Religion is neither inherently good nor bad. A great deal of good as well as evil is done in the name of religion. Whether the good outweighs the evil or vice versa is unanswerable, but I note that both good and evil are done outside the bounds of religion and as far as I can tell, independently of it, so religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for good or evil.
My focus here is on religion as a way of providing meaning to life. To live full lives, human beings require a framework of meaning, something to help them understand why things happen and why they are the way they are. Religion, as a belief system or fundamental worldview, clearly provides meaning to a large portion of the world’s population and thus fulfills a basic human need.
Religion provides comfort from the realities of sickness, loss and death, and can make human life more joyful and less painful. Anything with this power deserves our support, particularly if it’s possible to maximize the joy and minimize the pain provided by the system. It’s possible, though very difficult, to do this with religion.
I understand statements like the one Chris O’ Dowd makes below, and I’m frustrated daily by the evil done in the name of religion as well as the way in which religion slows or destroys progress. But I disagree with both the prediction he makes and his desire for it to come true.
I don’t think we’ll cleanse the world of religion anytime soon, and I don’t think we should try. Religion is one way of providing structure and meaning to life, something all of us need. Many people are constitutionally incapable of creating their own meaning through reflection on the world or study of philosophy. Different structures are suitable for different minds.
I prefer a rational approach to giving our lives meaning, but it’s impractical to base our standard of meaning entirely on what is true or rational. Many of the most important aspects of life are not rational.
It’s worth sharing a comment Peter Billing left on my Google Plus post of this graphic:
I agree we shouldn’t try. Change like that will always be organic. But I think he’s right that it will. Offensive might be too strong a word, though. Probably more like pitiable or incredulous.
Rightly or wrongly – and YMMV wildly – religion seems to me to be much more of a benign mob mentality thing. Whereas racism I tend to attribute more to an individual malicious intent. Without wishing to invoke Godwin, I suspect in time it’ll be more like how we think of the German’s during the Nazi era. More ‘how could they have fallen for it’ than ‘man, those guys were bigots’
I think Peter may be right. I think we may organically move away from religion, but some things need to happen first.
Religion serves a purpose. Even today, when we’ve come so far technologically, decay and death are just as inevitable. All thinking people must look for meaning, and religions are ready-made boxes of meaning, with all the rules and structures necessary (in most religions) for fending off the fear of death, knowing how to live without questioning, and satisfying the human tendency to tribal behavior and aggression against an other.
When I see the followers of militant Islam and Christianity, and the absurdly constrained lives of Orthodox Jews, I can’t think of anything non religious that can begin to take religion’s place for these people. I wish I could. Particularly striking are cases like a friend’s brother, who left a wealthy and highly educated life in the United States for life as an Orthodox Jew in an Israeli community, where he studies ancient documents and follows rules that govern every aspect of his life. The only explanation I can come up with for this behavior is fleeing freedom. Some of us are not constituted to live freely. The existential angst that accompanies an awareness of constant freedom can be maddening to some of us. Religion removes this burden from those who cannot carry it.