The Downsides of Religion (aka Humanity Has a Lot to Lose, Too)

This is the promised part 2 to the last post addressing Pascal’s Wager.  Buckle your seat belt, because this is going to be a long one for what was originally an individual supporting point.

Religion – and Christianity, my particular focus here – has its benefits.  It can provide peace of mind if you’re sure you’re saved.  It provides community.  In God you gain a friend who will never betray you or be unavailable to talk, whom you can be completely honest with (because like, he already knows all your secrets anyway), and is the ultimate “I’m personal friends with the owner” card should he share your interest in a particular moment.  But, there are a lot of catches.

Choosing to be a Christian isn’t a no-loss/only-gain choice.  It costs us, perhaps more than the chance of God’s being real is worth.  The following examples may not be true for some people, but for many they are.  I’ve given most of them under the temporary assumption that all Christians believe in loving your neighbor and showing basic kindness to everyone, in order to avoid the counterargument that I’m only thinking of the more militant believers who have missed those Bible verses.

  1. You spend Sundays and possibly Wednesdays in church. You spend time praying and reading the Bible.  That time could have been spent in other ways (for example, writing).
  2. You tithe, and/or donate money to religious causes, spending thousands if you’re an adult.  That’s money that could have gone to St. Jude’s, or your car payment, or your college fund, or something more productive than funding missionaries.
  3. People sometimes pray and assume that’s all they can do, when in fact they could have made a practical difference to help someone.
  4. Religion frequently clashes with science, which slows down advances that could improve the quality of life for all of us.  (The objection by some Catholic bishops to Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine is an example.)
  5. Yes, religion may have many benefits in regards to mental health, but it also creates problems for some people.  What if your elderly grandpa is a non-believer?  You and/or your Christian family will have anxiety over that, and grieve (needlessly) that he went to Hell should he die still a non-believer.  What about the guilt you feel over sinning, when in fact what you did wasn’t that bad and you were beating yourself up for nothing?  What about the kids who are frightened into believing because they’re terrified of Hell?  Then of course there are the people who are encouraged to just trust God and pray more when they should be getting professional help for legitimate mental illnesses.
  6. Religion is also a source of discrimination and other social issues. What if religion is wrong, and all the time someone spent preaching against homosexuality did nothing but make many people feel bad about themselves, and potentially tear apart families?  What about the lesbian teenager whose family disproves of her identity because they believe she’s living in sin?  Even if they don’t disown her, not having their support has an impact.  Or the bisexual guy who, until the recent court decision, could have legally lost his job for his sexuality?  What about the teen pregnancies that happen because adults assume that their kids “wouldn’t do that kind of thing,” and consequently don’t educate them on how to use birth control and have safe sex? (Fun fact, people do “that kind of thing” even if taught it’s sinful.)

As I said before, not all the things I listed will be true for everyone as individuals.  There are some Christians who don’t oppose homosexuality.  Many support science to some degree.  Not everyone is particularly worried about getting to church on a regular basis.  But, looking at the group overall, all these issues are present, and they stem from the religious foundation(s).

Choosing to be Christian, or otherwise religious, is not merely a “fire insurance” choice.  You have to consider both the gains and the losses.

6 thoughts on “The Downsides of Religion (aka Humanity Has a Lot to Lose, Too)”

  1. If I may add one more loss from religion – The years and mental energy we as a couple put into Bible study could have been used in something more useful to humanity, like medical research or quantum technology. Now we are 20 yrs behind where we could have been academically.

    1. This is so true. When I was first becoming an atheist I did the math. On average every week, I was spending more time doing bible/church related things than I was sleeping it was enough to equal a full time job. If I had been working a job instead I would probably have a good amount money saved up right now

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