Its not uncommon for some to ask if religion were to vanish, what would change? Of course, most tend to focus on the means through which it vanishes, as that would have some impact (a discussion to take place at a later date), but I’ll focus mainly on what would happen if religion were to vanish as determined by the impact of religion which ultimately depends on religious ideas or practices. To make it unambiguous, that means that there will be that there is no other justification for the actions or ideas than those provided by religion. After all, if religion were to disappear, the things which are dependent upon it would likely go too.
Under Christian rule, homosexuals have been denied the right to express their love in much the same way as heterosexuals do by entering into legal agreements that would give them the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. In some instances, influenced by fundamentalist ideologies, there are those such as Pastor Martin Sempa of Uganda who have not simply been content to deny those rights, but to actively support laws which would result in death. Under Islamic rule, the same has been the case, often taken to the extreme of murder even in modern times, along with pressure not to practice any other religion, as Coptics (a denomination of christianity, perhaps older than Catholicism) experience in Egypt. Under both religions, free speech has been suppressed until such time as the religions ceased to be influential in government.
Regarding rights, be they influenced by religion or not, the ultimate question being asked is “what rights are we willing to deny others?” Of course, any person hearing that question without bias would say that there are no rights that we would be willing to grant to ourselves that we should be willing to deny others, either by active intention or by negligent complacency. But if the rights that devoutly religious people have been willing to deny others is any indication, that sense of equality does not apply among everybody else in the society. Take for instance the numerous right wing priests who’ve made declarations regarding religious minorities (a large number of which can be seen on the youtube channels RightWingWatch and OnKneesforJesus, along with the site RightWingWatch.org) in North America. Or one can also include the Imams and other religious authorities within Islam who are more than willing to condemn people to death, for the act of no longer believing, the “crime” called apostasy. In what other way could these be justified? Without religious dictates of what rights other people should have, in what way could the actions be justified?
While tying into rights, the ability to find better reasons for any of the rights or actions than what religions have provided or practice would be an example of what would improve. As an example, donating to help people. All to often within religion, donating tends to be done with the hope of a reward to be obtained during the afterlife, otherwise obtained through guilt and peer pressure. So which is a better reason? Personal greed for something for which there is no reason to think exists, fear of being rejected from the group, or compassion, empathy, and the desire to see improvement in the lives of others? While there are those who are religious who donate to help others without expecting any type of reward, they would do so without religious influence, as religions don’t produce good people, good people join religions.
The Abrahamic religions have imposed guilt for engaging in behaviors that are perfectly healthy (such as masturbation), instilled a sense of terror for thinking any thoughts which are considered blasphemous, both by means of childhood indoctrination with emotional manipulation, and do not need to be experienced. By establishing thought crimes and fear of eternal punishment for finite acts, religious parents and the various authority figures have caused undue fear, guilt, and regret for things that children and those who join do not need to fear. Perhaps most damning of religion is the abuse of a psychological process known as regression, combined with the use of emotional manipulation to convert people and keep them in the religion. In what way is the emotional health of those who endure it considered? Is it even considered?
In regards to the desire to help people, which ultimately lies at the heart of religious attempts to convert people who are going through regression, it can be done through means which do not leave people dependent. Through the application of therapy by those qualified to do so, one can begin to adjust to their situation, take control, empower themselves, and be prepared for similar situations in the future. While not entirely perfect, the therapies are gradually improved upon by those with the same desire to help people in need, but also possessing the desire to see it happen in such a manner that those going through it are as healthy as possible at the end of the process, with the practice of careful consideration for the ethics behind the methods.
When it comes to medicine and the health of people, religion has a long tradition of claiming to know what is best for health. Starting with the likes of Martin Luther, who claimed that doctors were fools for not thinking of diseases as though they were the product of demonic possession.
Then you get the likes of Ellen G. White during the late 1800s who made claims of divine inspiration when it came to health, yet made claims that had already been deduced by medical science shortly before, or were blatantly false. Worth noting is that she had discouraged the Seventh Day Adventists from going to hospitals. Rather interestingly, they ignore that by going to the extent of running their own hospitals. Unfortunately, I’m unable to comment on the quality of their medical care, if they still follow most of her claims, etc.
Even in the last few decades, the practitioners of Christian science and faith healing who believe that all diseases can be cured through prayer. This is problematic in cases where, by relying exclusively on prayer, children end up dying as a direct result of negligence and ignorance, as they don’t have the right to act on behalf of their own medical interest. Within the last few years, one of the better known examples would be Madeline Newman.
But how about we ease off of Christianity when it comes to health. In the case of of Shoura, a Shiite ceremony primarily carried out by radicals in modern times, those involved create wounds with the intention of bleeding. Where this creates problems for those engaging in the practice is that they have been attacked. When paramedics show up on the scene, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine who was attacked and who wasn’t due to the amount of blood at the scene. Between the unnecessary exposure to the risk of infection, the possibility of attack, and the problems that follow from an attack, it puts the health of those involved at risk.
Of course, the one thing that allows you to read this now, is the knowledge developed through years of meticulous investigation. With the numerous claims of religious people who practice what can only be described as an idolatry of “sacred” texts are guilty of the next, the knowledge produced through that means is frequently misrepresented. The active denial and rewriting of reality to conform with their beliefs. Take for instance the frequent quote mining by creationists and apologists. As an example, William Lain Craig in the debate with Christopher Hitchens quoted a book by John Barrow and Frank Tipler (The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, 1986) citing it as contemporary cosmology. The problem is, the author (John D. Barrow) has pointed out that the opinion quoted is no longer contemporary.
As another example of quote mining, creationists have no limit to quote mines. It is such that it seems as though the only means of supporting their position is to do so. Take for instance the following quotes
– Eric Lombard
– Jerry Coyne
In the first example, the quote was taken from Lombard, R. E. 1979. Evolutionary Principles of the Mammalian Middle Ear by Gerald Fleischer. Evolution 33: 1230, in which the details left out by those who’d engage in quote mining leave out that he had expressed disappointment that Gerald Fleischer had not tried to use the data available on the mammalian middle ear in a means that might improve the understanding of the evolutionary relationships among mammals.
In the second example, Jerry Coyne addresses it himself in the link provided.
It is so widespread that anybody wanting to find quote mines of biologists has no trouble running across anything, and finding anything which addresses the quote mines is rather limited.
If we were to actively deny and rewrite reality to conform with our beliefs in any other field, we would be considered willfully ignorant. So in what way does doing such a thing improve our understanding of reality? In practice, it leaves those who’re exposed to it ill informed as they frequently don’t investigate the source, and more frequently, the context. I doubt any would be inclined to say that misinforming people, hence limiting their knowledge, is ever acceptable
No matter which approach for evaluation you wish to use, if religion were to vanish overnight, or to cease to exist as a product of our continued progress, the disappearance of religion would infinitely improve everything. Be it the rights that have been long denied to people, the reasons we have for moral actions, the psychological, emotional, and physical health of people, and the denial of knowledge going all the way to misinforming others, I will ask. If religion were to vanish, what would fail to improve?
Now of course, some at this point might be saying something along the lines of “That might not be the case” while more perceptive readers might be saying “You stated earlier that they would likely go away.” Now of course, this could indeed be the case. What it depends on is if these elements of religion are indeed products of religion. Regardless of the case, outside of religion, there are no good reasons for any of the things mentioned. So as societies consider their actions more, the basis to those actions, and their impact, even if religions are not directly responsible for any of the things mentioned, it would be the case that societies would be less likely to endorse or condone these types of things.