What War On Religion?
In Defense of Reason
Drugs and religion are here to stay.
The war on drugs is a disaster.
Attempts to obliterate religion have been equally
catastrophic. Is polite tolerance the best strategy?

Karl Marx dubbed religion "the opium of the people." It seems reasonable to assume that no matter what we do drugs and religion are here to stay. Both have been grandfathered into our laws and our culture. Consider the following excerpt from a transcript of The American Atheist Radio Series program No. 388 by Madalyn O"H'ir, quoted in American Atheist: A Journal of Atheist News and Thought, April 2007. "The very first statute passed by the Cavaliers of Virginia provided that he who did not attend church on Sunday, should pay a fine of two pounds of tobacco. This was the first law ever enacted in the United States, and was passed in 1617, three years before the Puritans landed at Plymouth." (Sabbath Doc. No. 45, p. 15, New York.) Today, of course, we consider nicotine one of the most addictive drugs known to humankind.

The war on drugs has proven to be a disaster. Attempts to obliterate religion have been equally catastrophic.

Jacob Sullum, "Saying Yes, In Defense of Drug Use" (Sullum 2003) argues that most people, most of the time, can and do use drugs responsibly. Can this same principle be applied to religion? Do most moderate religionists use religion responsibly? Perhaps, but let's take a closer look.

There are legal drugs and legal religions, illegal drugs and illegal religions, and prescription drugs and prescription religions.

Legal Drugs: Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are legal drugs. Legal Religion: Mainstream churches are legal religions. Their leaders do not encourage crimes against the state, or crimes against each other.
Illegal Drugs: Cocaine, Meth, Heroin, Marijuana etc. are illegal drugs. The use of these drugs can result in incarceration. Illegal Religion: The Mormon cult that practices polygamy and operates under the radar of public scrutiny would be considered an illegal religion. Warren Jeffs, the leader of the cult was on the FBI's most wanted list until his recent capture. He is currently standing trial for polygamy, which is against the law.
Prescription Drugs: Doctors prescribe all manner of drugs to ease physical and psychological pain as well as to treat and manage disease. Prescription Religion: Doctors prescribe religion when they refer their patients to faith based self-help groups. Parents prescribe religion for their children. Judges prescribe religion to offenders when they order them to participate in faith based treatment and support programs. There are responsible users, abusers, bingers and addicts in both categories.
Responsible Drug Users: People have always used drugs, cup of coffee to get a jumpstart on the day, a beer or a glass of wine to help relax at the end of the day. Many use drugs in social settings. Some use drugs prescribed by their doctors to help them deal with the everyday problems of living. Jacob Sullum would argue that many people can and do use even illegal drugs responsibly. Responsible Users of Religion: They practice their rituals alone and in the company of others of like mind. For the most part, they mind their own business. They don't proselytize or try to legislate morality for others. They support the separation between religion and government because they know it's in their own best interest to do.
Drug Bingers: We all know people who boast that they are going to "hang one on" when the weekend rolls around, and people who drink or drug to the point of passing out when life throws them a curve. Many adolescents and young adult bingers go on to become responsible users when they grow up to take adult responsibilities. Others become life long addicts or junkies. Religion Bingers: The religious bingers are the ones who overdose on religion in times of crisis. In their desperate need to deal with death, or some other crisis in their lives over which they feel they have no control they are consumed by their faith. When the crisis has past most go back to being responsible users. Others become life long addicts and religion junkies.
Drug Addicts: These are people who are dependent on their drug whether it is legal, illegal, or prescribed. Drug addicts are often capable acting responsibly in some areas of their lives. Rumor has it that the founder of a very prestigious hospital was addicted to heroin all during the time he was the administrator of the hospital. Addicts tend to deny their dependency but they experience severe withdrawal symptoms when their drug of choice becomes unavailable. Religion Addicts: With the addicts, religion is an obsession. They obstinately believe, in spite of any evidence to the contrary, that their path is the only true path in life. They impose their beliefs on others indiscriminately. Their scriptures and their religious leaders guide their every move, and they frequently judge others more harshly than they judge themselves. In spite of their obsession with their religion, many are quite capable of holding even very responsible jobs.
Hardcore Drug Addicts: Junkies will stop at nothing to achieve the high they get from their drug, or the escape from reality it provides. The health and wellbeing of others, the law, and even their own security are obstacles in the path of their goal to get and use their drug of choice. Hardcore Religion Addicts: The fanatics will use any and all means to achieve their religion high. They fly airplanes into buildings and strap bombs to their bodies. They might kill and maim loved ones in a delusional state brought on by over indulging in their faith-based fantasies.
Drug Junkies: These are particular about their drug of choice. A heroin junkie, for example, might rail against the use of nicotine. Religion Junkies: These are very particular about their specific religion railing against all others, often willing to kill those of other faiths.

Like the drug market, the religion market has its dealers and its pushers. (Religion users, abusers, and pushers who are also intelligent and respected scientists are difficult to categorize. But as Michael Shermer (Shermer 1997) points out, even smart people believe weird things, and they are not immune to the temptations of financial rewards.

Drug Dealers: Some users and abusers simply want to share their high, and in other cases, misery loves company. Others seek to create addictions to extract millions from the addicts they create and encourage. Religion Dealers: Most clergy sincerely believe their customers will be better off with the religion they peddle. Others are opportunists who encourage addiction to gain control of their customers.
Drug Czars have amassed enormous fortunes and political power. They have created whole industries that operate outside the law and within their own moral codes. Not all dealers are addicts themselves. Television Evangelists have amassed personal fortunes from their customers. Not all religion peddlers are addicts. They hype religion to gain political power, a share in the profits of drug companies and movie markets. Not all religion pushers believe their own propaganda.
Drug pushers can be martyrs. There are those who will provide illegal drugs for loved ones who suffer from excruciating pain or addictions. Some will even risk their own lives and their freedom to provide the means for a peaceful death for those who suffer. Some religious martyrs believe suffering is a high to beat all highs, and they're eager to share. They have compassion for those who suffer from, say, Aids. Who needs condoms when you can offer your suffering up to the lord and get your eternal high in heaven.

And the Enablers....

There are those who inadvertently make it possible, or at least easier, for the addicts, the junkies and the bingers to justify or excuse their abuse of drugs and/or religion.

Enablers tolerate drug abusers. They rescue them. They don't challenge them, and most of all they don't leave the abusers to fend for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions. Enablers of religious fanaticism deny criticism and open debate. They don't hold religion accountable to take responsibility for its own superstitions, lies and mythologies.
Often enablers are moderate drug users. They don't want their junkie partners to quit using because that would mean they would have to face up to their own use or abuse. Moderate religionists are the most insidious enablers. They don't challenge their junkie counterparts because doing so would require them to question the very basis of their own faith and their belief system, not just what they believe but how they formulate their beliefs.
Enablers are often victims of loved ones who abuse drugs. Frequently they are dependent upon them for financial support. They protect the abusers to save face with family and community. When religious fanatics abuse loved ones, the victims are frequently convinced it's their own fault for not being religious (read good) enough.

Sullum argues that even hardcore drug addicts might not be quite as much of a problem if their drugs were legal, accessible and affordable.

Here is where the analogy ends. Religion is legal, accessible and affordable. Those who push religion: priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, etc. generally enjoy respect and exalted status in our culture. Religion is, for the most part, free, and it's subsidized and protected by our government. Those who would criticize religion, its practitioners, and its doctrines, are considered insensitive, intolerant bigots.

Rail against cigarette smoking and how it contaminates the lungs of innocents all you want, but rail against religion and how it contaminates the minds of innocent children at your own peril.

The United States boasts that it is a Christian nation. Nobody can disagree that the United States is the most sectarian of all the developed democracies in the world. Criticizing religion is unpatriotic, a sin against God and country.

Gregory S. Paul, in the "Journal of Religion and Society", volume 7, 2005, compared data from 18 developed democracies. His findings indicate, "In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion É None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction."

Paul's data about the United States further indicates, "the strongly theistic, anti-evolution South and Midwest" have "markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the Northeast where É secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms."

Left to its own devices, religion, like any other social system evolves as science sheds light on irrational beliefs that have no evidentiary basis. Most Catholics in developed nations don"t bel'eve in transubstantiation or the virgin birth anymore. Smaller Catholic families give evidence that mainstream Catholics value reason over dogma when they practice responsible birth control.

And let's not forget that it took a long time, but the Pope has acknowledged the earth is not the center of the universe; and recently the state of Virginia apologized for its role in support of slavery. Oh yes, and the Pope recently abolished Limbo so now all those un-baptized babies can go directly to heaven without having to pass go.

But can we afford to wait until reason and science nudge the social evolutionary process in favor of saving our country, our planet and our species?

We are at a tipping point, a point where technology and science have provided the means with which to destroy our planet and ourselves. One can only speculate about a bleak future with these resources in the hands of faith-based fanatics. Can we afford to continue to enable them?

The last time we speculated about our potential to destroy ourselves and our planet, there was a cold war between the Christian United States and the Atheist Soviet Union. We might well have come to our senses in the nick of time. Currently we face the erosion of our hard-fought-for civil liberties. Our shortsighted politicians, greedy and powerful, use the ignorance of the populace, yes even the moderate religionists, to support their private agendas for wealth and power. Religion dealers who are organized, loud, rich, and powerful are drowning out the voices of science and reason. Religionists, even many of the moderate ones, support increasing control of our government and the establishment of Christian doctrine. We are in grave danger of becoming a theocracy, a throwback to the dark ages.

Can you imagine what the dark ages would have looked like if technology and weapons of mass destruction had been available to be used in the interest of fighting religion wars? I'm talking religion wars on our own soil. Yup, right here in River City. Can we afford to enjoy our comfortable complacency as the earth warms, our young people are encouraged to accept mind-numbing doctrine at the expense of critical thinking, and our civil liberties erode, until we find ourselves the unwilling participants fighting ancient battles with atomic weapons and chemicals? Are we the frogs in the pot? Like global warming, the heat is turned up gradually and we're slowly allowing ourselves to be cooked.

Atheists have not declared war on religion, however. Religion has declared war on reason.

Every time a creationist tries to pass off Intelligent Design as science, every time the religious right puts roadblocks into the path of embryonic stem cell research, we are called to fight in a war on reason. Every time religionists insist on legislating their particular brand of morality to deny homosexuals their civil liberties and women the right to their bodies, we are obliged to support reason. Every time our government uses tax monies to support religious education that indoctrinates more innocent children to join the army against reason, every time our government promotes faith-based services for the needy and the impaired, requiring them to accept religion as payment for their treatment, we are drafted into the war on reason. Every time a child is required to say "under God," sing religious songs in a public school, and receive a high school diploma in a ceremony conducted in a church, we are drafted into the war on reason. Every time a child is discriminated against for expressing disbelief in god, we must support reason. Every time our government promotes and sanctions the process of taking action based on belief without evidence, it legitimizes the process through which suicide bombers justify their actions, and we are drafted into the war on reason.

We are all going to die someday. Why should we care? One could easily justify a retirement filled with bridge games, golf, and good music. Perchance we've been the lucky ones and we should pick up our marbles and go home.

Then again, thinking in Darwinian terms, perhaps we've been hard wired to care about our progeny. I don't mean the grandchildren we already love, members of our own family, tribe or clan. I mean the ones yet to be born. Perhaps it's the survival of our species we're hard wired to care about. All you closeted atheists who benevolently treat moderate religionists with misguided courtesy are playing a polite game of hide and seek. You are granting them permission to enforce the taboo on criticizing faith (belief without evidence), thus enabling the religion junkies to arm themselves for their war on reason, to turn this country into a theocracy, and to use weapons of mass destruction in a war between Christians and Muslims. So, come out, come out wherever you are. I know you're there. Whether you like it or not, you are being drafted into this war on reason. Please do stand up, speak out, and show your face in support of reason. Go ahead, risk being a little bit impolite and a little less tolerant.

Our numbers are increasing. We have the potential to become a powerful voting block. We don"t hav' buildings or dogmas, but we can have numbers (if we make ourselves more visible and make our voices heard).

Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens have busted down the door that had been slammed in our faces. They have changed the 11th commandment from "Thou Shall Not Criticize Religion" to "Thou Shalt Exercise Reason over Righteousness" And congressman Pete Stark (D-California) hit the green light for us when he said, "I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services."

We will never win a war on religion, nor should we even try to eliminate the rights of law abiding moderate religionists anymore than we should try to close down all the bars, the wineries, and the breweries. We might even join them for a beer and some camaraderie where our goals converge. After all, it's in everybody's best interest to keep government and religion separate.


O'Hare, Madalyn, Profanation of Sabbath Laws, American Atheist: A Journal of Atheist News and Thought, April, 2007.

Paul, Gregory S., Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, Journal of Religion and Society, vol 7, 2005.

Shermer, Michael, 1997. Why People Believe Weird Things. New York. W. H. Freeman and Company.

Sullum, Jacob, 2003. Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use. New York. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Marilyn LaCourt, M.A. is a retired clinical member and approved supervisor of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and Certified Independent Clinical Social Worker. LaCourt, a freelance writer, has written numerous articles for trade journals, over 100 essays for a community newspaper, two novels, and a bully prevention program for middle school students.

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