Some mostly random religious thoughts…
Many (probably most) atheists spend a lot of time sneering at religious rituals and ethics, such as the Roman Catholic rituals of abstaining from meat (or performing some alternate penance) on Fridays and attending Mass on Sunday, or refraining from premarital sex. (I use Catholic practices because I am most familiar with them, but any religion’s practices would do). The argument is that God surely has better things to do than worry about whether people spend an hour each week in a particular building or whether people observe a manmade ceremony before engaging a perfectly natural biological act.
And that line of thought is somewhat compelling—after all, many of these traditions do seem to make God out to be a sort of cosmic nursemaid who is perpettually obsessing over petty details. But it overlooks the fact that God (really, no matter what your religion) also promises to forgive sins like rape and murder, and offers an eternal reward if one’s life is lived within some really quite lenient ethical boundaries. (Catholics can repent at any moment of their lives; even a Hitler can, if he achieves true repentance, go to heaven). Yes, God commands His followers to observe some seemingly senseless rules—but He will forgive even the most grievous transgressions.
Another atheist sneer is that religion is responsible for most of the world’s ills. Examples given often include the Spanish Inquisition, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the Crusades. Ignore, for the moment, that the most of the Inquisition’s crimes were exaggerated, and that the Crusaders actually had a pretty good claim to the Holy Land. Also ignore the obvious logical fallacy: abusus non tollit usum—the use is not the abuse. This point completely ignores the crimes perpetuated by atheists—Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China were all ruled by regimes that were militantly atheistic. Does that constitute an damning incitement of atheism? Of course not. (And if there are any Christians out there who disagree, remember that fallacy that you just agreed with two sentences ago).
Perhaps the most common religious/philosophical fallacy is the idea that a sincere belief can make up for being wrong about religion. It can’t. If you worship the wrong God, being wholly sincere in your beliefs won’t help. (Fortunately, many religions offer salvation to these well-intentioned but misinformed souls).
Being sincerely wrong is acceptable—but you must be really, honestly wrong. So many people seem to think that they can iron out philosophical inconsistencies with ironclad faith, and counter all arguments against their beliefs with the fact that they earnestly believe in them. But if they are actually wrong, all the belief in the world can’t change that objective fact.
By the way, this fallacy seems to be most common among Roman Catholics. Many Catholics seem to think that any religion, or no religion, is pretty much acceptable if the person in question is a nice guy and isn’t committing any socially unacceptable sins, such as murder, theft, or racism. (What’s a socially acceptable sin? Cheating, slander, and lying often are, if the victim is someone you don’t really like). Protestants, especially evangelicals, are the opposite—they may hold some inane beliefs (sorry, the world wasn’t really created in six days), but at least they actually believe them.
There aren’t really many Ayn Randists around anymore, but they are disproportionably represented in the conservative movement—nearly every prominent conservative seems to have read Atlas Shrugged. The point of Atlas Shrugged is that every individual must live only for himself, that every man is responsible only for his own rational self-interest. As you can guess, Rand takes a dim view of religion.
Like Communism, Objectivism is one of those philosophies that seems to have been created for robots. Is there anyone who wouldn’t help, at least in theory, a little girl run over by a bus even if it meant being late for a meeting and losing a substantial amount of money? (If you said you wouldn’t, then you are probably an immoral monster. No offense or anything, we can still be friends, but still). Nobody lives only for themselves, and we should be happy about that.
Objectivists are supposed to be free, independent individualists. And nothing says individualists like a bunch of people who all think exactly the same way and unquestioningly follow the teachings of one person.
Hopefully, you found these ideas at least somewhat interesting. But if you want to read some better religious stuff, I would recommend G.K Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene. You might not agree with these authors, but they are entertaining, and unlike me, are actually experts on religion. Also, you might want to check out Steve Dutch’s website—he’s a college professor who has some interesting insights on religion.