Let me start off by saying religion has made many beneficial contributions to society. Some of the most religious people I know are also some of the kindest, but this is not always true. This isn't always true for the non-religious either. What I'm trying to show is that religiosity, or the lack thereof, doesn't have much of an impact on how moral a society is.
I look at beliefs on a spectrum. On the opposite ends of this spectrum exists Religious Zealots on one end and Atheists on the other. In the center of this spectrum are Agnostics. Agnostics admit they cannot know for sure whether or not God exists, since there is no objective evidence proving one way or the other. They may lean one way or the other, but do not claim to know for sure. It's a humble way of saying, "I cannot claim to know anything about the nature of our existence." I often find wonder and awe in how much we do not know and have yet to discover, if we ever do. What I do know for sure is we are all sharing this common experience of life. I want to make that experience as meaningful as possible because it may be all we have. Again, I do not know that for sure; but I would hope it would be explicitly apparent if we had to adhere to a list of rules in order to live a happy life and to be rewarded in the afterlife.'But then what would the point be if we knew God existed? What about faith?' I don't find value in blind faith, and think it's unreasonable to ask anyone else to. Those who believe they're a better person simply because they're following an oftentimes irrational and subjective belief system are frankly delirious. If one believes they will be saved in the afterlife because of their specific belief system then they must also believe they are somehow better, more enlightened, or special than those outside their religion in some way. God decided to bless them with susceptible brains to believe his religion, but decided not to give this susceptibility to others. Rather than believing in morals passed down over the course of 2700 years, I believe in the power of humanity to make moral decisions relevant to our current situation. I rely on my ability to empathize to know what is right or wrong. I don't need fear to deter me from doing wrong or praise to motivate me to do what is right.
A common misconception is that irreligiously equates to immorality. Those of this view often say that looking back in history, we can see morality progressing; they attribute that progress to religion and humanity's fear of an all-powerful God. This correlation exists because there wasn't really another option for the majority of our history. Religion has been around for as long as humanity can remember. How can we be sure that religion has anything to do with this gradual increase in morality? How can we be sure the inception of some religions didn't root from the use of psychedelics? Since it has been around for as long as we can remember, do we really know what our world would be like if it didn't exist? If we relied solely on objective reality and learned to better ourselves by learning from mistakes?
How can one be moral without God?
Is society really better off with religion?
In case you haven’t been watching the news, the world isn’t that great of a place. There is no evidence to support that it would be worse off without religion. In fact the opposite tends to be true. If you click on this, https://ceoworld.biz/2020/05/16/revealed-the-worlds-most-and-least-religious-countries-based-on-religious-beliefs-2020/, you will see the least religious countries at the bottom of the list (Denmark, Norway, UK, Japan, Finland, Czech Republic). Now copy and paste each of those countries into Google along with the words “quality of life” or “crime rate” or almost any other quantitative measure of well-being within a society. Now compare that to the most religious countries at the top of the list. You will be surprised to find that the least religious societies tend to fare better than religious ones in nearly every objective measure including homicide/violent crimes, poverty rates, obesity rates, child abuse rates, educational attainment rates, income levels, unemployment rates, rates of STDs, and teen pregnancy to name a few. The same is true for individual states within the US (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=alabama)
America values faith, God, and religion, yet fails to institute several policies that could safeguard our communities. American teens are 82% more likely to be shot to death than teenagers living in the majority of other developed countries. The core of christianity lies in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught peace, love, and non-violence in his ministry. He taught his followers to “turn the other cheek.” Jesus realized that although violence will always exist, fighting violence with violence only increases violence. If he were around today, I seriously doubt he would be advocating for less strict gun laws. If one believes in his teachings at all, this should be quite clear. I find it ironic that the most religious Christian leaders, take Evangelicals for example, who know Jesus’s teachings arguably more than anyone else are also the people who most strongly fight for less strict gun laws. I’m not against owning a gun in America, simply because there are so many people who already own one; it’s not feasible to try and take them away.
But, if an all-powerful being exists who has the ability to create/alter time/space, they also have the ability to stop 14 year olds from getting their heads blown off. Yet they don’t. That makes absolutely zero sense. "But what about free will?", many ask. What purpose does it serve for someone to be shot in the head at 14 years old? Why on earth would any moral being who has the ability to stop the suffering of that kid's friends and family not do so? Please tell me, what is the grander purpose of that? Life is not sunshine and rainbows. But there are rational ways to actually solve problems like this rather than turning to thoughts and prayers, because that clearly does not work.
What effect does religion have on politics?
Religious societies also tend to encourage a herd mentality, in which individuals follow an authoritative figure instead of thinking for themselves. The implications of this can be clearly detrimental. Societies driven by fear are significantly stifled in growth in nearly every area of societal well-being. Alternatively, societies where independence of thought/beliefs is truly encouraged are much more likely to defend personal freedom, resist authoritative leadership, and encourage open-mindedness, and flourish as a result.
Freedom of religion seems to be misunderstood by many as freedom to choose among religions rather than freedom to choose whether to be religious in the first place. It's scary to see religious zealots misinterpret someone's lack of religiosity as a threat, rather than a choice a human being is making with their own best interest in mind. It is not the religious vs non-religious. It's just humans deciding what they believe, don't believe, or don't care to take a side on. If you honestly feel threatened by someone who has different beliefs than you do, I think it might be time to question how much confidence you actually have in those beliefs.
In the US, it is technically illegal for an atheist to hold public office in seven states (Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas). Any of those states surprising to you? In what true democracy is restricting a perfectly eligible, and oftentimes intelligent, individual's ability to run for office based on a lack of religious belief okay? Atheists aren't allowed in the Boy Scouts, the American Legion, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
What about our children's morality? Doesn't structured religion encourage morality?
Would you rather cultivate independence of thought in your children, or cultivate blind obedience from authoritative figures? Sure, you can cultivate both. But at such a young age, it's difficult for children to know when to trust an authoritative figure our not. So wouldn't it be more beneficial to encourage critical thinking over blind obedience? Children should be taught to be able to use their critical thinking skills to refuse orders by authoritative figures that would otherwise be damaging to their overall well-being.
Christianity teaches kids that there exists a malevolent being who actively tries to ruin their lives and ultimately lead them to a fiery burning place called hell. If that isn't psychologically damaging I don't know what is. When has fear ever been beneficial in motivating anyone, especially kids, in the long run? I would go so far as to say instilling this idea in our children is abusive.
Christianity also teaches about a God who killed his own son to somehow make up for our wickedness. Let's take a look at the world today, how well did that turn out? I'd say our world is still pretty "wicked," even more so in some ways. Put another way, humanity is inherently evil; the way to solve that is to kill your son, who had nothing to do with their evilness. So, in order to be forgiven, one must inflict harm on another in behalf of someone else's wrong doing? If someone drops a bomb on a city, should you kill someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the bombing? How does that work? Why couldn't God forgive us without murder? This makes zero moral or ethical sense, and seems like a very disturbing thing to be teaching kids.
Kids are taught that those who follow the teachings of Jesus are good people and are going to be saved/rewarded in heaven for doing so. This encourages self-righteousness, judgement, and a feeling superiority over friends, family, or neighbors who believe differently. How does this contribute to a more loving and collaborative world?
Despite popular belief, Atheist parents are actually less likely to indoctrinate their children with their lack of belief in God. Instead, since Atheists value an honest search for personal truth over all else, they encourage their children to decide for themselves about what they believe. They encourage independent thought and the ability to discover one's beliefs based on life experience, even if that means their children do decide to believe in God and attend church.