And we can be assured as we could probably need be that neither this enormous explosion that set the universe in motion, which is still moving away from us in a great rate nor this amazingly complex billion dollar–billion year period of evolution– we can be pretty certain it was not designed so that you and I could be meeting in this room. We are not the objects of either of these plans. These plans don’t know we’re here. I’m sorry to say, wouldn’t know or care if we stopped being here. We have to face this alone with the equipment, intellectual and moral, that we’ve been given, or that we’ve acquired or that is innate to us.
And here’s another way in which religion poisons matters. It begins by saying, well, why don’t we lie to ourselves instead, why don’t we pretend that we’re not going to die, or that an exception to be made at least in our own case if we make the right propitiations or the right moves. Why do we not pretend that the things like modern diseases which we can sequence now, sequence the genes of, like AIDS, are the punishment for wickedness and fornication? Why don’t we keep fooling ourselves that there is a divine superintendent of all this because it would abolish the feeling of loneliness and possibly even irrelevance that we might otherwise –in other words, why don’t we surrender to wish thinking? That poisons everything, in my opinion. Right away, it attacks the very basic integrity that we need to conduct the scrupulous inquiries, investigations, experiments, interrogations of evidence that we need to survive, and to prosper and to grow.
And it’s no coincidence, no accident that almost every scientific advance has been made in the teeth of religious opposition of one form or another that says we shouldn’t be tampering with God’s design. I suppose the most recent and most dangerous one of these is the attempt to limit stem cell research. But everyone could probably think of all other forms of scientific research and inquiry, especially medical that had led to religious persecution, in reprisal.
Thirdly, it’s an attack, I think, on what’s also very important to us, our innate morality. If there’s one point that I get made more than another to me when I go and debate religious people, it’s this: They say, where would your morals come from if there was no God? It’s actually –it’s a question that’s posed in Dostoyevsky’s wonderful novel, The Brothers Karamazov, one of the brothers says –Snelyakov, actually, the wicked one, says it. If God is dead, isn’t everything permitted, isn’t everything permissible? Where would our ethics be if there was no superintending duty? This, again, seems to me a very profound insult to us in our very deepest nature and character. It is not the case, I submit to you, that we do not set about butchering and raping and thieving from each other right now only because we’re afraid of a divine punishment or because we’re looking for a divine reward. It’s an extraordinarily base and insulting thing to say to people.
On my mother’s side, some of my ancestry is Jewish. I don’t happen to believe the story of Moses and Egypt or the exile or the wandering and the Sinai. And in fact, now even Israeli archaeology has shown that there isn’t a word of truth to that story or really any of the others; but take it to be true. Am I expected to believe my mother’s ancestors got all the way to Mount Sinai, quite a trek, under the impression until they got there that rape, murder, perjury, and theft were okay, only to be told when they got to the foot of Mount Sinai, bad news, none of these things are kosher at all. They’re all forbidden. I don’t think so.
I think, I think we can –actually, I have a better explanation ever since –superior as well as better –that no one would have been able to get as far as Mount Sinai or any other mountain or in any other direction unless they had known that human solidarity demands that we look upon each other as brothers and sisters, and that we forbid activities such as murder, rape, perjury, and theft. This is innate in us. If those activities are not innate, the sociopaths who don’t understand the needs of anyone but themselves and the psychopaths who positively take pleasure in breaking these rules, well, all we can say is, according to one theory, they are also made in the image of God which makes the image of God question rather problematic, does it not or that they can be explained by a further and better research and have to be restrained and disciplined meanwhile, but in no sense here is religion a help where it came to help most which is to our morality, to our ethics.
Finally, I would say –not finally because I’m finished here, I’m not quite done. Don’t relax. Everyone has got to drink, something to eat, but on the poison question, I think there’s the real temptation of something very poisonous to human society and human relations which is the fear of freedom, the wish to be slaves, the wish to be told what to do.
Now, just as we all like to think and we live under written documents and proclamations that encourage us to think that it is our birth right and our most precious need to be free, to be liberated, to be untrammeled. So we also knew that unfortunately the innate in people is the servile, is the wish to be told what to do, is the adoration for strong and brutal and cruel leaders, that this other baser element of the human makeup has to be accounted for and it gives us a great deal of trouble around the world as we speak.
Religion, in my view, is a reification, a distillation of this wish to be a serf, to be a slave. Ask yourself if you really wish it was true that there was a celestial dictatorship that watched over you from the moment you were born, actually the moment you were conceived, all through life, night and day, knew your thoughts, waking and sleeping, could in fact convict you of thought crime, the absolute –the absolute definition of a dictatorship, can convict you for what you think or what you privately want, what you’re talking about to yourself, that admonishes you like this under permanent surveillance, control and supervision and doesn’t even let go of you when you’re dead because that’s when the real fun begins.