Saturday, May 5, 2007

Religion - Hope or Hinderance?

Religion is perceived to be many things, but what does it really do for us?

Under its guise and in its name, we commit acts of love and compassion beyond compare. Help is sought and given, education is proffered and received, individual lives and even the fortunes of entire communities are changed. Religion also brings us together, we fellowship in its name and it unites us, providing a common bond. Warring factions will set aside their differences and work together to “defend the faith”, as it were. It provides an impetus to get things done, reasons for why things are as they are and from it we garner some of the rules and laws that order our lives.

When viewed in that light I guess religion can be seen as benign at worst, or perhaps even as a good thing. I don’t think this is the case however, especially when we consider some of the other things religion does for us. There is an opposite side to every coin and no exception should be made in this case.

Religion also provides hope and promise. Hope in a religious context comes in many forms. It could be hope of deliverance from pain or some serious illness, hope for deliverance from an enemy or deliverance in a myriad other ways from a myriad other things. It may be hope that something good will be received, or that good will come of some situation.

Promise tends to come in the form of prophesy or as reward for piety. The biggest promise that religion makes is the promise of life after death, which usually involves some sort of idyllic or even opulent lifestyle set in luxurious surrounds, a promise which also provides the greatest hope. It doesn’t matter what happens or how bad things get in this life, eternity in paradise more than makes up for it. In making this promise however, religion not only provides a reason to continue the struggle, but it equally provides a reason to give it up.

Religion also introduces the concept of an ultimate judge and arbiter. It doesn’t matter what I do or what my fellow man may think of me, for God will be my judge. In doing so however, it undermines our ability to make and enforce the laws that enable us to function as a society. Throughout history, many despotic (or just plain stupid), as well as pious and just leaders have used that adage not just to their own advantage but to the detriment of their societies.

Religious doctrine and dogma provide us with ignorance and complacency. Religious faith requires no proof and brooks no argument. But when God becomes the answer, the need to strive for further understanding is diminished. Issues arise however, when religion makes claims about the physical world and knowledge is gained that proves that claim to be wrong. Knowledge therefore, undermines the legitimacy of the religion and any other claim it may make. Over the years, this has been dealt with in many ways. Some have been exiled or forced to recant, some imprisoned or even put to death. The overall effect however, was to stifle free thought for a lengthy period of time.

Religion also brings with it, persecution. By being intolerant, religion creates for itself an air of superiority. It separates itself from those in society that don’t have the same belief and looks down on them as inferior; outsiders that somehow need “saving”, which also creates an environment of animosity. This can extend to factions within a religion who have been known, on occasion, to fight to the death for their conviction.

Which brings us to war. How many wars have there been throughout time that have had religion as their cause? How much death and suffering has been perpetrated in the name of this god or that? When religions clash, the lack of any proof that one god is any more real than another means that there can be no resolution other than to convert the other. When conversion doesn’t happen, then the only way to settle it is to see who’s god really does have the biggest stick. It doesn’t matter which side you speak to though, each will tell you that they are right to go to war and that the other is surely damned for what they do.

And at it’s most hideous, ugly and extreme, religion breeds fanaticism and fundamentalism. This generally comes in the form of young men and women who are quite prepared to kill themselves and others in the name of their particular god, so long as the others are unbelievers that is…

So it seems to me that the one thing that religion gives us more than anything else, is a reason to be at odds with one another. If we read a bit about it, we will soon discover that the most secular states suffer the least crime, the least instance of STD’s, the least teen pregnancy, that the smallest proportion of criminals have no belief and so the list continues. So why do we continue to bother with it? Surely there’s something more peaceful, less damaging to society and more worthwhile we could be doing on a Sunday morning…

10 Comments:

beepbeepitsme said...

Politically motivated religion has always disturbed me, even when I was religious. It is at this level that I think it is potentially dangerous.

A religious belief at a personal level can provide hope, reassurance and a model for daily living - at the political level, it attempts to divide and conquer.

At a national level, it fosters tribalism and is divisive, authoritatian and intolerant of those who don't belong to the specific tribe.

As soon as politcians mistake political office for a religious pulpit, they help to create and foster divisions within society.

Plonka said...

Beep: I wish I had watched the series you posted before I wrote this one...

It is at this level that I think it is potentially dangerous.

And all to often we see that potential being realised. Iraq started as a threat but now we're doing it to rid the world of evil.

The Alpha said...

"Religion also introduces the concept of an ultimate judge and arbiter. It doesn’t matter what I do or what my fellow man may think of me, for God will be my judge."

Religion provides believers with a variation of the Nuremberg Defense. It doesn't really matter how much real world harm results from their actions. They were simply following the orders of God.

I think morality is about thought rather than the oversimplified application of Iron Age philosophies.

Plonka said...

Alpha: Thanks for dropping by...:)

Religion provides believers with a variation of the Nuremberg Defense.

You got me thinking. Maybe the Nuremberg defence is just a variation of the god defence, he was here first after all...

I think morality is about thought rather than the oversimplified application of Iron Age philosophies.

I couldn't agree more. We don't need god to tell us what's objectionable. I think it was Ingersoll who said - "'Thou shalt not kill' is as old as Man himself, for the simple reason that the majority of people object to being murdered." - and how right he was.

Dikkii said...

What would be better would be if people who worked for religion promoted the good parts rather than the questionable parts.

But that's not what religion is about. Religion, it appears to me, is about finding excuses to foist one's prejudices on the rest of the population.

This model can be extended to all codes of ethics, not just religious ones - take the "rule of law" concept for example. Just like in religion, the word of the arbiter is infallible, except in a higher court. And judges are appointed in order to maintain the prejudices of the ruling elite at any point in time.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: except in a higher court.

And therein lies the difference. At least you have the right to appeal.

Unfortunately however, the fact that judges are appointed in order to maintain the prejudices of the ruling elite at any point in time means that your appeal may often stand on very shaky ground indeed...

Dikkii said...

And therein lies the difference. At least you have the right to appeal.

Very good point. Unless your case is constitutional, you do get an avenue of appeal.

Which of course begs the question: When it is clear to anyone who hasn't gone blind, deaf or dumb that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God stuffed things up time and time again in the Old Testament, how do God-fearing folk know that He's going to get it right when everyone is on trial on Judgement Day? Leave it to Jesus to make the tough decisions?

I have my doubts.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: Now there's a conundrum, and no mistake. But no matter, I'm told that God has a plan...:)

Dikkii said...

But no matter, I'm told that God has a plan...:)

He's got an answer for everything, that God. ;-)

Plonka said...

Hehehe. Very nicely done Dikkii...:)

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