Brief historical account of the rational interpretation of religion
For Aristotle (384-322 BC), the science of theology has for subject the "separate" beings of matter and the "motionless engines" that make movement possible to any thing. This science of divine or metaphysics searches to know the first principles and causes of the things of this world. The thought of Aristotle will be until the end of Middle Ages the base of the Christian philosophy.
The rationalism of the 17th century professed the autonomy of reason, compared with faith, for the search of truth. Descartes (1596-1650) wanted always to reconcile the interests of science with those of religion.
By writing "God or nature" Spinoza (1632-1677) identified divinity with the "whole" of the real world, contrary to the traditional religious anthropomorphism that makes with God a creator, distinct from world, acting according to an aim. He defended the independence of the religious powers and the political one and the freedom to philosophize.
The philosophical atheism of "The century of Light" (Helvetius, Holbach, Diderot, La Mettrie...) caused a strong hostility towards religions, their dogmas and their revelations. It proposed a materialist explanation of world. Religions were regarded as frauds to the profit of social and political interests.
Kant (1724-1804) in "Critique of Pure Reason" made vain the search for ontological proof of God's existence. As for all questions of metaphysics, God is no more a subject of knowledge, but comes under belief. God is a transcendental idea of reason.
In the 19th century, Feuerbach (1804-1872), Marx (1818-1883), Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw in religion a manifestation of ignorance and credulity, an illusion. God is only an outward manifestation of the major man's aspirations out human being.
For Marx, the social frustration is the cause of religious alienation by projecting the human ideal in the imaginary world. Religion has a soothing and narcotic effect ("opium of the people") compared with the miserable reality. Therefore, religion is an illusory solution and not a real solution to the difficulties and the sufferings of life.
Nietzsche imputd the harmful and morbid effects of the religious society to the obsession of sin.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Freud (1856-1939) stated that religion is an obsessional neurosis of humanity in which God is the mental picture of the father under the protection of which man places himself. To part from God ("the murder of the father") is one of the inexorable phases of the human development.
The sociological approach of religion considers that this one does not solely consist of the irrational expression of conscience or a primitive stage of the human development, but is an essential characteristic of society.
For Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), religion is a manifestation of society former to each man and is an expression of its standards and values.
For Max Weber (1864-1920), the religious practices are founded on the charisma, quality extraordinary of an important person that says to be send by God or that is become an example for many people.
All these analyses are interesting and give different lights from religion. Nevertheless, they are inevitably reducing taking into account the complexity of the religious feeling, as all that concern sociology and psychology.
Dangerousness of religions
At the individual level, believers cannot perceive the negative aspects of religion. It is the syndrome of the lobster when it is cooked alive. One places it in cold water and raises gradually temperature until boil. The lobster is numb, then dies and is cooked without realizing it. This may be called conditioning. Only those who are "unconverted" are able to feel, a posteriori, the harmful character of religions for individual: stifling, alienation, submissiveness, resignation, intellectual lethargy...
At the collective level, there is only to look at around oneself and in books of history: wars of religion, inquisition, fanaticism, intolerance, misogyny, check to progress, confiscation of the political power...
Monotheism, by its conception of a single god, carries the germ of intolerance. "The good God (i.e. the true one), it is mine". All is said.
As in the market economy, the worst is the monopoly of religion.
With that, may be added other characteristics, specific to each religion, that nothing do but increase its dangerousness:
- the chosen race on a reserved country (Judaism);
- universality (Christianity) that leads to evangelize those who does not require anything;
- religious States (Islam).
In France, after two centuries of fight step by step against the "Spirit of Light" and secularity, the catholic religion seems to be settled down. It recognizes its past errors, but grudgingly. Nevertheless, has it for at all lost its venomous character? Under the pretext of overtures, of return to the traditions and to the values that have made our history, the catholic religion tries to find again its lost influence in the society. The free man must remain extremely vigilant in order that "the Infamy", as Voltaire said, does not awake.