People often ask “What’s the harm in people believing what they want to believe? They aren’t hurting anyone. It makes them happy. Why try and change that?” Well, there are plenty of things I can see as to why believing in something that is false can be harmful. The biggest reason is that it’s wrong. If I believed that I had a million dollars in the bank and believing that made me happy that wouldn’t make it true, also as a consequence I’d probably end up in jail on bank fraud charges when I kept writing bad checks.
For a more extreme and real-world example, I’m going to pick on a very select group of Christianity called the “Followers of Christ Church.” They do not believe in modern medicine, rather, that healing comes only from god. You can pray and put anointing oil over your sick but you can NOT take them to the doctor. This has lead to the death of at least five children in this group. I want that to sink in for a moment. Five children are dead because their parents chose not to give them any medical care because their religion told them not to. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Godless Journey, this is just some weird cult of people that would do this! Most religious people would take their kids to the doctor!” and you’re absolutely right. But take the belief that god knows everything and only has good things planned for you to its end like these people have. Either god will heal you of your sickness or you were meant to die. What’s the harm?
Another avenue is that it may stifle advancement. I’m not one to say that religion led to the dark ages but it’s not hard to see why it’s a thought people have. When you’re taught to believe that you have a book with all of the answers, what’s the point in looking any further? You already know how the universe began, you already know how we got here, you already know. And yet as atheists, we’re labeled as the arrogant ones. I’m more comfortable now than I have ever been with answering questions with “I don’t know but let’s find out!” What’s the harm?
The belief in false things can lead to an abuse of power. This, of course, isn’t limited to the concept of religiosity but it certainly enhances it. One someone tells you they have direct communication with an all-powerful being and you believe that…you tend to do what they tell you. As you can imagine this can lead to all sorts of awful places. Look at the “Heaven’s Gate” cult or the “People’s Temple“. I know I’ve only mentioned cults here that end in mass suicide but it’s the same mindset in most organized religions. What’s the harm?
What I’ve listed so far here is a lot of things that are external to the victim. Things like being told how to think, being forced to do things, but there is an internal harm that can come with believing wrong things. As a Christian, I suffered from depression. I asked god so many times to heal me from it but nothing came. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with what I was doing that would stop god from healing me. I made sure I was praying and worshiping as outlined in the Bible. Still nothing. So now on top of being depressed, I felt guilty about being depressed. I felt as though I was doing something wrong and god was punishing me. This led me to a very dark place more times than I can count. But I faked it. I faked being happy because I didn’t want anyone to know how ashamed god was of me. What’s the harm?