Why is religion so powerful when it is also so, so wrong? Religion has answers for everything. It doesn’t have the right answers for everything, but it has answers. And for most people that’s more than enough. There’s comfort in having an explanation for why we’re here, and where we’re going, and what are our purposes, even if those questions don’t necessarily have answers. Remember this, “I don’t know; therefore God” is always going to be easier than “I don’t know, so let’s find out”. But we shouldn’t just settle for the easy answers. Personally, I prefer honesty over comfort, and reality over mythology. Giving people easy answers to tough questions is exactly why so many people watch political pundits on television make predictions. Or they watch business analysts tell us all exactly how to get rich. This people are paid to be confident, not right. And there are a few people more confident than a pastor on a Sunday morning. Religion uses guilt to prevent you from leaving. Religion compels you to live up to certain ideals whether or not they make any sense. And disobeying them, or even questioning them, means you’re not really that faithful. “Don’t you feel bad about yourself for disappointing God?” “Don’t you feel bad that you’re letting down your parents?” “Your pastor?” “Don’t you feel bad that someone died for you in a cross and you’re not obeying his wishes?” “Don’t you feel bad because you had premarital sex?” “Or ate meat on a day when you shouldn’t?” “Or you happen to love someone of the same sex?” Religion makes you feel guilty for breaking rules that never made sense in the first place. Religion offers cures for diseases they created. You’re better off assessing those rules yourself and then deciding whether or not they’re worth following. And don’t worry, it’s okay to doubt. It’s okay to break religious rules that never made any sense outside of that context of faith. No one’s looking over your shoulder or watching you from above to make sure you’re staying within the lines that religion created. Religion makes you feel special. Doesn’t everyone want to be one of God’s Chosen People? Don’t you want to believe that God created you personally and watches over you? The whole concept of a Guardian Angel is silly, but it’s the same principle here: “You’re a special little snowflake”. And so are the billions of other people out there just like you. I’ll admit, there’s some value to believe in that when you’re a child. But as you grow up, you have to realize that if all of us are special, none of us are special. Religion capitalizes on division. Religion loves to stoke the “Us vs. Them” mentality. We’re okay; they’re not. We’re going to Heaven; they’re not. God loves us; but not them. It’s human nature to want to be accepted. That we all want to feel like we belong and we’re part of a welcoming group. The problem is: it’s that very mindset that causes so many problems, because so many people believe that everyone who’s not in our group needs to be converted or killed. Religion makes morality really simple. We all want to be good people, but not everyone agrees on what it takes to be good. Religion makes that simple. “Follow our rules, and you’re good!” It’s that easy. It requires no further intellectual thought. But morality isn’t that simple. There are times when lying is good and obeying your parents is bad. Not everything is as black and white as holy books make them out to be. It’s so much easier to not have to think for yourself, isn’t it? If you oppose marriage equality, the easiest moral question of our time, it kind of takes the heat off you to be able to say, “Don’t blame me, don’t get mad at me, it’s in the Bible”. Here’s another example: abortion. You may think abortions are immoral, but there are times when abortions are medically necessary to save the life of a woman. Then what? The point is: these issues are not always as simple as religious books or religious people make them out to be. And in some cases, they’re flat out wrong. Remember, we don’t get our morality from religion. Religion gets its morality from us. And we’re not always right about everything. Religion claims ownership of spiritual bliss. Sure, a lot of things can make you happy now. “But what’s going to happen with your soul?” “Don’t you want to be taken care of in the afterlife?” Let’s get this out of the way. Those are dumb questions to begin with because it presumes the existence of this magical afterlife, which it’s never been proven. But religion, as always, has the answer. “And you can’t just believe in any religion, you have to believe in my religion.” “But if you do, I got you covered.” It’s a pretty sweet deal actually because we all want to be happy. And we’ll do whatever it takes to get there. Religion steps in and says, “We’ll make you happy in the one place you have absolutely zero control over: the afterlife”. It’s hard not to get tempted by that offer. Religion gets us while we’re young. There’s a reason most people don’t switch from one religion to another later on in life. You’re taught to believe this stuff before you’re old enough to question it. Religious leaders know that if they introduced all of these stories to you when you were a teenager, you’d laughed right in their faces. But if they do it when you’re four, you’ll just assume it’s true. Your parents reinforce these beliefs and you’re surrounded by people who believe the same stuff. So you never think it’s weird until maybe you get older and you finally start thinking about it. I live in Chicago and the same principle applies to Cubs’ fans. No one becomes a fan of the Cubs when they’re in their thirties. What argument could anyone possibly make for you to jump on to that bandwagon? No, you’re either a lifelong Cubs’ fan, or you’re not a Cubs’ fan. And that’s why I celebrate atheists who have the courage to shed their faith. It requires a complete restructuring of your old beliefs. You have to rethink everything you ever thought was true. It’s not easy and it’s brave for anyone to even consider changing their minds on such an important issue. Religion makes you think you can control the uncontrollable. Life is unpredictable. Shit happens. But isn’t it nice to know that your prayers might be able to alter the course of things? Look, if you didn’t study for a test, prayer is not going to help you. If a hurricane is coming your way, you’re better off doing this than putting your hands together and hoping the hurricane changes direction. If someone you know is dying, I’m sorry to say that your prayers are not going to change the prognosis. As the saying goes, “Prayer is how to do nothing and still think you’re helping”. Now, prayer might comfort you. And that might change how you react in some of these circumstances. But that’s a completely different story. You have to appreciate the fact that a lot of people believe God has a plan for their lives. And yet they are perfectly fine with praying for God to completely alter that plan to suit whatever it is that they need. Don’t think about that one too hard. Money. Churches convince you to give them 10% of your income. And they don’t have to pay taxes on them because they’re considered non-profits. At many mega churches, they don’t even release to their own congregation how much money their senior pastor even makes. Sometimes that money is spent on genuinely good things, like medical equipment in places that actually need it. But even then a lot of times it comes with strings attached. Because you can’t buy medical equipment unless you also buy the Bible. Because people have to, you know, spread the gospel while they’re doing these mission trips. At times, it’s really awful. Some pastors would convince poor people to give the church whatever little money they have left with the promise that God will reward them many times over. There’s no insurance for stuff like that. If we took all the money people spent perpetuating religious lies and put them almost anywhere else, I’m convinced we would get pretty far in solving some of the world’s biggest problems. In fact, it’d be way more effective than all the prayers of all the congregations combined. My name is Hemant Mehta and I write at FriendlyAtheist.com What do you want to see a video about? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll be sure to check it out. And don’t forget to subscribe.