Over the years, I have heard atheists call religious people as a whole stupid. It’s not personally something I will agree to; there are too many exceptions to the rule. I would agree that religious people are, on average, less informed, less educated, less scientific, and generally less intelligent, but not by a wide margin. What’s more, it’s quite unfair to assume that because someone is religious, they are stupid.
But religion… now that, I can confidently say, is stupid. A religion, unlike a mass grouping of individuals, can be analyzed and criticized as a cohesive whole, and a comprehensive look at the very concept of “religion” is not beyond the scope of possibility, because it is an abstract notion which can be defined.
So, what better place to begin than to define our terms? I see religion quite differently than most people, probably because I was classically trained on the matter (a mistake I may never overcome…). I can’t shake the fact that religion has nothing to do with gods… no matter how much atheists and believers may think otherwise, religion just does not revolve around gods. Gods are merely one possible explanation for the mechanism by which a religion works.
Religion is a set of rituals which have no real, externally derived positive or negative outcome; rather, religion is a set of rituals where any positive or negative outcome is an entirely internal one, which is only perceived by and measurable within the practitioner.
The only real difference between religion and custom, then, is that religious ritual is performed in the hope of some intangible benefit (or in the hope of preventing an intangible penalty). Custom is done to “be polite,” and is for the benefit of other people in an attempt to fit into a society. It’s murky, and not really what I wanted to get into, but the key to religion is that it relies on the belief in magic, which is a term most modern religions would shun… but which is still embarrassingly apt, regardless of how religion would like to be perceived these days.
“Stupid” is a much more interesting definition. Dictionary.com defines stupid as:
1. lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull.
2. characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness; foolish; senseless.
3. tediously dull, especially due to lack of meaning or sense; inane; pointless.
4. annoying or irritating; troublesome.
5. in a state of stupor; stupefied.
In a sense, I could just let those stand alone. Those are not only adequate for describing the term “stupid,” but also “religion.” All of those other adjectives apply… dull, foolish, senseless, inane, pointless, annoying, irritating, troublesome, and my personal favorite, stupefied.
The term “stupefied” remains faithful to the original Latin meaning of the word “stupidus,” from which “stupid” is derived. In Latin, you wouldn’t call someone who was ignorant or dumb “stupidus.” Rather, “stupidus” implies a more momentary lapse. It more closely means “amazed,” or even “stunned.” Even in English, if one is “in a stupor,” you are uncharacteristically and temporarily senseless, like when someone has a fever or is intoxicated.
This sort of explains one aspect of why religious people aren’t stupid, in the modern sense of the word. Religion is not a constant state, despite what religious people would like to believe. Religion is ritual, and it is only when acting on ritual that one is truly stupid. As a religious person makes a meal, they aren’t being stupid. As they set the table, they aren’t being stupid. It’s not until they bring their hands together and pray that they start being stupid, and they cease to be stupid once the prayer is over. What I’m getting at here is that I think religious stupidity is primarily a transient quality in a person, though it’s a constant (even defining) quality of religion.
This stupidity is merely a trait of religion, and religion has no monopoly on it. Sports are notable for being incredibly stupid. Sport is an utter waste of time which quite frequently riles up its moronic fanbase to the point of violent riots. I see atheists talk about how they wish religion could be eradicated, but I’m fairly certain the world would be better off getting rid of sports, rather than religion.
And yet, I don’t think the world should be without either, unless we simply outgrow one of them.
As so many have said before me, religion is essentially an intoxicant. Religion doesn’t so much make a person who follows it “stupid,” so much as it occasionally causes them to be “stupefied.” Sports are no different, and literal intoxicants themselves could be lumped in, too, along with all forms of non-constructive recreation, like cards, video games, movies, most TV shows… blogging…
Really, there’s a whole bunch of things we would be better off without. But the thing is, when people have tried to forcibly get rid of things like intoxicants, religion, and other frivolous merriment, we are faced with an even greater problem. In many ways, I can look to Prohibition and the current drug war to see how outlawing religion would be a failure, let alone actually examining instances in Russia, China, Cuba, and other communist regions, where individuals have tried to actually ban the practice of religion, always to ill effect.
People may not need religion, but there’s no reason to keep it from them. There is ignorance even amongst atheists, so stamping out religion (even if such an attempt could be successful) will be futile. Besides, I think there will always be people who do stupid things, so they might as well think God told them to do it. At the very least, religion serves as a means of identifying who is foolish enough to just go along with any stupid idea.
Which isn’t to say that religious people are stupid… they just believe stupid things.