An AdNAUSEUM metaPhysics primer

Why Religion is Opposed to Secular Democracy

A speculative essay by Des Pensable, (c) 2012

Note: Originally published here as Freedom and Democracy vs Religion


What is Freedom?

Survival is the prime instinct and basic rule for life. For life to continue to exist a plant or animal must survive. To survive it must gain energy, reproduce and avoid danger. Plants gain energy directly from the sunlight to build their bodies and consequently don’t need to move about to get it. Animals gain energy in the form of food by taking it from plants or other animals. To do this they must be unconstrained and have freedom of movement.

Complete freedom might be considered as the ability to go anywhere, do anything and say anything you desire to gain the food that will ensure your survival without any constraints. If you lived alone on an island with a reproductive partner and there was unlimited food and no dangers then you might expect that you have complete freedom but do you?

You have to share the island with your partner. The act of sharing takes away a little bit of freedom. You cannot both eat exactly the same piece of food or sit in the exact same spot or say anything to your partner without conflict. Someone needs to feed, teach and mind your offspring. You will both need to give up a little freedom to reproduce and coexist. Survival is dependent upon freedom but freedom has constraints.

Now if there are other creatures on your island that also wish to survive then there is a threat to your survival. They might want to eat your food or you. They are competing with you to survive. To assist you to survive you have developed a warning system called fear which both warns and triggers behavioral strategies and tactics to either avoid danger by fleeing or eliminating danger by attacking and destroying it. The opposite of fear is happiness.

Supposing that you successfully survive and reproduce on your island, there are now more people to share the same territory and food. Your ability to go anywhere, eat anything and do anything you wish is reduced. Your freedom is reduced and as your fear for your survival increases your happiness decreases.

However, to an extent your loss of freedom and fear of others might be more than offset by a greater choice of reproductive partners, the improved efficiency in collecting food and caring for offspring, improved knowledge and skills from working cooperatively with others and the greater safety in numbers.

To reduce problems and disagreements among your kin living together you might decide to cooperatively select a leader who will arbitrate disputes and make binding decisions as to whether you may or may not be able to go somewhere or do something that otherwise you would have chosen to do.

You have just created a set of rules for your society on the island. You have wilfully accepted a reduction in your freedom in order to lower your fears about living with others but gained the benefits and efficiencies of social cooperation with its associated safety of numbers and hence increased happiness.

Without the safety of numbers, if others of your kind come to your island who are aggressive and stronger than you and threaten to take your property and your partner and demand that you do what they say or they will kill you. Your options are to flee, fight or cooperate. If you cannot flee and choose not to fight, you must cooperate under the victor’s terms and conditions.

You may have survived from the point of view that you are not dead but have surrendered your freedom to go anywhere, eat anything and do anything you desire. You have lost your possessions and your reproductive partner; you have no choice in any decisions about your own life. You are property to be used, abused, sold or worked to death. You are valuable only if your productivity is greater than the cost of the food to keep you alive. You are a slave.

As a slave you are now in a continual state of fear and danger of survival. Your choices are still the same flee, fight or cooperate. To prevent you from fleeing or fighting your owner might put physical restraints on your body such as chains or threaten you with severe punishment if you defy him. You can be mutilated, tortured and murdered legally by your master at his whim. You suffer a severe decrease in happiness.

As a female slave your body is owned by your master. You must submit sexually at any time without question. Your children become slaves who must also submit without question. There is little happiness in survival without freedom.

If survival depends on freedom and happiness depends upon reduction of fear then peaceful cooperation with others is the way to maximise freedom, survival and happiness and minimise fear. It’s not surprising that people prefer living together in cooperative groups.

What is Religion?

Religion is a great concept and a wonderful tool to motivate and improve cooperation between people and thereby improve productivity. Everyone benefits, the leader, the free person, the slave owner and the slave but it has a down side. You must agree to give up some of your freedom.

The concept is simple. Create an imaginary iconic leader called a God who lives in another world. He is more powerful than any person in our world. He will love and protect you as if he was your father and the head of your family and he will offer you eternal survival and happiness in his perfect world of plenty but only after you die.

However, you must believe in him and his perfect spirit world as well as trust and obey him completely without question. If you don’t then he will be very angry and send you to a place of eternal pain and torture which is not a fatherly thing to do.

To accept the god you must wilfully give up your freedom of speech as you are no longer able to query his motives and his rules. Depending upon which god you choose you may also have to give up the freedom to go anywhere, eat anything, and do anything that you choose or all of these. Hence in accepting a god you may wilfully have to give up a significant amount of your personal freedom.

For the poor, the powerless and the slave with little hope or freedom the concept was brilliant. No matter how much they suffered under a despotic leader or cruel slave owner they were promised that after they die things will get much better. In fact they will be free and happy in god’s home land. All they have to do is to have faith in the concept, do as they’re told and behave kindly towards their oppressors. Furthermore they are also told that this fatherly god will punish their oppressors in the life after their death so that way they will get vengeance.

For the leaders it was also a great concept. They get the benefit that their people would work harder, be more productive and happier and are less likely to cause problems or revolt when treated badly. It had the added benefit that if the leader believed in the god then he was likely to be more benevolent to his people because he was worried about what the god might do to him after he died.

Everyone could be happy if only they had faith so prophets and followers set about convincing people to believe the concept and have faith in these benevolent gods and it worked.

The followers of the religions formed organizations, the first big corporate monopolies that had employees called priests who vigorously taught the doctrine and collected a fee for the service. The organizations owned buildings of worship and property and made a nice profit allowing them to grow and expand. People forgot or never knew that gods were a concept, a tool to reduce fear and get them to live together more sociably. They began believing that gods were real in the sense that people were real and could visit our world.

The kings and great leaders quickly worked out that by cooperating with the religious organizations they could benefit from more order and greater control over the people. In return the religious organizations were given special privileges such as the ability to collect their own taxes from the people and pay no tax to the king. Effectively both could tax the people.

It worked for hundreds of years. The religious organizations progressively took over people’s control of their own lives claiming that god said this and god said that. God would allow this food but not that. God would allow them to marry one woman but not another. God said that women must always obey and submit to one man and not another. God did not want them to use contraceptives.

God wanted them to mutilate the genitals of their children. God wanted them to kill homosexuals. God wanted them to attack and destroy any people that believed in other gods. God loved them but unless they did what god wanted they would be punished severely. God said if they served him well on Earth he would let them serve him in God’s world.

God the father was like a slave master who loved his enslaved children! The aristocracy and the religious organizations got wealthier while the poor stayed poor but they were happier. It will come as no surprise that Christianity, Islam and Judaisim all condone slavery and some Popes and Mohammad are said to have owned slaves.

The Enlightenment and Democracy

People were taught that god was perfect and knew and controlled everything so it was pointless to think or do anything themselves. If their living conditions were bad, or there was no food or their health was bad they were told to endure it. God was testing them. They were told to just obey god’s laws and they would be rewarded when they died. The religious organizations were profitable.

The kings and slave owners loved it! They gained high productivity at low cost but the progress in the discovery of new ideas, better ways to do things and how to live more happily with less fear was halted. As people crowded closer together in villages, towns and cities they suffered more from disease and ill health, children died young, women died in childbirth and the majority were exploited by a select few.

Religion became a problem as it was not designed to discover new knowledge or solve problems such as control of disease or reduce problems in childbirth it was designed only to control people’s behavior and make them feel happier and less fearful

Eventually a few brave men questioned the existence of gods. They became enlightened. They questioned the excesses of the rich and the cosy relationship between the aristocracy and the religious organizations. They began to think for themselves and believe in themselves. They believed that people could solve their own problems without intervention by gods.

They invented a method of thinking called science to determine what was true from false and real from illusion. It allowed people to discover new knowledge. It revealed the laws of nature, and solved the puzzles of disease and how the world worked. It allowed people to invent all sorts of new tools and machines that reduced the need for slaves. This new way of thinking improved everyone's life whether they were rich or poor.

Everyone’s life expectancy rose, fewer died of disease and in childbirth. Most children survived into adulthood. It allowed people to live in large numbers together without fear of disease, it provided new and better foods, it allowed them to travel anywhere they wished. It restored everyone’s freedom, reduced their fear, increased their happiness and improved their ability to survive in a very measurable way.

The scientific method also challenged the truth of the religious texts which are stated to be the words of god and further showed that the gods cannot be proven to exist but instead that they are most likely to be illusory creations of mankind. This robbed the authority of the religions.

The great philosophers and thinkers began to think of more freedom for the people. They reinvented the idea of democracy, a form of government where all the people cooperate, and cast votes on a common set of agreed rules as to how they wish to live together in peace and harmony without fear. Government by the people for the people.

Democracy was designed to give all people regardless of race, colour, gender or religion the maximum freedom to coexist, to travel, and make their own free choices as to how and where to live, how to act, what to wear and eat, who to marry and how they bring up their children and even believe in any religion or none if they wished. That sounds like real freedom doesn’t it?

Democracy versus Religion

The problem with democracy is that it directly challenges the authority and vested interests of the religious organizations that have made a comfortable living out of their mythical gods. Is it any wonder then that the religious organizations are in continual conflict with the democratic law-makers?

The religious organizations believe that it is their duty to their god to ensure that all people know about their god, convince the people to believe in their god and obey their god’s rules. They believe that people are like children and incapable of knowing what is good or bad for them. God is like their father and knows what is best for them. It is the children’s duty to be obedient to their father and a disobedient child must be punished.

They believe women should be confined to domestic duties in the home, they should be seen but not heard and their main role and their duty is to be incubators for children as god told them to go out and multiply. Some religious groups go one step further. They do not believe that people are trust worthy so they believe it is their duty to force people to obey god’s laws for their own good.

Knowledge, education and the scientific method has given the people the ability to think for themselves. They are mentally equipped to decide whether they wish to believe in a god and the god’s rules or not and democracy allows them the freedom to make their own decisions. Consequently, democracy has thrived in the western countries where the populations are well educated and religion thrives in the countries where the populations are poorly educated. It would seem that the way towards greater freedom, happiness and survival is through better education.

However, the problem remains that there is a direct conflict between religion that says it is your duty to do as god commands which puts limits on personal freedom and democracy that states that you can do as you please provided you obey the golden rule.

In order to allow a large number of people to live together harmoniously with the benefits of both religion and democracy a version of democracy called secular democracy has evolved which has become very popular and spread to many countries around the world.

Secular Democracy

In a secular democracy there are three main rules. The first main rule is that the civil rules of the democratic state have precedence over the rules of any of the religious groups. This allows countries with several religious groups with disparate laws and rules to live together in harmony under a common set of rules whilst still believing in their own gods.

The second main rule is that of state and religion separation. The civil laws and rules of the democratic state are made without having to conform to any of the laws or rules of any of the religions. Hence the laws are fair and equitable and don’t give special treatment or preferences to any specific religion or religious group.

The third main rule is the Golden rule. Only do to others as you would expect them to do to you. Or its corollary, don’t do to others what you wouldn’t wish them to do to you. Curiously the golden rule exists in most religions and philosophies but seems to have a lower priority to other rules.

The great advantage of a secular democracy for the moderate religious groups is that it allows them to modernise their religious practices to society norms without having to change their religious dogma.

For example if religious dogma or custom allows slavery, child mutilation, sexual inequality, bigotry, apostasy or other ancient practises that might be condemned as uncivilized and inhumane in this modern age the members of a faith are obliged to obey the civil laws rather than the religious laws. Hence in theory democracy and religion can coexist.

In practice, the second main rule is the cause of most problems within secular democracies. If there is a dominant religious group or a militant fundamentalist religious group then it often demands that most of the rules of the secular democracy are based primarily upon its own religious rules often breaking the golden rule. The greater this happens then the weaker the secular democracy becomes as it is no longer fair and equitable to all.

At this moment in history there is a religious/political divide between the so called economically developed and undeveloped countries. The undeveloped countries are perhaps half a century behind the more enlightened western countries when it comes to the individual freedom and civil rights promised by secular democracy.

In the economically undeveloped countries where the people are poorly educated the gods are more important than the people and the people are heavily indoctrinated by their local religious organizations to obey the rules of the god. In these countries, if democracy exists at all, it is more a token political ideal rather than an actual reality as there is a mood of intolerance towards individual freedom and rights generated by the leaders and religious groups with a vested interest in maintaining their power.

Freedom of speech is rare, human rights are commonly abused, women are treated like slaves and homosexuals are murdered. Here people are punished if they break religious rules and may be imprisoned or murdered if they disrespect the local god or express their opinion that gods do not exist. This is NOT secular democracy.

The economically developed countries have more advanced secular democracies. They generally have constitutions that guarantee state and religion separation and governments where the people get to choose their laws and how their societies should function with minimal input from the religious groups. However, some of their laws are often oriented towards appeasing their local religious groups in the name of culture and custom.

Religious groups often pay little or no tax and get preferential planning and financial and treatment by the governments. They are often exempt from health and industrial safety laws and laws that specify minimum wages and working conditions. They are also allowed to breach codes of civil rights with barbaric customs such as genital mutilation of baby girls and boys and marriage of female children without their consent.

Often the religious organizations fight continually to undermine the laws of secular democracies that don’t agree with their particular brand of faith. They want the democracy to agree to their religious rules as being the rules for the democracy thus forcing all others to adopt their god’s rules. This can be illustrated perfectly by a short examination of the current political situation in the USA where there seems to be a war raging between secular democracy and religion.

Secular Democracy vs Religion in the USA

In the USA the people are quite religious for a western democracy. Here 50-70% of the people claim to go to a religious place of worship regularly and more than 50% believe that the Christian god is real and the biblical story of creation is true. Only about 30% accept that the scientific theory of evolution is correct and about 10% claim to be atheists

In most other western counties considerably fewer people attend places of worship, they are much more sceptical about gods and only a minority believe in religious creation myths the large majority preferring instead the scientific theory of evolution.

The Americans widely believe that they are the most democratic country in the world, yet they are certainly not the most secular which is curious as their constitution clearly states that they have separation of state and religion and it sponsors secular government and ideals.

There are two political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats are progressives with a social capitalist agenda who do believe in the principles of a secular democracy where liberty, equality and fraternity rules. They work tireless to improve people’s access to work, education and health. They believe in a fairer more equitable distribution of wealth and the government supplying more services in health and education to the poor.

The Democrats believe in sexual equality and strong individual personal rights and freedoms. They work against threats of pollution, global warming and cooperate with other countries on international affairs. They are strongly represented among the well-educated, middle income professionals, city dwellers and sea side states.

The Republicans call themselves conservatives. They are currently pro-theocracy party controlled by right wing religious fundamentalists who would force all of their countrymen to obey their god and his laws. This fits in with the model of the church as a big corporate monopoly. This is contrary to the US constitution. They are aligned with the American aristocracy who in the USA are the banks and big corporations. They are strongly represented among the less well educated blue collar and rural workers in the southern and inland agricultural states.

The Republicans have a 'cheap labor' conservative capitalist agenda. The first part is to adjust the democracy’s laws so that they primarily obey their god’s laws. To do this they work tirelessly to have what they call fundamental Christian values enshrined in the law and undermine civil rights laws especially those which involve women’s and homosexuals individual rights.

The second part is to adjust the laws so that the banks and big business that support them can make the maximum profit from the 'cheap labor' resource. To do this they fight against unions and industrial safely laws, they undermine legislation designed to curb financial fraud and control pollution. They lower taxes on the rich and weaken or deny government assistance to the poor on education and health. They are quite xenophobic when it comes to other religions and cultures. These actions are contrary to secular democracy in fact they are contrary to humanity.

So in the USA we have one party strongly in favour of secular democracy and one against it. Effectively there is a civil war between democracy and religion sponsored and financed by big business that have more profit to gain through backing 'cheap labor' conservative capitalism than the social capitalism of a secular democracy that is likely to push for higher taxes and better working conditions for workers.

Is it any wonder that while America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world but the poorest distribution of its wealth in the world where more than 80% is owned by less than 5% of the people. Religion in the USA favours the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.


In the dense populated world of today religion argues that it is beneficial as it acts to reduce the fear and stresses of modern survival hence increase happiness through faith which is belief without proof of the existence in fatherly gods that promise a better life after death to all but especially the poor and uneducated. The cost of this faith is the wilful acceptance of reduced individual freedom and slave like duty to an imaginary higher authority.

Democracy offers a way of surviving in a populated society which creates fair and equitable laws and rules agreed by all that optimizes cooperation between the individuals of the society thus minimizing fear and maximizing individual freedom and happiness.

Secular democracy offers a compromise that minimizes the differences between religion and democracy by creating a common set of rules that all must agree to live by. It maintains the freedom to have faith in a particular religion if you desire or not.

The problems in the world today are mainly cause by fundamentalist religious groups that refuse to live by a common set of rules agreed by all who through stubborn faith in their imaginary gods believe that their duty is to force all others to believe in their god and his rules. In short, my god is better than yours.

Knowledge and education increase social cooperation and peace for the benefit of all. They also increase the understanding and acceptance that gods are illusory creations invented by mankind.

Consequently, if one genuinely wishes a better, fairer and more just world where all may live in peace, harmony and happiness it would seem logical to pursue a worldwide campaign to improve education among the poor and underprivileged and sponsor secular democratic rule and laws wherever possible.

The corporate theocratic alliance would seem to be counterproductive to a secular democracy while a social capitalist policy would seem to be most productive.

Further Similar Articles by Des Pensable 

Is Science a Belief or a Faith

Fear, Religion and Science

Further Reading

Blake, jOHN (2012) How religion has been used to promote slavery.

Lakoff, George (2004) Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. Scribe Publications, Melbourne. 119 pp.

Berlinerblau, Jaques (2012), How to be Secular: A call to Arms for Religious Freedom.

Amanda Marcotte, (2012), 8 Countries Where Atheism Is Accepted, Even Celebrated, Instead of Demonized

Why is faith falling in the US?

Budde, Michael and Robert Brimlow. (2002). How Big Business is Buying the Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press,191 pp. ISBN: 1587430266.

Harris, Sam (2012) On Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God.

Gilson, D and Perot, C (2012) Its the Inequality Stupid.

Wilson Bruce (2012) Jason Russel, Invisible Children and The Gathering"

Haraldsson, H. (2012) The GOPs Blatant support for Theocracy

Frank Schaeffer (2012) How the Evangelicals Doomed the Republican Party, God and (Maybe) America

Brown, Simon (2012) 10 Ways Right-Wing Christian Groups Will Likely Shove Religion Down Your Throat This Year.

Last updated 28th October, 2012

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