
This led me to studying the Old and New Testaments, and the Quran, and finding them all wanting. In fact, the vengeful, wrathful god has so many human attributes that it is exceedingly more likely that he was invented by man in man’s image than man invented by God in God’s image.
If there isn’t a god then aren’t we, essentially, without purpose? Likewise, if there is no god then shouldn’t we all fear death?
We have no purpose and knowing that, we should enjoy life while it is here and not waste it on trying to have a better ticket into the afterlife—for which there is no evidence. If there is no god, there is nobody to put us in hellfire for eternity. The fact that as an atheist you ‘know’ that there is nothing after your brain and heart cease to function should be comforting to you.
Your book exposes numerous logical inconsistencies in religious teachings. Which is your favourite?
My favourite is that God failed in science class. God created a flat Earth covered by a dome with the Sun and Moon coming out of pockets at the edge. Stars at that time, believed to be small and simply in the sky for our viewing pleasure, fell onto Earth without consequence. We cannot say this is metaphorical or that it was an explanation fit for the people at the time. That would be saying that God is not omnipotent but that he is impotent. He must be the top communicator and could have made us all understand just because he wanted to. He didn’t.
Why do you want to challenge readers to re-examine their own religious beliefs, which may bring great comfort to them?
I believe that they’re living in a false comfort and it may be good for their children and grandchildren to live a life completely liberated from that imaginary supervisor.
Religion is, unfortunately, one of the leading causes of conflict in the world. Do you think it is possible to remove this element while still retaining the moral goodness these institutions promote?
The question is a contradiction in terms. How can institutions be leading causes of conflict and at the same time be leaders of moral goodness?
Is it possible to reconcile religion and science?
No. There are apologists such as Dr. Frank Turek, who claims he doesn’t have enough faith to be an atheist. That is nothing but misdirection because atheists do not have faith. Science is up for peer review (corroboration) and reconsideration when new evidence is presented. The Bible doesn’t allow that. The Quran is supposedly God’s direct word and a ‘perfect’ book. Any scientific discovery since the Quran has been written must either be shoe-horned into Quranic text or dismissed.
You are highly critical of institutional religions in respect to financial matters. Isn’t it the case that religions are intrinsically against profit and gain?
It’s not what you say but what you do that matters. Religious leaders tell us that they are against profit and gain. Let’s just take Mother Theresa, the now-saint, as an example. She collected money from some of the worst elements which included a swindler in the U.S. and the dictator of Haiti. She had no issue with using private planes from the wealthy and rarely used the money she collected for the people meant to be in her care. She was known to have religious doubts but funds collected by her went to the Catholic Church, which bought her a sainthood.
The enormous wealth of church organisations is invested for profit and so many scandals have been uncovered in order for churches to make financial gains. The Vatican has even been known to run brothels for double the profit—first a fee from the prostitutes and then from the sinner asking for forgiveness.
Your book makes many references to Occam’s razor. Can you explain this concept in simple terms, and why it is useful in discussions of religion?
Occam’s razor is, simply put, a way to find a good answer to a question. Occam’s razor says that the simplest answer is almost always right. The problem with religion is that there are so many ‘what ifs’. Theologians and apologists continue to try filling in the gaps. Rather than convoluted answers, Occam’s razor insists on simplification. When one removes the convoluted explanations, one finds that there are far too many unanswered and unreasonable propositions in biblical texts. Instead of putting many hypotheses around the answer, Occam’s razor cuts through all of it to the simplest conclusion.
Based on your reading of the various holy books, how would you sum up the character of God, should such a deity exist?
God of the Old Testament wanted animal and blood sacrifice. He directed genocide and murdering in His name. I would sum up the character of God as a jealous old man, being vengeful and requiring lots of attention. He claims to adore His children but subsequently punishes them in the most vile of ways, for things that he knew were going to happen.
Allah, meanwhile, commands his believers to forcefully convert non-believers that they have defeated in battle and also requires that Jews and Christians should be in an inferior position in their lands. They should have to pay a special tax and deliver it to a Muslim and do so in a degrading manner to demonstrate their submission to the collector.
You give many examples of hypocrisy within organised religions. Can you give an example of this?
When you find a pastor telling his flock that Jesus’ return is imminent, asking them for money and telling them they will be the only ones saved, you often find the flock cheering. These followers do not realise that they are cheering for a total genocide of the rest of the billions of people around the world. So much for loving thy neighbour! When a pastor tells his flock that the end of times is nearing, he should have to demonstrate that his investments are very short term.
Given your vast survey of organised religion, do you think there is a case for the argument that God exists and wants us to live in a certain way, but that all man-made institutions have simply misconstrued and distorted this message?
That is the apologist argument. What God does is right, man simply misunderstands and misconstrues. That argument makes an indirect claim that God, who we should remember is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent, could not tell humanity what he actually wants. God somehow was not aware of any other interpretation that would come up or of any new language that had yet to be invented by man. That is not the God of either the Old/New Testaments or the Quran.
Why Is It? We are Afraid of Being Descendants of Monkeys but Not Incest by Harry Margulies is published through Why Is It Publishing AB and is out now in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats, priced £19.95, £12.95, and £9.99 respectively. It is available online from Amazon and all good book stores. For more information, visit www.whyisitpublishing.com. Follow author Harry Margulies via Twitter or Instagram at @askwhyisit.
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