Sunday, 17 April 2011

Do we need religion?

To many non-believers, faith/religion can seem a bit of a crutch - a fantasy to make people feel good or a story that helps the mentally or emotionally weak to cope better with their lives.  Of course it has other benefits - there is the social/communal side of religion and the moral structures which often contribute positively to the fabric of a society.

Do we really need religion though, to provide us with these things, or have we outgrown it now?  Surely we can appreciate the positive legacy that religion has left us (as well as some of the not so positive things!), learn from this and move on?  We don't need these superstitions any more do we?  We've become enlightened - why continue to live in the dark ages?

Well, as a "religious" person myself, I'm obviously not going to see it this way!  I've put that word in quotes though, because to me it's where a lot of the misunderstandings seem to start.

To many "non-religious" people, a "religion" is a system of beliefs and behaviours which its adherents have either found beneficial for some reason, or else have been scared or brainwashed into going along with.  An inclusive secular society tolerates religion - whilst also perhaps regarding it with a certain amount of suspicion - primarily in the interests of personal freedom, but perhaps also because of the personal and social benefits it often provides.

My own experience as a "religious" person though, has been quite different from this.  There is certainly a "systematic" side to the Christian faith.  Beliefs are passed down through sacred texts, discussed and debated by scholars, taught in churches and ideally, lived out in community with each other and in our daily lives.  Much personal and social energy is devoted to the propagation and application of these beliefs and an outsider could be forgiven for thinking the whole thing was some kind of corporate brain-washing exercise, or perhaps some sort of semi-delusional (or even completely delusional) self-help therapy on a grand scale!

All of this misses out on one vital element though, which can only really be seen clearly from the inside, and that is that  religion is all about God.  If there is no God, then the above paragraph pretty much sums up religion in its entirety, but once you encounter God for yourself, the whole picture changes.  Yes the systems and beliefs are there and contain much that is of benefit - developed as they often have been by others who have had similar encounters - but they are not the main point.  The main point is God: the one around whom these belief systems and practices have grown up, sometimes to the extent, unfortunately, that God actually becomes obscured by, rather than revealed through them.

So the real question then is not, "do we need religion?", but, "do we need God?"

Yes, "religion" can have many positive benefits and can also be a major source of oppression and conflict (which is a side of "religion" we could certainly do without) but the real issue is the deeper reality to which it points.

If God is there, and he made our world, then ultimately, life makes no sense without him.  We can enjoy his creation, benefit from everything he has made and even display many Godly qualities (although sadly we often don't) in our lives, characters and our treatment of one another, but if we're emotionally and spiritually disconnected from the one who is at the heart of it all then something fundamental is missing and our lives and societies will always be the poorer for it.

1 comment:

  1. You are right to say we "don't need religion, we need God". But its important to also mention the 2-way relationship going on, otherwise its just fingers crossed.


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