Religion. Quite the sensitive topic, but as Keith Ward put it, “that does not stop people being vehemently for it or against it.” This makes for an exciting topic of discussion, and one where bias is inevitable. I would like to state my bias before moving onwards, which is that I am for religiosity. However, I will not be arguing for any particular religion in this piece.
In modern discussion, religion is a vague term. It’s given tentative definitions like “observable rituals” or “ a system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” These sound pretty good, right? You can observe attendance at churches, and those churches presumably have a system of beliefs that the congregation similarly uphold. Conversely, you can observe people joining together at a political voting booth, each with a sort of “faith” in who they are casting their vote for. Does this imply that the following of a particular political party is a form of religion? If so, shouldn’t taxpayers be exempt for their “act of worship?”
What if pinning a definition for religion is not that simple because it does not exist? Many psychologists would argue that religion is merely a mislabeled collection of psychological factors in the human psyche. Freud suggested that religion was a set of practices one might use to work through complex feelings from childhood about their parents. Emile Durkheim referred to religion and its practices as a social institution used to strengthen collective consciousness. Meaning that there is nothing supernatural about it.
All the while, evolutionary geneticists often deem religion something that may be embedded into our genetics after years of social conditioning; a natural cue from birth to “seek out some-thing in which to offer devotion.” An intrinsic response from our higher consciousness to seek a coping method for death, fear, and loneliness, all the while fulfilling a purpose. After the practices had been rinsed and repeated for generations, they became a part of us.
All of which would equally agree that it is no longer needed in the current era of humanity. I would argue the opposite of modern discussion. Giving tentative definitions or scapegoating the topic with denial of its useful existence in the world today only tip-toe around the issue. I propose this question: what is religion in the face of spirituality?
“I’m not religious, I’m spiritual man.” How many times have you seen this stereotype portrayed in film? The thin white guy wearing too many bracelets, and the aroma of marijuana emanating from his long, unwashed hair. Is he onto something, though, or should we offer up our Scooby Snacks and move on? He is definitely onto something.
Spirituality, by definition, is much less vague than religion. Merriam-Webster reads “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” Right off the bat, what do you think? This is an intangible, unmeasurable and trust or faith-based concept. The debate here being about whether or not individuals are experiencing supernatural phenomena or synapses fired in a fashion that is misconstrued by the conscious mind. When someone claims to have had a spiritual experience, it really becomes much easier: did it happen or not?
This is for the individual and his or her closest peers, but cannot be an ignored topic when discussing religion as to point out that they are indeed different. Studies with various entheogens show that the religious mindset does increase religious experiences, but the religiously absent will experience them even still. All of this to say spirituality is on the individual level, and must be assessed as such; and while religion is still on the individual level, it encompasses the collective more-so. This broader expanse of impact is why I believe religion takes conversation more by storm than someone sharing their own personal experiences.
Religions go back to the earliest days of recorded human history, and some of those religions remain today. As an example of ancient religions, a 2015 study showed Hinduism made up 15% of the world’s population, allowing for reason to speculate that there must be some merit to the concept. For the sake of this article however, let’s not get caught up on whether or not that merit is genetic, habitual or supernatural. For the sake of argument, let’s assume it exists. Let’s assume that be it through personal decisions or a subconscious/genetic force, religion is indeed real. This assumption begs the question: do we need religion to have prosperous people and societies as a whole?
What good is religion to the human race?
Religion aside, the world is becoming more secular. This is especially the case when you examine it through a religious worldview. Does this imply that religion is outdated? That the world is maturing out of or beyond religion? I think not, as religion holds such a tight-knit sense of community and purpose throughout the world at an increasing rate even as societies “secularize.” If its relevancy remains today, then what does religion offer that one cannot simply find at equal or greater quality elsewhere?
What if offers can be found elsewhere, but never with so much impact or spanning so many generations as even the most obscure classic religions has.
With the anecdotal and historical reasons mentioned, what is the bias I hold? I believe that religion is not the way to reach god, or get a leg-up in the afterlife; I believe that religion is the way to reach people. Religion holds such a deep and personal hold on culture and races as a whole, and I think that this is because of how religion is used throughout cultures.
A large village of people can live together, eat together, know each individual name and life story, but how can they know their goals are the same? That their children are safe around them, or if they are worth fighting for if the need were to arise? Because they say that they believe in the same system, so they must be trusted? That would be nonsensical. To me, religion is our way of putting some skin in the game. Religion is the outward expression of what one says to be experiencing within.
Giving hard earned money to charitable organizations, setting aside time to work for causes and people that may never recognize them or their group, keeping to a particular vocabulary or dress code. It is these sometimes absurd everyday actions that serve as a reminder to those near that “I mean what I say.” Means of earning and maintaining credibility within a community so that support is guaranteed to the individual and those they hold most dear.
In the end, religions come in many different shapes and sizes, each appealing to a particular race more than another. Whatever the true definition may be, their presence is abundantly clear, and there are definitely some that are better than others. Denial by tolerance should not be actively sought after, as to do so is to defy one’s own identity. The flesh, blood and heart that their ancestors poured into in order to maintain the practices of their religion, and more importantly, their people.