The Western world. The capstone of civilization. The standard of society. Tolerant and progressive. Looking out from our peak of societal evolution, one thing dominates the horizon: We have a choice to make. Do we use of modern understanding of the world and rise into the unknown or cling to the earth we know, fall down and start our climb all over again?
Historically speaking, it is easy to mistake progress and tolerance as co-evolutionary traits. The ancient world was barbaric, ruthless and unaccepting of those with differences and we’ve been on a steady climb ever since, right? In some cases this is true. Maybe even most. Modern advances in medicine and psychology have resulted in mental illness being more tolerated than ever before. The same goes for sexual orientation and race relations.
When it comes to religion though, tolerance and progress are at odds. Ancient Persia, Rome and Alexander’s Macedonia all practiced religious autonomy to some extent. Sure, these civilizations might have still looked down on religious minorities but they didn’t murder them as their descendants would go on to do in the following centuries and even still do today.
While it is true that the Middle Age regressed from the Classical Age and some might think this is why there was subsequently less tolerance, but that argument doesn’t extend to the modern era. We are more advanced than ever before, drastically, and advancing at a faster rate too. The amount of progress seen in the 20th century far exceeds the progress of the 19th century. And the amount of progress seen so far in the 21st century is even greater than the early decades of the 20th. So, for all of our technological advancement, why are people still dying from religious intolerance? And why do self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ adopt the paradoxical notion that we all ought to be more tolerant, especially when it comes to religion?
Religions don’t even tolerate one another. The historic Christian-Islamic Crusades and Catholic-Protestant Huguenot War. The 20th century’s Troubles between the Irish Protestants and Catholics and the Ottoman Empire’s Pontic genocide.
Religions being intolerant of other religions would be comical if it weren’t so deadly, like cancer hating cancer. Look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While each country abhors the other’s religious beliefs, they are not the source of their animosity. That comes from a piece of rock, the holy mixture of solidified minerals called the Foundation Stone that both religions believe is sacred. Lets put that in perspective: Elon Musk is working to colonise another planet with a suffocating atmosphere over 50 million kilometres away. Google’s AlphaGo has already beaten the world’s best human player, something that was said not to be possible for decades. Virtual reality not only exists but is commercially available. And these people, over ten million of them, entire countries, are killing each other over an ancient rock. Exactly how does tolerating the archaic beliefs that enable such barbaric behaviour promote progress?
To understand just how incongruous tolerance and progress are, you only need to look at Jehovah’s Witnesses and their opinion on blood transfusions. They reject the idea of sharing blood. Outright. No wiggle room at all. Not only does this make doctor’s jobs harder, forcing them to adopt modern medical know how to treat people’s ancient beliefs, but it also results in less blood and organ donations for those who desperately need them. While JW’s can technically receive and donate organs, it is so rare for a transplant to not be accompanied by a blood transfusion that it is so impractical its almost non-existent, and the organ must first be completely flushed of blood which takes up valuable time a doctor could be helping someone else. This puts their beliefs in direct conflict with the progressive idea that humans ought to do everything they can to save another’s life. We give criminals, murderers and rapists, the medical attention they need. The same goes for bigots and addicts and even our enemies, highlighted by World War One medic Simpson (and his donkey) almost 100 years ago, at the beginning of the progressive 20th century.
Religious intolerance is a wound that has leaked over into the new century too. Australia is one of the few Western countries yet to leagalise same-sex marriage, mainly due to the Liberal Party’s ties to the country’s conservative Christian bloc. While anecdotal evidence is always flimsy, I would add that the only people I know who protest marriage equality, or even really care about the so-called issue, are religious. Christian. Catholic. Muslim. All equally intolerant. How can any self-respecting progressive fight for both same-sex marriage and religious tolerance? It is akin to supporting both teams in a footy match, cheering for the cure and the cancer, reaching the bottom of a never ending pit.
Thinking that progress and tolerance are co-evolutionary is a null hypothesis. Religion has always been at odds with education, the source of progress. Just look at the Dark Ages or today’s religion-fueled conflict in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern crisis hinders scholars and outsiders alike from visiting the place we’re all from, the cradle of civilization, the roots of humanity’s family tree. These effects trickle down to the average person, stopping them from learning about our collective past, enlightening and evolving their own beliefs, while also omitting children the chance to be inspired by some of our most ancient ruins which could have otherwise started them on the road of a life of learning. These effects cannot be understated. Historical foresight is integral to our future. You cannot cannot make an informed decision based on the tiny sample size of your own life, you need to revisit the past to see how our ancestors handled similar situations and what became of their actions.
To achieve a truly progressive society we must abandon religion. Completely and totally. Zero tolerance. Sure, humanity attempted secular societies before – Stalin’s Russia, Robespierre’s France – and they didn’t work out any better than a religious society. But we can learn from their mistakes and, unlike stubborn religions, can change the doctrine that guides us. We’ve already questioned whether fiction might might be able to replace religion, but perhaps science is an even better
Unlike religion, science and progress may just be a co-evolutionary pair. Science dictates that truth, not doctrine, as the ultimate guiding force for followers. Science wouldn’t block same-sex marriages on a moral ground for science has no morales. It is equally responsible for medicine and nuclear proliferation. Science has never murdered anyone over a rock. Or refused salvation because of a promised afterlife, for science only accepts the intangible after its existence is proven. Dark matter, for example, cannot be seen or comprehended by our contemporary understanding but we know it exists because it has an effect on the gravity of the universe.
And if all this perpetual bigotry, violence and stagnation wasn’t enough to drum up support to cull religion, there is the rampant pedophilia associated with it. Priests, Rabbis, child brides. If the systems that birthed these practices were not tolerated, well there would be a lot less people in therapy around the world.
The only religion I know of that hasn’t been involved in fucking kids or butchering people is Buddhism. Some Cambodian Buddhists have even forgiven Pol Pot and those who served him. Maybe I’m just ignorant and haven’t read enough about Buddhism to know its sinister secrets, but even if it is as benevolent and beneficial as it seems, it still cannot be tolerated. In fact, Buddhism should be the first religion we ban. Why? Two reasons. The first is they aren’t going to cut our heads off in retaliation (I do enjoy having my head and body connected) and the second is to send a message to those other archaic institutions: We don’t even tolerate the most peaceful of you, why would we accept your intolerant beliefs?