Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Religion/Heroin Analogy

Some theists struggle to see how life could have any meaning without god. A godless life, they say, is devoid of any objective meaning or purpose and is pointless. But many atheists, including myself, have no problem with there being no objective meaning or purpose to life, and some of us even go a step further and say that a life in which meaning is forced onto you from the outside is downright depressing.

In order to help some theists understand my point of view, I've thought of an analogy that might help in explaining this relationship between religion and meaning.

Suppose you were raised on a steady diet of heroin every single day. It makes you feel good, it gives your life meaning and purpose, and you look forward everyday to the warmth and pleasure that it gives you. You become utterly dependent on it everyday. So are all of your friends and family members, and as far as you can tell, everyone in your community. Life would be pointless, you believe, without heroin. And the very idea of not having it terrifies and depresses you. Then one day you meet someone who doesn't do heroin and you're completely shocked at the fact that they don't need a daily injection of smack to provide meaning and purpose to their lives and are perfectly fine and happy without it, and living a fulfilled life.

"How does your life have any meaning without heroin?" you ask them. "What motivates you to get up and endure another day?"

"Easy," they say. "I simply wasn't raised with a dependency on heroin like you were. The reason why you feel that life has no meaning without heroin is because you were raised to think that you were. And over time it became psychologically addictive, to the point where you believe that you need it to motivate you to get through life. For me, that dependency was never created and so I have no idea what it's like to need something like heroin in order to be motivated to get out of bed and go through my day. And actually, the idea of you needing heroin to feel a sense of meaning is pretty pathetic. I mean look at yourself. Seriously."

Now, I'm not saying religion is just like heroin or is just as harmful. But there is a similarity to the way some heroin addicts become so utterly dependent on their drug and how it gives their life meaning and purpose with how some theists become so utterly dependent on their religion. Karl Marx infamously said that "religion is the opium of the people". He had a good point. The demise of religion will be to a large degree due to the realization that meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life can be achieved without god or religion. And once the cycle of religious indoctrination is broken, and religion's head is severed, saying "it's tradition" won't be a viable excuse helping to perpetuate it.

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