WHAT IS RELIGION?
Perhaps before we start looking at the impact
of religion it may be useful to look at the different types of religion
that exist. Similar ideas underpin many of the religions found in
the world, although they may be expressed in many different ways.
The term 'religion' comes from the Latin word 'religio' which translates
into 'duty', and we are well aware that religions often impose rules
their followers. A vital part of many religions is the belief in
the individuals spirit or soul as an entity which is separate from
the body and the mind. For religious followers, our spirit is immortal
and after our physical death, this spirit continues its existence
into an invisible, spiritual world where it may be punished or rewarded
for deeds performed during our lifetime. As a result of this belief
those who follow religion live their lives in a prescribed way so
that they can enter their spiritual realms after death.
A further key idea underpinning religion
is the belief in one or more higher beings who, as creators of the
universe, have power over the world, over nature and over humanity.
Such higher beings are worshiped and may be named deities or seem
as unimaginable sources of absolute power. These religions also
offer their followers answers to philosophical questions about how
the world and universe came to be, the purpose of life, the way
we should live our lives and what happens to us after we die. Religious
texts or scriptures often form part of worship and are treated with
great respect, and in some religions they are thought to be the
unchanging word of god, whilst in others they are seen as emanating
from god via some form of human channel.
WHAT IS RELIGION FOR?
Religions have many functions: it provides
explanations for the numerous inexplicable phenomena of the world
(natural events, human suffering), it gives us an ethical framework
to guide us in the living of our lives, it can be a source of comfort
and can allay fears. However it could also be seen as a framework
of repression, of control and restriction. Whilst one religion may
say the world was created in eight days (or is it seven) science
tells us that our world was the product of the Big Bang. Whilst
one religion states that god created man in his own image, science
looks to Darwin's theory of evolution. Science and religion seem
to be in contrasting corners as to the creation of the world and
in explaining our existence. For me, religion is more about control
and repression, and I feel that these views will become evident
throughout this section of my site. Whilst I would like to think
that I would go onto another world when I die, or come back as an
animal, I feel that the answers to our existence lie not in some
religious scripture written to control and mislead people, but rather
in the realms of science.
WHAT TYPES OF RELIGIONS ARE THERE?
THE VIRUS – RELIGION
I am astounded that religious faith continues
to be a major force within the existence of humanity, especially
in the face of rational, scientific truth, based on hard evidence.
Indeed as we continue into the early years of the 21st century religion
is still at the forefront of many societies, with each of these
'faiths' not only defying evidence, but remaining untestable and
unshakeable, and so therefore it is in direct contradiction of
the sciences. science is based on skepticism, investigation and evidence,
and it continues to test its own concepts and claims – and it is
here that we will discover the very meaning of our existence, eventually,
not in the confines of religion.
For Richard Dawkin's religions preach morality,
peace and hope, yet in fact they also bring intolerance, violence
and destruction. He adds that the growth of extreme fundamentalism
in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity
but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of
years of history for humanity to progress – to become more enlightened
and tolerant. For me this is perhaps a good a place as any to start
in the analysis of religion within our world. So despite science
exposing old religious myths militant faith is back on the march.
The mechanisms for perpetuating beliefs that leads to murderous
intolerance in the name of religion is by imposing religion on children
who are too inexperienced to judge it for themselves. We don't categorise
children according to their parents political stance since they
are too young to make up their minds on such matters – yet we segregate
them into sectarian religious schools where they are taught superstitions
from ancient scriptures of dubious origin, which promote a contradictory
and poiseness system of morals.
Dawkin's compare this to a virus, which infects
the young and is passed down the generations. Indeed the number
of faith schools is increasing, more than half of the governments
proposed city academies will be run by religious organisations,
and there are also growing numbers of private evangelical Christian
schools, whom have developed a curriculum which includes a mention
of god or Jesus on every page of its science text book.
Transmitting such a warped reality to young
people amounts to indoctrination. Children are uniquely vulnerable
and if the y fail to question and shake off such superstition, they
remain in a state of perpetual infancy. According to Stephen Weinberg
religion is an insult to human dignity – without it you would have
good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things,
but for good people to do evil things it takes religion.
Drawing on such evidence it is not difficult
to demolish the claims of religion as fairytale, and dangerous ones
at that. But there is more to religion than ancient stories and
articles of faith. Dawkin's touched on the sense of belonging promised
by religious groups but dismissed this as 'seductive group solidarity',
which he described as a 'shared delusion.' In doing so he glances
off the more subtle dilemmas of how religions and religious traditions
are woven through peoples notions of community, history and identity.
Having a sense of ones place in the world
is important to everyone, but has particular significance for minorities
and peoples under political, economic or military pressure. Individuals
may even accept Dawkin's atheistic and scientific deconstruction
of the myths they have grown up with but still defend and nurture
the matrix of institutions, practices and relationships which make
them who they are.
For me the question no longer centres on
the validity of religion: its deconstruction is more or less complete.
Let us take a few examples to highlight my point.
- On the 26th December 2004 intense pressure
between two tectonic plates brought devastation to thousands
of lives in the form of the Asian Tsunami. As a result buildings
were destroyed, amongst them Buddhist and Hindu temples, mosques
and churches. These tidal waves drowned people of all religions.
- A few months later thousands more lost
their lives when Hurricane Katrina hit new Orleans, whereby
the victims were mainly Christians .
- A powerful earthquake struck Kashmir
at around the same time, and the victims were mainly Muslim.
All of these victims came from diverse religious
backgrounds yet at the same time one common factor united them
all, those who suffered most in the Tsunami, New Orleans and Kashmir
were among the poorest people within their societies. This fact
much surely challenge the view of those committed to the religious
world view centered on a merciful god who promises that the 'meek
shall inherit the earth.'
Religious leaders say that scientist deal
with cause not purpose, they ask 'how the volcano erupted' and
not what the purpose of it was. Many Christian, Muslim and Jewish
spokespersons subscribe to a model of moral 'cause and effect'.
People, young and old, are punished by an angry and vengeful god,
but they each suggest their own triggers for this anger, in the
process revealing their won agendas. Hurricane Katrina typifies
this point. Without reference to the children crushed and buried
under the rubble, a prominent individual from the Christian faith
stated that 'god judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent
blood through abortion' whilst a pastor representing another religious
organisation rejoiced that 'the hurricane had wiped out rampant
sin' in a city about to host its annual gay pride event.
It seems clear that religions does have its
own agenda. As I mentioned earlier religion has been deconstructed
to a certain extent, yet the number of those who continue to follow
increases worldwide. Religion is a tool which controls the mass,
it is a vehicle which orders people to live their lives in a certain
way, and perhaps above all else it offers a false hope to all its
followers, a belief built upon lies and misconceptions. We only
need to look at how religion is affecting our lives today, if we
don't have battles between religions (Israel), we only need to look
at the suicide bombers (9/11) who act 'in the name of Islam.' I
used to be of the opinion that science would displace religion as
the 'new religion of the 21st century,' yet it seems that this is
not going to happen – and that in effect the opposite is happening.
And the future....given the increasing influence of religious
leaders within our schools and the vulnerability of children, it
would seem that religion will maintain its grip of human aquiesence......