THE TYRANNY OF RELIGION

The propaganda of religion declares that God is love.
               The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. (Psalms 145:9)
Like all propaganda, this is falsehood, meant to deceive. Religion is despotism -- and it is by no means a benevolent despotism. Religion is repressive, dictatorial, and tyrannical. Religion is intrusive, governing every aspect of the devotee's life. It legislates what one may and may not do, say, eat, drink, wear, read, hear, learn. It legislates a compulsory hair and beard style, a yearly calendar, a daily schedule, the conduct of social and family and sex life, and the ritual mutilation of the human body, especially the sex organs. Even worse, religion governs what one is allowed to think and believe.
               Religion is nothing but mind control. (George Carlin, Doin' It Again)

The laws that religion imposes are considered to be definitive, universal, and eternal. They do not allow for exceptions, amendments, or revisions -- much less repeal. They leave no room for individual differences, personal preferences, or a changing world. The tyranny of religion enforces its laws with draconian punishments. Thus, the penalty for the sin of the golden calf was the death of 3000 men, who God ordered to kill each other.
               And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by 
               his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man 
               his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. (Exodus 32:27-               28)
Makers of graven images are not only punished themselves, but also their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
               Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord they God am a 
               jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and 
               fourth generation of them that hate me. (Exodus 20:5)
The fifth commandment, addressed to children, includes a vicious veiled threat: that their young lives may be cut short if they do not obey.
               Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days be long upon the land which the Lord 
               thy God giveth thee. (Exodus 20:12)
And indeed, the Bible states that a disobedient child may pay for his disobedience with his life.
               And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, 
               he will not obey our voice;... And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, 
               that he die. (Deuteronomy 21:20-21)
All sinners, heretics, atheists, and believers in the wrong religions, are consigned to hell after death, to suffer eternal damnation and eternal torture. But even in this world, religion favors us with crusades, jihads, genocides, inquisitions, witch-hunts, purges, pogroms, and terrorist atrocities.
               Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in 
               ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward 
               children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience. (Christopher 
               Hitchens, God is not Great)

Totalitarian religion imposes draconian penalties for rebellion against the supernatural powers. Religion propagates myths that depict those who rebel against the gods as evil by definition, deserving of the punishments inflicted upon them.
     Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. He was chained to a rock, and every day an eagle ate his liver, which grew back every night.
     Sisyphus played tricks on the gods, and boasted that his cunning exceeded theirs. He was condemned to an eternity of frustration, rolling a stone up a mountain, that always rolled down again.
     Satan, originally the angel Lucifer, organized a rebellion in heaven. After his defeat, he and his followers were exiled to hell, to suffer and to superintend the suffering of sinful humans.
     Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. They were evicted from paradise. Not only the two delinquents, but all their descendants, were condemned to a life of hardship and pain.

All this appalling brutality is visited upon us by the authority of a universal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, ubiquitous God, who brooks no disobedience or excuse. God is the ultimate tyrant. There is no limit to his power, and no appeal from his castigation. He vents his wrath against his enemies in this life, but even more in the eternity of the afterlife.
               The God of the Old Testament is... jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving 
               control-freak; a vindictive, blood-thirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, 
               racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, 
               capriciously malevolent bully, (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)

The severity of the suffering caused by religion is not mitigated by the fact that God does not actually exist. He is nothing more than a character in a book -- and the allegation that he himself wrote the book is the epitome of imbecility. It is hardly necessary to waste energy arguing the point.
               What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. 
               (Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great)
Therefore, in practice the tyranny is visited upon us by the self-appointed spokesmen of the imaginary God, who achieve power by brainwashing the believers.

For the most part, people have been governed by a coalition of self-appointed autocrats and self-appointed spokesmen of the nonexistent God. This was true during most of history, and it is still true of a sizable portion of humanity,
               In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in 
               alliance with the despot. (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G Spafford, 1814)
The monolithic power of the rulers was often justified by a doctrine such as the "divine right" of kings. Probably the opposite was the case: the absolutism of the rulers served as the model for the myth of the omnipotent God, sitting on his throne surrounded by his courtiers, the angels.
               The rulers' power is from God... The magistrate cannot be resisted without God being 
               resisted at the same time. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Religion is a useful tool for rulers.
               Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. (Napoleon Bonaparte, 
               Memoirs
)
The citizens obey the priest because they believe in God. They obey the autocrat partly because religion has accustomed them to obedience. Thus, the ruler need invest less in the means of keeping order.
               The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered 
               by the people as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the 
               magistrate as equally useful. (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of 
               the Roman Empire
)
People who are governed by monarchy, oligarchy, or dictatorship, submit to government along with their submission to religion, and hardly perceive the difference. Communist regimes think they can achieve the same effect more efficiently with a "cult of personality" that makes the human ruler the object of worship. This is not as effective as religion, however, because it lacks the "spiritual" garnish.
               All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to 
               me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and 
               monopolize power and profit. (Thomas Paine,The Age of Reason)

It might seem reasonable that a revolution that overthrows the tyranny of government would also overthrow the tyranny of religion -- but no. The Englishmen who established the Commonwealth in 1653 abolished the monarchy, but remained Protestants (and only seven years later they restored the monarchy). The Americans who declared their independence in 1776 established a democracy, but separation of church and state was, and still is, a bone of contention among them. The Frenchmen who revolted in 1789 abolished the monarchy, but remained Catholics (and only fifteen years later they allowed Napoleon to crown himself emperor).

This kind of inconsistency is perceptible in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton was both a devout Christian and a civil servant in Cromwell's Protectorate. In the poem, Milton declares his intention to "justify the ways of God to men." (I,16). If so, Satan should have been depicted as the arch-villain, but he actually appears as a heroic lover of freedom. In the poem, Satan refers to God as
                    our grand foe,
               Who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy
               Sole reigning holds the tyranny of heaven. (I, 122-124)
Milton portrays Satan as preaching, not heresy, but liberty and the right to self-government.
               Who can in reason then or right assume
               Monarchy over such as live by right
               His equals, if in power and splendor less,
               In freedom equal? (V 794-797)
This is not very different from the words of Thomas Jefferson.
               The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government. (letter to 
               Benjamin Waring, 1801
)
Milton himself wrote much the same thing in a different book.
               Since the king or magistrate holds his authority of the people... then may the people, 
               as oft as they shall judge it for the best, either choose him or reject him, retain him or 
               depose him, though no tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn men to be 
               governed as seems to them best. (John Milton, Tenure if Kings and Magistrates)

Milton's Satan exhorts the angels to rebel against the despotism of God, to prefer liberty to slavish worship.
               Will ye submit your necks, and choose to bend
               The supple knee? Ye will not, if I trust
               To know ye right, or if ye know your selves. (V 787-789)
Again, this is not very different from the words of Thomas Jefferson.
               A little rebellion now and then... is a medicine necessary for the sound health of 
               government. (letter to James Madison, 1787)
               The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and 
               tyrants. (letter to William Stephen Smith, 1787)

Today, hundreds of years later, not much has changed. Even in democracies governed by elected officials, there is much opposition to atheism, secularism, and the separation of church and state. (See my essay on this web site "Freedom From Religion.")
               Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty. (Thomas 
               Jefferson, letter to Philip Mazzei)
Today in the USA, religion flourishes, and it is almost impossible for an avowed atheist to be elected to public office. People who consider themselves freedom-loving citizens of a democracy submit willingly to the tyranny of religion.
               How dismal it is to see present-day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that 
               their country was founded to escape. (Christopher Hitchens, in a televised debate)

In conclusion, one of the best formulations ever penned on this subject:
               Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around   
               us by the equal rights of others. I do not add "within the limits of the law" because law 
               is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual. 
               (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac H Tiffany, 1819)
Finally, a more concise, less diplomatic, but more incisive statement, attributed to Denis Diderot, the encyclopedist of the French Revolution:
               Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.