A sociologist at the University of Tampa, Ryan T. Cragun, crunched some data and it turns out that U.S. taxpayers subsidize religions to the tune of at least $82.5 billion a year—and probably a lot more. The WaPo article reporting on the study has a rather amusing photo and caption:
Look at these assholes. Christ.
Loyal Readers™ will not be surprised to read that I loathe and detest religion with the burning passion of ten thousand suns. Not just this religion or that one, not just viciously misogynist and homophobic sects, not just dead gods and nasty old myths, not just today’s popular Abrahamic cults. No. I despise the most liberal, happy-clappy Christianity as much as I despise the most vicious, fundamentalist Islam, and that is because religious faith itself is a cancer on humanity. And it can be lethal if left untreated with heavy doses of skepticism.
Faith, as you undoubtedly know, is the act of believing something without reason or evidence, and often even despite contravening reason and evidence. The “something” that the faith-afflicted believe could be anything from “a virgin gave birth to a god-man” to “stoning rape victims to death pleases the Sky Daddy.” It doesn’t really matter how wacky the “something” is, except that in general, the more well-suited it is to perpetuating the existing inequities and bigotries of the status quo, the better.
Religious faith might simply be ridicule-worthy but harmless enough—and we would happily sit around the Palace all day mocking the endless streams of absurdity spewing from the incontinent maws of godbots—if terrible and long-disproven faith-based ideas were never actually taken seriously by anyone with political power. Inexplicably, they are. For despite its unblemished record of FAIL throughout all of recorded history, despite the nearly daunting burdens and obstacles it places before human progress and wellbeing, faith is still held up as a virtue among supposedly enlightened and civilized humans. Faith is a grotesque testament to precisely how we have evolved since our illustrious common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos shat us from her womb: our primate cousins are plagued by no such toxic pox. Thus, we humans are uniquely tasked with continuously battling it back and restraining its excesses, over and over and over again. And $82.5 billion sure sounds excessive to me.
Here is what $82.5 billion worth of religious faith begets us as a nation.
- We get a citizenry chock full of gullible dupes, ripe marks for all sorts of harmful shenanigans with absolutely no basis in reality, from homeopathic remedies to faith healing to get-rich-quick schemes. Desperate and very sick people are routinely relieved of their lives’ savings while delaying or outright rejecting treatments with a proven track record. Meanwhile, the only people who get rich quick from get-rich-quick schemes are the schemers. American kids die at the hands of their own pious families; many are going unvaccinated because of rank scientific illiteracy and the disproven belief that vaccines cause autism. And all because believing things we wish to believe without a shred of evidence is considered perfectly fine. Encouraged, even.
- Relatedly, we have a citizenry beholden to devastating political ideologies: “lowering taxes on the rich and wealthy corporations creates job growth.” Nope. “The Democratic Party is liberal.” It ain’t. “The Iraq war will pay for itself.” Hahaha.
- Dogma. Dogmas are the blood-sucking, reality ravaging tumors that do most of the dirty work on behalf of faith. Because faith is explicitly not based in reality, by definition many of the beliefs spawned by it can have no reality check. If “God hates fags,” then we are free or even obliged to enact laws accordingly; we cannot point to evidence to disprove the dogma that some Sky Daddy is a homophobic doucheweasel and wants us all to be homophobic doucheweasels, too. Even when there is overwhelming evidence countering a dogma, that is hardly a guarantee that it will shrivel and die any time soon. In 1663, Galileo was tried for heresy by the Catholic Church, found guilty and spent the rest of his life under house arrest for having the opinion—contrary to scripture—that the Earth circled the sun. And yet it was not until 1992 that the church decided that, you know, maybe there were some errors made at his tribunal. Nearly half the U.S. population disbelieves in the demonstrable fact of biological evolution, preferring instead the bizarre fiction that humans were poofed into existence ten thousand years ago. It isn’t because my fellow citizens are congenitally stupid, or even uninformed. It is because the pernicious tentacles of faith have utterly short-circuited their rational minds.
- The afterlife. For my money ($82.5 billion of it), belief in an afterlife is by far one of the most directly toxic and damaging contingencies of faith. I’m not talking about the “psychic” frauds fleecing the gullible and the grieving, although that is certainly despicable enough. I am talking about the fact that this life, the only one we know we have, is given short shrift. The faithful will suffer and countenance all sorts of injustices and oppressions, secure in the unevidenced belief that divine justice awaits us all after death. Catastrophic global warming and the fouling of our earth, water and air are denied, ignored or minimized, because the future of life on this planet matters all that much less.
- Hierarchy. Faith, as practiced in the United States today, promotes a paradigm of hierarchy over equality and domination over cooperation. This has dire ramifications for the behavior of nation-states with respect to each other, for the interactions between people in diverse communities, for the safety and well being of children in public schools, for rape culture, and for the lives of countless children and women and men who are subject to its pointless oppressions. As Palace Patron Saint PZ Myers observed:
Religion is, and always has been a tool for authoritarianism. By its very nature it imposes a vision of our interactions with each other and the world that is hierarchical and ordered and linear — the orders come from above. You will obey them.
Unless you’re at the very top (women, people of color, gay and trans* folks need not apply), that world is quite often not a very nice place to be. And even if you are at the top, you had better watch your back, because sure as shit some conniving, self-entitled asshole is one rung below you, just waiting for his shot at the top. Hierarchy by its very nature undermines collaboration and creativity; it cannot afford to acknowledge the interdependent nature of our species or indeed the interdependence of all life on Earth. It both spawns and supports unbridled capitalism, military aggression and short-sighted greed. Why should anyone want to live like this? And yet the primacy and supreme virtue of hierarchy is drilled into the American psyche every Sunday morning.
I could go on and on for pages and pages. Or you could just read Greta Christina’s beautiful screed Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. (You can read 44 of them here, for free.)
But this is not one of those whining and complaining blogs wherein evils are endlessly recounted and no meaningful actions are on offer. Oh no.
First of all, a vaccine for the faith epidemic exists, in the form of skepticism and critical thinking. The Palace Library‘s section on Science & Skepticism offers many resources for understanding and overcoming our cognitive biases and irrational tendencies, including:
- Field Guide to Critical Thinking. Lett, J., Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, (Fall 1990)
- JREF. (James Randi Educational Foundation.) An educational resource on the paranormal pseudoscientific and the supernatural. Longstanding offer of $1 million prize to “anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.”
- lesswrong.com. “A community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality.”
- List of cognitive biases (Wikipedia)
- List of common misconceptions (Wikipedia)
- MediaSmarts. Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy.
- Pharyngula. Blog of the Palace Patron Saint, PZ Myers.
- Psychic Defective: Sylvia Browne’s History of Failure. Shaffer, R. and Jadwiszczok, A., Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (Mar. 2010)
- Rationality vs. intelligence. Stanovich, K., Project Syndicate (Apr. 2009)
- Rationally Speaking.
- The Skeptic’s Dictionary.
- Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.
There is also some compelling evidence that a cure for religious faith may exist in the form of socialism. If this is true, then we sure do have our work cut out for us. Consider, for example, what it would take to embrace the notion that if we do not want Islamic fundamentalists governing in the Middle East, we need to stop invading, bombing and occupying those countries and instead build a kick-ass social safety net for their citizens, including universal healthcare, education and the guarantee of a living wage. (The same would go for the U.S., of course.) Not only would such an approach be more humane and effective, it would cost taxpayers a mere fraction of what they spend on the defense and intelligence budgets. And it would ultimately sustain itself, at least if the conservative kooks and authoritarian shitweasels could be kept at bay long enough to reach a critical mass of critical thinkers.
But the truth is that America’s Owners and their servants in the U.S. government would not care one whit about Islamic fundamentalists governing in the Middle East—that is, if they posed no obstacle to the unimpeded exploitation of the region’s natural resources for their own benefit. They have revealed time and time again that the most horrific suffering and oppression of the world’s people are of no concern to them whatsoever, except insofar as this can be used to inflame and justify to a gullible public the course of action that they wish to take purely for their own profit. Why do American citizens fall so easily for the same schtick time after time, war after war? Because faith has rotted away their ability to think.
And thus, the Palace will continue to do our small part in promoting godless socialism by any means at our disposal. And one of those means, incidentally, is mockery.
* * * * *
I have been spending a good deal of time lately in the small town where my mother lives, in large part due to her recent illness (she had surgery, lives alone, and was not able to drive for a time). One of her neighborhood churches apparently indulges someone who fancies themselves a bit of a wit, as the changing sign on the church lawn regularly attests. I have been documenting on my trusty iPhone these feeble attempts at cleverness, and have taken the liberty of suggesting some helpful edits. For $82 billion in taxpayer subsidies, amusing myself in this manner at a church’s expense is the very least I can do.
Seriously, what the hell?
IF GOD IS YOUR
PUBLIC SAFETY DEPENDS ON RATIONAL PILOTS!
Yes. Because nothing has been quite the boon to the peaceful coexistence of all of humanity than religious faith.
NO KNOW PEACE
GOD ZEUS ALLAH VISHNU ISIS THOR ATHENAGODS
KNOW NO PEACE!
Wut I don’t even.
Shorter Iris: Fuck faith.
And Happy Labor Day weekend to my beloved Loyal Readers™ in the U.S. Remember when we used to honor and celebrate the labor movement? Yeah, me neither.