It’s been said by many people – and I used to agree – that religious belief on its own is harmless. But I’ve come to realise that the problem with beliefs – any beliefs, but the more irrational and strongly-held the belief, the more of a problem – is that sooner or later, in order to be validated, they have to be acted upon.
Let me illustrate this with a ridiculous example. Suppose the President of your country had a single irrational belief: that the moon was made of green cheese. That would be no problem, of course, as long as he kept it to himself. He could function perfectly in his presidential duties, firm in his belief that the moon was not as the rest of us – and all the scientific research ever done on the subject – perceived it. But let’s say that green cheese is a vital food commodity – the staple of the national diet, without which millions of people would starve – and let us imagine further that suddenly, for reasons the best scientists and the foremost fromageurs in the country are so far unable to fathom, there’s a national green cheese famine.
Suddenly, the President’s belief becomes a problem. Convinced that the moon represents a limitless supply of life-saving green cheese, he uses his Presidential power to override the upper and lower houses of government and – in cahoots with a group of industrialists who don’t care what the moon is made of but know a billion-dollar contract when they see one – launch a green cheese-mining mission to the moon…
You can see that in this kind of situation, the President’s “harmless” beliefs would suddenly become a major problem for the nation.
Thus it is with religious beliefs (or, indeed, any other erroneous or irrational beliefs). As long as believing them is of no consequence – i.e. they do not impinge on or conflict with the world as it is – then those beliefs are innocuous. But once a situation arises in the real world that requires the believer to take a consequential stance based on those beliefs, suddenly they’re not so innocuous. And in the worst cases – believing that Jews are sub-human, for instance, or that people who do not share your irrational beliefs must be killed – millions of people may die.
It is for this reason that I hope that not only religion, but all religious/superstitious belief, eventually dies out. I’m sure that there are many, many well-meaning and fervently-believing Christians/Jews/Muslims/Hindus out there, but all they need is the right emotional trigger to force them to take a stand, and we have a(nother) religiously-motivated war on our hands.