This world is simply ablaze with bad ideas. There are still places where people are put to death for imaginary crimes—like blasphemy—and where the totality of a child’s education consists of his or her learning to recite from an ancient book of religious fiction. There are countries where women are denied almost every human liberty, except the liberty to breed. And yet, these same societies are quickly acquiring terrifying arsenals of advanced weaponry. If we cannot inspire the developing world to pursue ends that are compatible with a global civilization, then a dark future awaits all of us.
The contest between our religions is zero-sum. Religious violence is still with us because our religions are intrinsically hostile to one another. Where they appear otherwise, it is because secular knowledge and secular interests are restraining the most lethal improprieties of faith. It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity.
If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith. If our tribalism is ever to give way to an extended moral identity, our religious beliefs can no longer be sheltered from the tides of genuine inquiry and genuine criticism. It is time we realized that to presume knowledge where one has only pious hope is a species of evil. Wherever conviction grows in inverse proportion to its justification, we have lost the very basis of human cooperation. Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; where we have no reasons, we have lost both our connection to the world and to one another. People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the margins of our societies, not in our halls of power. The only thing we should respect in people’s faith is their desire for a better life in this world; we need never have respected their certainty that one awaits them in the next.
Nothing is more sacred than the facts. No one, therefore, should win any points in our discourse for deluding themselves. The litmus test for reasonableness should be obvious: anyone who wants to know how the world is, whether in physical or spiritual terms, will be open to new evidence. We should take comfort in the fact that people tend to conform themselves to this principle whenever they are obliged to. This will remain a problem for religion. The very hands that prop up our faith will be the ones to shake it.