A Made Up Solution To A Made Up Problem

I realize this is a gross over-simplification, but it occurs to me that religion and a belief in various gods are, at their root, just attempts at making up solutions to deal with equally made-up problems. Or, to put it a different way, religions frequently invent problems that do not actually exist in order to be able to claim that the particular deity worshiped by that religion (and not any other deities worshiped by other religions, of course) is the only possible solution to that problem.

For example, religious beliefs provide the answer to the so-called “big questions” of life, such as “Where did we come from,” Why are we here” and “What happens to us after we die.” But why do those questions actually need to be answered? Religions would have us believe that humans have an innate burning desire to know the answer to these questions and that “God did it” is the most obvious answer, but billions of people go through their lives every day without ever even wondering about those questions. And even for those who do consider those questions in their daily lives, “We don’t know” is often a perfectly adequate answer. I mean, sure, it would be nice to know the answers, but it’s not so important to most people that we need to just accept some made-up answer rather than remain in ignorance.

Similarly, religions would have us believe that (a) it’s vitally important for everybody to understand what their “purpose” is in life and (b) their particular deity is the only thing that could ever possibly provide us with such a purpose. In reality, however, most people are perfectly capable of living a fulfilling and satisfying life without knowing what their “purpose” is, and those who do feel the need to have some purpose in life are perfectly capable of defining it themselves rather than requiring that one be imposed upon them from some external source.

Morality is another one that religions try and use as a reason why their particular deity is so important and necessary. “Objective morality can only come from a perfect and all-knowing external source, so our deity is the only possible explanation for it.” Except, of course, who said that humans actually need any sort of wholly “objective” morality in the first place? And even if we did need it, who is to say that it couldn’t arise solely from, say, our own innate empathetic nature as members of a high social species?

And then you’ve got free will. “Without God,” theists will claim, “every aspect of the universe would necessarily be wholly deterministic and that would make free will impossible. Therefore, the only possible explanation for why we have free will is God!” Except, of course, who is to say that a universe without “God” would necessarily be wholly deterministic in every aspect? Chaos theory indicates, for example, that sufficiently complex systems may not be deterministic. And then there’s the whole idea of quantum indeterminacy. Or perhaps free will actually is just an illusion after all and we just think we are freely choosing whenever we make decisions in our life. In fact, however, a universe without an omniscient God who knows in advance everything we will ever think or do seems a lot more likely to have free will in it than a universe with such a God.

And, of course, there are all of the rest of life’s mysteries that science has not yet been able to explain. What caused the universe to exist? How is consciousness possible? How did life first arise from non-living matter? How did DNA evolve? Religions would have you believe that we all must know the answers to these questions and that they have the answer (“God did it,” of course). But the reality is that, once again, most people are quite content to live their entire lives without ever considering such questions and have no trouble whatsoever not knowing the answers even if they do consider them.

I’m reminded of those late-night commercials that start out showing a bunch of weirdly incompetent people who cannot perform basic tasks in their lives like draining pasta without it spilling into the sink or keeping a blanket on their shoulders without it falling to the floor. You know…things that few people actually have trouble with on a regular basis. But once they’ve convinced you that these are real problems that real people have (even if they didn’t realize it), they can then sell you the miracle product to solve this imaginary problem that you didn’t actually have in the first place. Because that’s how most advertising works — convince people they have a problem and then sell them the solution to that made-up problem. The only difference between this sort of advertising and religion, of course, is that those products actually exist even if the problems they solve don’t.

Follow Barry Goldberg at Common Sense Atheism and you can purchase his great book by the same name, Common Sense Atheism at amazon.

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