Religionists often claim that without their particular mythology, people would behave badly. The idea is that without their deity or deities looking over everyone’s shoulder and threatening punishment we’d all be robbers and rapists. This is a baleful view of human nature and entirely at odds with what we actually see among our primate cousins, who don’t need pretend invisible magical creatures to live just as adequately (and in many cases more adequately) than we do. It is a position simply quashed by Ricky Gervaise in his recent series After Life when confronted by a naive Christian woman who tells him that without her god people would be free to rape and kill as much as they want. The Gervaise character replies, “I do rape and kill as much as I want. Which is, not at all. Because I don’t want to.” This is surely the position of at least 90% of the population, and I speak as one who is not much enamored of our species.
Furthermore, as we see in real life that criminals are largely undeterred by real tangible punishments it is beyond credulity to suggest than punishments no one has ever seen and for which zero evidence can be presented will magically have deterrent qualities. So the argument from utility fails entirely.
Now comes the problem of morality. Religionists habitually point to their “holy” texts to illustrate whatever their myths happen to propose as moral values. Yet a moment’s thought shows that the notion of any absolute moral value system is impossible. We see this in The Good Place (which is, in fact, a satire on the very idea of heavens and hells) when Michael conjures up the famous Trolley Car Problem. No matter how prescriptive one’s holy book may be, there is in reality no “moral” solution to the dilemma. One can argue from utility (better to save the lives of many than the life of one) or from defeatism (better to remain passive than to act) but there is no possible argument from morality. If you doubt this, just try it for yourself.
Furthermore the Yahweh-cult derived mythologies are all without any basis in morality as the folk-myths of the ancient Israelites are full of horrors, rapes, slaughter, and other abhorrent practices. Pretending these things are metaphors is merely intellectual dishonesty and pretending that later myths (the baby Jesus added to the angry daddy god and the curiously unspecified holy ghoul) somehow make things alright is merely intellectual incapacity as well as moral abdication for the ends do not justify the means. One cannot construct a system of morality (no matter how intellectually vacuous or flawed) from the folk myths of ignorant neurotic genocidaires.
The Good Place is amusing precisely because it gently but firmly deconstructs a rather inadequate mythology in a way that seems unobjectionable but which in reality is clear-sighted and unambiguous. We all need to grow up and leave behind childish myths and instead engage with reality. Far fewer lives will be ruined in consequence, for the horrors of religion are many and spread like cancer.