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By Dr David Laing Dawson

We humans need social organization, ritual, and a degree of certainty. Can we have these without religion? For religion is stupid.

Of course religion forges community, provides ritual and relief for all the difficult passages in life, and in death. But it also creates an “other”, the others who don’t believe and therefore are …what? Pagans, infidels, non-believers, not quite as human and worthy as we believers are?

Because of its hierarchical structure, its need for ancient texts that give it a possible divine authorship (except Scientology, which is based on the credos of one of the last century’s science fiction writers, but then Scientology is really, really stupid), it can also lead to ideologies that are extreme and intolerant.

The Quran and the Bible both offer some good advice in the service of leading a decent, loving, respectful, generous life, but they also, here and there in their texts, recommend, or allow, some outlandish and primitive behaviours, from stoning non-believers and adulterers, to raping and enslaving women captured in battle. And the absolutist quality of each teaching, each precept, combined with the authority given to the alpha male at the top of the heap and each of his underlings, is a recipe for the development of cults and the abuse of power.

In a way, while proposing to be a vehicle for stifling and limiting our worst instincts, the structure of religion actually provides cover for narcissistic despots, sadistic cult leaders, sexual predators and con men around the world…from the catholic priests given control over the lives of children, to jihadist imams, to doomsday cult leaders, and filthy rich evangelical healers.

Through the last half of the 20th century it was pleasing to see a gradual increase in the percentage of people surveyed in Canada who proclaimed no religious affiliation. And if we put aside regimes with communist leadership, we find that a list of those countries of the world with the highest proportion of non-believers, reads also as a list of countries with the best health care, the best educational systems, the least violence, the most tolerance, and who are the most egalitarian in principal and practice.

But then came the 21st century. A great disappointment so far.

But the lessons are clear from the second half of the last century: If secular society and good democracies can improve and continue to improve our general welfare, education, health care, tolerance, opportunity, equality for all, then our need for religion will fade, and along with it, the intolerance and abuse it fosters and excuses.

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