As society enters the Information Age, more can be questioned and researched. Everything is on the table, even deeply held personal beliefs like religion. A recent study by the University of Arizona and Northwestern University suggests that religion, and Christianity in particular, “will be driven toward extinction” in nine countries in the near future. This trend, while disturbing to people of faith, makes sense as Internet access becomes more widespread across the world. Contact with people of other faiths can cause people to question whether they picked the right one: How do you know you have picked the right deity to believe in? Literally millions of gods have existed over the course of mankind, making the chance somewhat slim that yours is the real one.

The trend also makes sense because scientific progress can refute many of the basic tenets in holy texts. For example, scientists now know that the Earth is billions of years old, not several thousand as implied in the Bible. The stories about Jonah and the Whale, as well as Noah’s Ark, can also be safely assumed to be fictional, due to knowledge of digestive acids and fossil records, respectively (if you think the Bible is allegorical, those are your words, not God’s). The new religions are equally as wacky: Scientologists believe that Xenu, dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, brought billions of people to Earth and blew them up with hydrogen bombs in volcanoes, whose souls are stuck to the bodies of the living today. How they decided this story was more believable than Noah’s Ark is beyond me. But if you say I cannot prove God doesn’t exist, I say you can’t prove Xenu doesn’t exist.

Many of my friends, even religious ones, would admit that their holy texts have stories that cannot be taken seriously. They even admit many of the laws in those books are draconian (by the way, how can a deity be omnipotent if he can’t make rules that stand the test of time?). However, they usually argue that religion has produced a net positive effect for the world. Even if their chosen faith is not believable and their deity’s rules are blatantly immoral, the spirit of their religion is a good one, they say. It’s amazing how many people admit to thinking this, somehow implying that they don’t believe in their religion and subscribe to it like they are supposed to. Some non-believers defend religion in this way, suggesting that it is beneficial to mankind.

I take issue with the statement that religion has been good for the world. Believers say that faith-based groups perform charitable work to help those in need and give hope to those in pain. I do not discount that — people have indeed been lifted up through faith. However, those good deeds come at a price: keeping the “religion excuse” alive. Historically, religion has caused much violence — the Crusades and the Inquisition to name two. Nowadays, religion causes Middle East violence, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, subjugation of homosexuals, abortion clinic bombings and countless other ghastly events. Of course, many believers will say their religious beliefs do not imply the endorsement of those violent activities. True. But as long as faith is used as the vehicle for these good deeds, and religion permeates as a result, others will always have the “religion excuse” to do terrible things. Physicist Steven Weinberg once said that in a regular society, you will have “good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things … for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Mankind has already proven that it can do secularly all the good things that faith groups do, but without the aforementioned complications. If we can eradicate religion and do charitable works from the goodness of our hearts, and not because of a higher power, we not only show true compassion, but we also eliminate a few of the good people doing evil things that Weinberg talked about.

Religion does not make much sense anymore in the 21st century. The Internet and science are exposing many religious beliefs that have been accepted for a long time. Furthermore, secularism is showing it’s more than capable of providing charity and hope to those in need — and without religious baggage. The only thing secularism can’t do is provide a deity to save you … but how likely is it that your deity is the right one anyway?

Dar-Wei Chen can be reached at chendw@umich.edu.

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