To illustrate the nature of religion, let us suppose that somewhere on the planet there is an island called Slib. Upon this island of Slib, there live two tribes. Both worship a different god.
One cult worships the god Ye-Heh, who created this universe and its people for no reason other than as a cruel prank. Jokes are holy proverbs. Communions involve heavy drinking and ritualistic tickling. Their clergymen are clowns and jesters. But the gravest blasphemy for a follower of Ye-Heh is to be caught weeping, be they not tears of laughter. For did not the prophet of Ye-Heh have a vision long ago, and in that vision, did not so many people weep that their tears melted the earth? This is why Ye-Heh commands his children to promptly exile a crier from the tribe, leaving her to die in the wilderness.
Across the island of Slib, there dwell the worshippers of Boo-Hoo. They believe their deity created the universe out of the sheer despair in his heart. The oath of a Boo-Hooite priest is one of lifelong asceticism, celibacy, and silence. These people place their only hope in the prophet of Boo-Hoo, who declared that in the day all people wept, God would hear them and appear among them forever. Laughter is believed to be blasphemy – too much laughter will shake the earth apart, and enrages a sober God. That is why all laughers are promptly hung in the village square.
As you might imagine, Ye-Hehites and Boo-Hooites don’t get along. Wars were fought between these cults until they built a huge wall across the island. Yet each side never quits sending suicide bombers and death squads to harass the other people.
To complicate matters, there lies a mountain in the heart of Slib. According to the ancient writings of both Ye-Hehism and Boo-Hooism, it is the birthplace of both prophets, and thus it is holy land and belongs to either tribe. So long as strident faith in religious scripture remains, reconciliation between the religions is impossible.
Both religions are antithetical. Both are equally superstitious, evil, inhumane, and utterly unfounded in reality. Both illustrate the nature of many real religions: an orthodox Christian cannot help but proselytize Buddhists, for Buddhism is an atheistic religion whose followers deny the soul’s existence and seek self-knowing for spiritual awakening, not from salvation which comes from faith in Christ alone; an orthodox Muslim cannot sit comfortably in a room with Hindus, because Hindus are polytheist infidels blaspheming the one true God with their every breath and prayer.
Meanwhile, an earthquake ravages Slib. Houses and temples in either tribe crumble to bits and lots people are killed. Symbolically, the wall built between these religious communities collapses. Ye-Hehites and Boo-Hooites alike raise their voices from the ashes to the heavens, each seeking divine help from their god, and of course to blame the witchery of their rivals for the disaster.
However, due to recent contact with the outside world, progressive ideas have made their way among the younger generation of Ye-Hehites and Boo-Hooites, while scientific ideas have caused them to doubt and believe their creation myths are metaphors for deeper truths. These moderate Ye-Hehites and Boo-Hooites organize and cross the crumbled wall, where they search the wreckage for survivors and distribute food and water to the homeless. A touching moment of human camaraderie.
When one young Ye-Hehite is interviewed, he says: “It was my faith in a God who is cheerful and jolly that has inspired me to enter the ministry – would God not want these people to laugh?” When a Boo-Hooite is interviewed, he says: “Whenever I hand these orphans a loaf of bread, my eyes stream with pure tears of joy, and I know that my God is pleased.” But suspiciously, after basic needs are met, the liberal Ye-Hehites and Boo-Hooites still attempt to convert one another. It turns out that humanitarian efforts to save lives was just a lesser priority – by saving these people’s lives, they had hoped to save their souls.
Regardless of their outrageously contradicting divine doctrines, they assist one another toward a common, humanistic goal. A pro-religious person will say: “See? Faith is good. It has inspired these people to cooperate.” But an anti-theist will feel their point has been validated. Both the Ye-Hehites and Boo-Hooites are doing what is plainly right despite the written words of the prophets. The liberal religious activists were interpreting their motives through the filter of their cultural lens – but to do that, they gave up much of the hardline, primitive theologies that originally separated both peoples. In the end, these moderate Ye-Hehites and Boo-Hooites are not better or purer practitioners of their faiths (though obviously they are more moral). They are actually unorthodox, even reviled as nominal or heretical by the rest of their people – in short, they are less religious.
Faith in gods, the spiritual, and the divine does not need to be wiped from the world. It shouldn’t. Religious literature, teachings, and architecture are full of beauty and mystery that the infusion of hyper-scientism only hollows out. But before faith plays a role in human relationships, it must be held accountable to human conscience.