*Warning* Rant. Probably offensive. Expletive free!
Today I did intellectual battle with an anti-abortion demonstrator. I was mostly civil, except when he was especially boneheaded. There are just too many cliche'd ideas that those people use. He was holding this enormous (3.5'x5' or so) poster of an aborted fetus, arranged in the most disgusting way possible - head mutilated, midsection flayed, giblets strewn about. I approached him and said "are you from a religious organization?" He wouldn't answer that. My point was to get at his motivation for being there. He asked me what that had to do with anything. I said religious people have a different definition of when something is "alive." He argued, correctly, that I was wrong. What was a more accurate thing to say is that religious people have a different definition for when a developing fetus is considered a human being. So, we meandered into religion...
"(He points toward the building) Does that just come into existence by itself?"
Obviously not. It's a human creation.
"What about that tree?"
Yup, it does. Evolution. Buildings are not natural creations. They are a human idea built for a human purpose. There is no architectural natural selection. Anyway, his point (and a common argument to many religious demonstrators I've talked to) is that creation is so complex that it had to be created by some intelligent agent. I don't buy it - there is no proof. I hate religion not because I am anti-God, but because religion is a cop-out. It's believing what other people have told you, yet you have no evidence for it other than the fact that lots of other people have been following it for some time. If you "feel" God, how are you sure that it's Him, and not just a strange nervous system phenomenon? The brain is capable of more than we give it credit for, and certainly more than we understand.
He asked me what I believed in - Nothing. Then he brought up another tired argument - "you can't believe in nothing, if you did you wouldn't do anything at all, and you'd wither in one spot. Do you take an airplane ride believing that you'll make it to where you want to go?" Of course. There's a big difference in my mind between things that directly affect my life (things I trust in), and things that don't (religious beliefs, my quest for social justice). I trust in things that are required for me to live. I trust my food is safe to eat. I trust that the ground will not collapse before me as I walk to class. Furthermore, these are things that are backed by 24 years of personal experience as being safe, and by many more than that for everyone else. God is not such a requisite belief. My quest for social justice is also not requisite, but it is part of my identification with greater humanity as a whole. What part of life does belief in God actually affect? Here we came to the next topic: morals.
Morals do not come from religion. They are not God's plan. They are logical extensions and developments from people living in community. Morals are natural laws, but they are passed down in communities through generations, and not necessarily ingrained into our genetics. Society cannot exist without morals, and the only reason society needs religion or government is to enforce the morals on those without the consideration of community or of greater humanity (unfortunately, I think most people fall into this category). He kept on arguing that without law, there would be nothing stopping anyone from killing anyone else. How about animals, he said. Animals kill each other. Sure, but do they kill their den-mates? Do they kill their pack? You must consider pack animals for this, because morals are a product of and a necessity for community. My argument is that with any reflection at all, one becomes aware that everything falls apart without the natural law. Not many people would kill each other without laws because it's not productive. It doesn't take society (or any individual) anywhere for long. Every so often, people kill others because of resources, possessions, wronged relatives, etc. This totally destroys the community - paranoia arises and the tendency to generalize and classify people as threats runs wild. Until people recover their trust that everyone is following the rules (morals, natural law), there is less community, in the sense of people participating in society outside their homes. If there were anarchy, there would be no community. I think it is like communism - it's a good idea in principle, but scale and human greed prevent it from succeeding. Just because we have law to enforce the rules and religion to remind people of them does not mean that the morals originated in either. Is religion anything more than "best practice" for some extended period of time, with the threat of some higher power to intimidate and influence people? I suppose it is also mental support in rough times for people who can't get enough support from friends/family, or can't muster the strength to solve their problem alone. I don't disapprove of that, but I'll save any further thought on that for another day.
Religion for morals, religion for explaining complexity - both are an unwillingness to question, to genuinely seek truth. I don't give a rat's ass about abortion. I just wish people wouldn't hold disgusting signs up right outside the cafeteria. It's not like I belch in church when the priest is breaking the bread.