Warning: If you are religious and thin-skinned then stop reading now!

Imagine there’s no religion.  (No, I’m not channelling John Lennon.)  Imagine that someone comes up to you and tells you that there was a man who turned water into wine, who walked on water, who rose from the dead.  Imagine that he told you that the earth was less than 10000 years old despite scientific evidence that it is over 4 billion years old.  You would think he was crazy.

So why is it that when a billion people believe it, it becomes acceptable?

Evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins was on ABC1 program Q&A this week and as expected he ruffled a few feathers.  I’ve known who he was for a long time, but have never read any of his books or heard him speak until tonight.  He has quite a knack for phrasing his arguments in such a way that it is difficult to logically refute them.   But I guess that is the point – his arguments are that the rules of our society should be based on logic and reason.

He was seated next to Family First Senator Steve Fielding.  Family First is well known as a Christian fundamentalist party, although for some reason they don’t promote this fact very strongly!  Dawkins asked Fielding straight out, and directly "Do you believe that the earth is 10000 years old?" a.k.a. asking if he believed in creationism.  This clearly made him very uncomfortable and cagey.  "Look, different people have different views, and I think it’s up to each person to decide what they choose to believe."  Of course, it turns out he did (being an evangelical Christian), but the question is, why didn’t he want to answer?  Is he ashamed of his beliefs?  Did he have a sudden realisation that saying "Yes, I believe in creationism" sounds as ridiculous as "Yes, I believe in the Easter Bunny"?

Another point that Dawkins brought up was the brainwashing of children.  Kids of strongly religious parents are told “you are , that is the religion that you belong to”.  Forcing this sort of belief onto a child is wrong – they should be told “There are people called Christians who believe this, people called Jews who believe that, people called Muslims who believe the other” – and then let the child decide for themselves when they are old enough.  If this happens the child will realise that all these different belief systems conflict with each other and none of them can be correct!  I recall a story posted on a forum a few years ago (around the time of the last census) where the question on religion was being filled in, and the person’s mother refused to allow him to list himself as "atheist" – because he was christened a Catholic - and there was a $1000 fine for lying on the census!

I remember at chapel at school, halfway through a hymn, looking up and thinking "What the hell (no pun intended)?  There are a bunch of teenagers and grown adults here singing to a big invisible man in the sky, who no-one has ever seen, telling him how wonderful he is and that we are insignificant to him.  A room full of people doing this and no-one is questioning it?  Is everyone here completely mad?"

As for the link between religion and morality – why do some people need to base their behaviour on (using Christianity as an example) the promise of going to heaven or the threat of going to hell?  Wouldn’t a truly moral person not need to be bribed in this way?

Religion might have been useful in the dark ages when humans didn’t understand a lot about the world, and the leaders at the time needed a way to control the underlings… I'm sure at the time it worked well on the less educated.  Since then, however, we have developed this wonderful thing called "scientific method" – it lets you discover things about the world using observation, empirical evidence and reasoning!