Zingrone: We are outgrowing religion

William Zingrone Associate professor of psychology

We are outgrowing religion: it’s a beautiful thing.

What if someone living in Germany, France or England in the mid 1600s roughly 400 years ago, at the height of the witch trials, the plague and the great fire of London (both assumed to be due to God’s wrath due to an individual’s heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft or a general lack of piety among the populace), following 100 years of religious wars raging across Europe, and the equally religiously infused English Civil War, prophesized that by the 2000s northern Europe would be 80 percent godless with England pushing 30 percent non-believers and even the pervasively Xian U.S. following not far behind with 20 percent identifying as non religious and growing.

It would be nearly certain you would be routinely tortured unmercifully until you recanted your heresy and were then beheaded (if you were lucky) or burned at the stake.

Yet despite the cruel religiosity of those post-Medieval times, here we are with religion thankfully in steep decline.

Imagine living back then, when religion ruled our thinking like that. Even in highly religious countries life proceeds daily in a predominantly secular fashion with religion relegated to one or two days per week observance and only in Saudi Arabia and a few other countries does beheading for religious reasons still occur.

Michael Shermer’s answer to the annual www.edge.org question “What Scientific Idea Needs to be Retired?” suggests religion and belief in God is not innate.

Poll after poll in country after country shows the young to be the least religious. The dialogue is everywhere; the questioning of religious beliefs and practices; a week after the Ham vs. Nye debate, people are still talking about it.

Some may seek spiritual understanding of some kind, but it’s often a mild form like the pacifism and mindfulness of Buddhism minus the reincarnation part.

I raised four children and didn’t tell them about religion and didn’t wail against it in front of them, either. In fact, I encouraged them to check out different religions once they were older. I even admonished one at age 13 or so for claiming with a buddy from school they were atheists like many kids in his class who thought religion stupid.

I told him he was too young to know and to check it all out when he got older and then decide. He might like one of the religions one day for all he knew and he might not.

I respect my kid so much to make up his own mind. I refused to push my disbelief upon him, upon any of them, the exact opposite of what the Xians and Muslims and Buddhists and others do. Coercing your kid under threat of disobedience and ostracization is the norm, especially in the “Big Two” Xianity and Islam.

Child indoctrination is one of the most accepted yet sleazy practices of religions. Youth ministry preying on the cognitively immature and emotionally vulnerable adolescent is the worst. Conning some defenseless 13-year-old into the monastery, the madrassa, the church or the temple, often with the spectre of hell dangled in front of them, is the most reprehensible of acts.

Shermer points out that but a few centuries ago people unquestionably assumed witchcraft and blasphemy, not pleasing God in some way was the cause of all misfortune in the world.

Fire, famine, plague, must be visited upon us by God because somebody sinned somewhere, someone must be to blame, their heresy and dancing with the devil must have brought God’s wrath upon us.

Somebody was evil. We all needed to pray more and the heretics and witches must be rooted out and destroyed.

And they were, in droves. Nowadays we don’t burn witches and heretics by the hundreds or thousands if there is a mass flu epidemic or a huge earthquake.

Remnants of this primitive medieval thinking are instead laughed off as hopelessly deluded each time some conservative Xian blames the abominable gays for bringing on hurricanes or 9/11, and the Ham vs. Nye debate highlighted the absurdity of attempting to maintain a medieval level of belief in the primacy of Scripture.

We have become incomparably and undeniably less religious and thereby more reasonable and tolerant in the past 400 years. And the young, sans indoctrination and even in spite of it, are becoming more secular every year.

Nobody gets tortured by a fellow believer any more. The worst one hears is, “You’re not a real Christian.” It’s a beautiful thing. Maybe we can lose that, too.


Column by William Zingrone, Associate professor of psychology