Friday, November 1, 2013

Three purposes of religion

Three Purposes of Religion


Even though I consider myself a scholar and a scientist, religion still plays an important role in my life. Often however, there is an underlying message within popular culture that belief in God is of less importance for the intellectually endowed. Atheist critics’ mock religious devotion as something that is comical or dangerous, arguing that followers are unquestioning sycophants blindly led into false or at best irrelevant claims. Religion therefore has become relegated to the private sphere.

In answering these critics I therefore present my conviction that, far from being irrelevant, religion serves three purposes. I further argue that these are uniquely present within religion, that although each may appear as components of human philosophy and ethics, that apart from a religious framework, these components themselves become ineffective, irrelevant and potentially dangerous.

The first purpose of religion is that it fosters humility. This becomes obvious for me when I walk along a tree-lined path. I hear and see birds, flowers and trees in all their beauty and glory. Surely there must be something else out there—a Creator, if you will—of whom humans are not necessarily the only thing of value. However recognizing that we are not the center of the universe, without a belief in God, can lead, to either narcissism, where one asserts their importance, or nihilism where nothing is deemed valuable.

      This leads to the second purpose of religion, the belief that because something bigger is in charge we are not “left to decide things on our own.” In other words, the bigness of God triggers a type of humility leading not into despair, but instead by  placing   my problems within this larger context, I have hope that these concerns will also be addressed. Religion states that we are not alone, and that God works like a guide, giving directions that help us through the vastness of life.

      But not just any type of guide, but a personal and concerned guide tailor-made for our concerns and frustrations. Thus religion does not, as the critics allege, merely offer antiquated moral sayings that are either contradictory or inappropriate. Instead it is more like a spotlight that brightens the path allowing for safer travel through life’s difficulties.

The third purpose of religion is in teaching interconnectedness. Religion does not just show how small we are in the midst of the wide world (humility), nor how to guide through this vast terrain (guidance) but it also teaches us to share with others, by advocating that we are all a part of this creation and are all therefore, logically, connected. The goal then becomes not nihilism or narcissism but communitarianism. The idea is that because there is a God, we are not to be selfish or unkind, but instead helpful and supportive for others are small like us and in need of guidance.  I am sure that there is more that can be expanded, but I feel that these three characteristics simplify the necessity of religion and show that even though one is a scholar and a scientist, I can still recognize the importance of religious participation.