Many atheists are quick to point out that since there are a plethora of deities and religions, one should live indifferently regarding such codes rather than risk practicing a phony religion.
“Suppose there is a table in the room. On it 100 pills are laid out, all similar in shape and color. Out of the hundred, one pill will grant you immortality, while the other ninety-nine will kill you. What would you do?”
This is the argument used to dismiss religion at a glance. However, there is a major flaw in such an argument. It assumes that there is a singular religion that is divine, superior or correct. That is not the case and has never been so, at least not when it comes to comparing religions objectively.
Let us break down what every religion has in common and dissect the generalities that are universal across every religion, Eastern or Western, tribal or organized, insular or global. Many religions are similar. Judaism, Islam and Christianity all share the same roots. However, this is not an argument about which religion is closest to its brethren; rather, it is one about absolute similarity. All religions have one parallel that can be found in every single system of belief that has ever been created.
It’s self-control. Every religion has its rituals. I would be very impressed if you could find a religion that does not preach self-control. It is the fundamental basis of human development: children are taught to stick to a schedule for a reason.
But let’s boil it down even more. Self-control is arbitrary and doesn’t really tell us anything.
Religions form habits. It is not important what the habit is. Anything from praying daily to cooking a dish in a certain fashion is a habit. What is important is the act of repeating the action. The more difficult the thing is to repeat, the better it is for you psychologically.
If we look into the science of habits and self-control, it quickly reveals that these are “muscles” that need to be trained. The more habits in your life, the better your future habit-making skills are. If you have been resisting eating pork your whole life, alcohol and drugs will be easier to avoid.
These religions were not created by a few morons in a cave a few thousand years ago. Each line was carefully thought through.
Let’s take an example: Sabbath, or the belief that you should take off every seventh day to honor God. Studies were done regarding the efficiency of humans when a day off was given a week. The productivity of the subjects increased by 40%, a change so monumental that even slave owners allowed a day of rest for their workers. Even if only approximately 10%, or even 1%, of the things a religion tells you to do has such an effect, there are few reasons why one would choose to abstain from religion.
Practicing religion is not comparable to swallowing a capsule of poison. It’s setting yourself up to live a happier, more successful and constrained life. The amount of good that a child can receive by being taught religion is astronomical. Teaching self-control is very important in the development of a child and can lead him to better resist peer-pressure in his teenage years.
There is a long-running joke among Jewish folk: “A Rabbi shopping at a supermarket, notices an African American family standing in line at the cashier. The younger son begs his mother for a candy bar at the candy and gum section. His mother exclaims “Son, put that down. It is not kosher.” Excitedly, the rabbi asks the mother if she is Jewish, to which she replies “No, I once saw a Jewish mother and her son in line at the cashier, when the child begged his mother for candy, she replied with “It’s not kosher,” and just like that, the child went quiet. So, I decided to do the same”
Personal restrictions are not the evil that religion presents. Rather, it is the magic it provides to millions of people on a daily basis.
A few years back, a study was done to see how alcoholics became sober. Hundreds of now-sober alcoholics were asked what caused them to stop drinking. Overwhelmingly, the answer was “God.” This upset the scientists because “God” was not something they could test. Therefore, they decided to break down “God” into the action that these recovering alcoholics made throughout their day. Across every religion, habits developed in these religious individuals. Those that recovered went to church, temple, mosque etc. on a regular basis. The subjects prayed, kept a dietary code and constrained themselves to the religion they chose.
The specifics aren’t important. The human brain thrives on habits. It doesn’t matter if the they are Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist habits. All create value in your life.
An atheist may say that, as habits are the driving factor for success, religion could be replaced by a code of habit-forming restraints. I would applaud that individual and proclaim him to have created a new religion.
God, angels, miracles and whatever else sounds inconceivable in religion are motivations to strengthen yourself. Habits are only formed when there is motivation to form a habit. No one would brush their teeth if they stayed clean over their lifetime. The same goes for religion. Without “God,” there is no reason to keep a dietary code, go to church or take a day off every week.
If you manage to independently create habits by yourself without the motivation of a community, God, or any other external factor, religion is not necessary for you. Such level of self-control will do you good wherever you go. However, if you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of addiction, over-indulgence, and sorrow, perhaps choose a religion to combat your demons. The overwhelming support, help, motivation, and praise you will receive will always be better than going at the demons alone.