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This is one of the winning submissions for a writing contest conducted by Ping in 2018.

Religion has and will always be a conflicting issue. It has provided a sense of peace for several, been a refuge during troubling times, but for others, it has been the basis for oppression. As a millennial, I’m part of a generation that has increasingly abandoned religion or at least distanced itself from its preaching. This article will not indulge into the specifics of several religions and is not meant to insult any religion. It is a truth universally acknowledged that religion has fostered peace, united societies but at this point, we must ask ourselves, are these enough to justify its downfalls?

Let us first analyse the issue we are attempting to tackle. Are all wars religious? No, they aren’t. In fact, most dictators such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin didn’t use religion as a primary reason behind their actions. Groups such as the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry have often criticized the atheism movement under this pretext- ‘religion doesn’t separate, people do.’ While there is an element of truth to this, let us get this misconception thrown out. Religion is not simply a book of ideals that are universally accepted, it’s a series of events spanning several people over different times leaving the ideas that religion preaches open to interpretation and confusion. The openness with which religion can be interpreted leaves a giant hole which is far too often filled by extremists. Hence, religion serves as the basis for people to fight over with many religious figures that attempt to sway public opinion based on their opinion. Religion addresses a certain set of ideas and provides historical precedent for it in many cases, whether it be glorious tales of gods or simple heroic tales of common folk, but the interpretation makes a huge difference. There are conflicts all over the world that may not involve religion at a face level but stem from it- LGBTQ issues where groups claim that God condemns them, women’s rights issues, and on a larger scale geopolitical conflicts..

Misinterpretation and fake ideas threaten to destroy the world through religion in this age of the internet. Decrying certain acts as sins and others as blessings by God drive people to commit heinous acts in the name of someone who supposedly only cares that we treat each other with kindness. Most religions preach compassion, but this instruction gets polluted by the exceptions we make based on a person’s race, colour or sex.

Atheism takes the worst elements of religion off the board and provides a clean slate for education – not religious education but education rooted in fact; education that teaches true science, that man is truly responsible for himself, that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to skill sets, that sexuality isn’t a personal choice. Books dated back thousands of years ago should have no place determining the actions of the present, they should serve as lessons but not hard and fast truths. After all, this world has progressed not because of our adherence to rules or ideals, but rather because of our willingness to change the norms of society and culture. Atheism could do just that.

Religious conflicts have clearly cast a gloomy shadow over an already rattled world, this world war on ideas is essentially the first of its kind and the victor will determine the direction the world takes. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously called for increased action against “radical Islamic terror”, a call that was surprisingly well received across the globe. In India, several pro-Hindu groups held prayers to support his campaign and rejoiced at the prospect of eliminating their “enemies”. While this doesn’t mean that all Hindus hate Muslims or anything of that sort, it does indicate that people are willing to segregate people based on religion instead of their personalities. The world’s understanding of what makes good, good, and evil, evil seem to be blurred by this ash of religion.

Now imagine a day when everyone just unanimously dropped religion. What would this imaginary world look like? Would there be conflicts? Yes, there would be, but these would be based on ideas and not emotions or words mentioned in a historical artefact. Would terrorism prevail? Not in today’s form: groups such as ISIL and the KKK would have no basis to assert their claims, they wouldn’t fight based on the past or try to confirm with a historical artefact.

An atheist world would take us much closer to world peace than we’ve ever been. In fact, as per a poll taken by the Pew Research Center in 2009, religiously distant persons were less likely to consider torture and death penalties as justifiable acts. Atheism removes a lot of the variables involved with interpretation and gives everyone the space to act on their own will. The new generation has already shown a reluctance to adopt religious ideas as they develop. Schools are a place of learning – where students must be allowed to make their own conclusions -not institutions to hypnotize their minds to the tune of religious leaders. To this end, schools shouldn’t be affiliated to any religion and it must only be taught as a history lesson not as a life lesson. I do recognize that total atheism is a dream, but a good start would be stopping forcing it down people’s’ throats, especially the most gullible of our world – children.

Religion does offer a means to help console oneself; there is truly something special about sitting in a place of worship and chanting along, but there is an extent to which this must be encouraged. We must understand that it is only us that can truly make a difference and seek to sort our own problems through peaceful means. Men must take charge of their own actions, take charge of their own thoughts and take charge of their lives for once. After all, if an atheist does something out of kindness, he does it out of principle not with the ulterior motive of going to ‘heaven’ and doesn’t religion itself say that selfless acts are the purest actions?

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Jaidev Shriram

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Categories: Contest Perspectives