"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
Most religions preach asceticism. The core of Buddhism, as an example, is centered around the idea that human suffering is to be expected. We generate our own pain because we crave things. It suggests that the way we eliminate this suffering is by learning how to eliminate these desires (including carnal ones).
Many other religions promote spirituality over worldly goods. An example from the Qur'an:
'Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet . . . . Such are the possessions of this world's life; but in nearness to Allah is the best of the goals.' (Surah Ali-'Imran: 14)
From the Bible, old and new testaments:
'He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.' (Proverbs 28:20)
'For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?' (Mark 8:34-36)
The Bible presents the Garden of Eden, a heaven on earth of bliss and ignorance. But Eve ruined it for mankind, and destroyed the Garden by seeking knowledge.
Followers of these religions believe that the pursuit of material goods is ultimately destructive. We don't get to take these items to the afterlife, after all. The endless pursuit of creature comforts, in the eyes of billions around the world, is fruitless and will send you straight to hell.
There is no question that manic obsession with greed and obtaining goods is rarely a satisfactory path through life. Such a single-minded existence means you are closing your eyes to everything else in life. But without goals, we are destined to be cows. Spewed out into the pasture at birth, to graze mindlessly in the weeds, and finally to be herded calmly into the stables of death.
States derive many of their laws from religious teachings, since so many of its subjects adhere to them. Citizens often wield the power of the state to force their beliefs on others. Through the wonders of democracy, a majority of Christians have succeeded in sustaining blue laws around the United States . So much for buying beer when I run out on Super Bowl Sunday.
In the absence of organized religion, another large number of homo sapiens have fostered slave-based systems to enforce their ascetic beliefs: socialism, communism, and democracy. One way or another, through religion, political force, or both, the majority of people on this earth have gotten it into their head that (a) they need to suffer and (b) others need to suffer similarly. Leftists continue to succeed in removing choices they deem unhealthy (e.g. cigarette smoking). Rightists continue to succeed in banning what falls under their narrow definitions of immoral behavior (e.g. sodomy).
Centuries of growth and human success have countered the fundamental preachings of these religions. The united States produced so much to benefit mankind because it was founded on the notions of individual achievement through freedom (albeit of a limited nature). Imagine what a truly free society would produce.
Capitalism, based on the evil desire for profit, has been the main cause of invention and innovation. Countless items you take for granted came about as products of desire: to sleep in a comfortable temperature range, to not be in excruciating pain when you visit the dentist, to live a full and reasonably painless life, to educate yourself, to read in the evening after the sun has set. Without desire, we would have no furnaces, high-speed drills, medicines, Internet, or light bulbs.
Yet these creature comforts, these worldly goods, are all evil, according to the fundamental preachings of Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims. God gave us an earth with temperatures we can usually survive, and the light of day should be good enough for us to read the Bible in. The pain is only temporary--you'll be dead soon enough and in an afterlife of bliss. Stop complaining.
To be human is to desire. Without desire, we would live in a hellhole. Fecal matter strewn about our streets; foul water; a mindless existence constrained to a tiny rural locality. All capped off by early, painful death. Without desire for something better, we won't survive. The fundamental form of desire, derided as lust, is what propels the species.
Desire propels invention, invention improves human existence. To deny this fact is either to shut your mind off to reality, or to live as a hypocrite.
I happen to believe in a creator. What I don't believe in is a creator that would screw with his creations. Revelation comes from our existence, not from the preachings of a manipulator. To make a world this beautiful, to make a world that can reveal fantastic, intricate beauty through exploration and education, to create a means of procreation that is so enjoyable, yet then to reveal the sadistic secret: 'Sorry, I want you to be miserable.'
I don't buy it. The Bible gives things away early on, in God's list of commandments: 'I am a jealous God.' A few Roman numerals later, in the same commandments, God insists that you not covet your neighbor's ass. Like a Congress that passes laws it does not have to follow, one should be very concerned about a God that violates His own commandments.
The secular religions are just as bad. The mindset of the extreme environmentalist is that you are a plague upon the planet, and the less of you the better. Their God is the environment, and the spokesman for that God is the environmentalist. The environmentalist abhors cars and houses that are too big. Q. What's the definition of 'too big?' A. Anything larger than the environmentalist's. Environmentalists use the force of law to restrict your choices, and when they can't do that, they try to make you feel like you are evil. (I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that read 'Osama loves your SUV.')
The modern environmentalist practices a religion known as Luddism. The original Luddites destroyed the machines of the Industrial Revolution that threatened their jobs, back in the early 1800's. Modern Luddites destroy things that they think threaten the environment. Luddites have destroyed advances in medicine and ski resorts, figuratively and literally. Modern Luddite heroes such as the socialist Pol Pot succeeded in destroying hundreds of thousands of evil humans who dared seek the evils of knowledge and progress.
Unfortunately, believers in the secular and non-secular religions dominate and wield large amounts of power. Both groups promote the idea that things are better off when you're dead. Non-secular religion proponents believe your life here is only a trial for ensuring you can bask in a glorious afterlife. Secular religion proponents believe your existence on earth is a part of the problem.
You can choose to believe that other humans have the right to make you suffer, or you can choose life. Governments and religions provide the best sources for suffering. The best source for life is personal freedom and desire.