Play a parlor game with me for the moment. Which of three choices about religion comes closest to reflecting your point of view on this topic?
1. Religion is the foundation of civilization; while some forms are better than others, only one is true. Yet, just about any religion is better than having none at all.
2. Many if not most religions do more harm than good, but one religion is the way, the truth and the light leading to everlasting salvation. If everyone followed its precepts, we would have heaven on Earth before eventually getting to enjoy the real thing in the Hereafter.
3. Religion is a pox, a pestilence and an unmitigated fraud that represents a mental handicap for all caught up in belief systems all of which are preposterous, vapid and insane.
I personally embrace the third option. I have considerable company amongst the best and brightest, living and dead who are or were the wisest, kindest and most luminous of humankind
Daily do I read of horrors inspired by religion. Today's religious news in America includes the story of a bible-devoted woman in South Carolina who tied a dog to a tree and burned it to death. Why? The animal had chewed on her holy book. This pales with the murderous act of a suicide bomber in a Russian airport, almost surely an Islamist motivated by anticipated sex acts with virgins and countless other religion-driven crimes against humanity and nature. Still, the dog story makes my point that religion is a mental handicap.
We are early on in the 21st century. Great strides have been made in human consciousness. Science, particularly theoretical physics, relativity and quantum mechanics, has given us more knowledge about the cosmos than the greatest minds of earlier times could have imagined. Yet, most people today, educated and not, embrace fairy tale explanations about the origins of life, the nature of existence and the rules for living that religions explain were revealed by one god or another. It would be comical if not so deadly. Actually, it IS comical - and deadly.
In many Islamic countries and even in the West, religion is privileged. In the former states, blasphemy is a serious crime; in the West religion is simply privileged - protected from criticism by media outlets and in other ways.
Those of us who can do so without fear of prosecution should reject the idea that religion merits any privilege - and do so at every opportunity, as I am doing by writing this essay. Any challenge is a contribution to society - and a mental health gift for anyone who might listen with an open mind.