Thursday, June 21, 2007

Religion, What Is It Good For?

If this question has meaning for you, then something is going on. Maybe some of the stuff paraded as religious prohibitions has gotten to you. Maybe some of the mockery of religion has gotten to you. Maybe some of the political usage of religion has gotten to you. Well, sure that stuff has gotten to me, but...

Any tool can be misused, that's the nature of tools. A hammer is used for that excellent thing called building, it can also be an instrument of murder, that really qualifies as misuse. I am going to qualify what I have to say by stating up front that I have no identifiable religion, I belong to no brand of religion but I do have an understanding of the drive to have a relationship with a Higher Power and to achieve some sort of understanding of our place in the universe - because it has been important to me. This is the real role of religion, it is a codification of human relations with a god. A religion sets out what that god is in reference to humans, a major undertaking. A religion defines its god in those terms - primarily in respect to human conduct.

Religions tend to promote behavior that is conducive to social interactions, means of living together that minimize strife and maximize social contentment. You will find those in the Primary portion of the religion - its founding "documents" if you will. For instance, the direct quotes of Jesus Christ are the founding principles or documents. A close examination of those principles reveals something interesting, divisiveness is not there. The core of religion is not the cause of the problems I referred to in the opening paragraph, but there is something going on.

A study of history will show that religions have been utilized for both great social advances and repression, but a study of the religions themselves does not show them to be oriented in that manner, to the contrary, religions seem to aim for higher goals and the betterment of humanity. There are those who would turn them from tools to weapons and there are sure signs of this motive in the very words of those. When the words evoke superiority or fear and loathing something very bad has happened, word of healing and comfort have been turned to the ends of personal gain.

That gain need not be monetary or even political, it can be personal, lifting a person to an elevated position in regards to his fellows or position in lifestyle, making people in difficult circumstances "better" than those in more favored circumstances. There is a powerful appeal to this and unfortunately it is difficult to counter, because we are dealing with faith rather than logic and facts. What makes the issue even more difficult is the attitude of superiority evidenced by those opposing this mindset. This is the crux of this post, religion is not the problem and it is not a proper target for that opposition, it is rather the misuse of religion that is the proper target. I stand by this even for those who regard religions as superstition, whether they are or are not simple superstitions is not the business that needs addressed, it is the proposition that inhumane behavior is somehow godly that needs addressing.

Attacking religion simply causes a backlash, these historically deeply held beliefs with huge social organizations connected, an attack presumes an idea of winning - not likely. Much that is right in the world owes its currency in thought to religions. Taking again Christianity as an example, one need only to compare the tenets brought forth at that time with the ordinary social norms to understand what magnitude of change was instituted.

I don't propose to have answers to the great problems of the day, but I do propose a refining of tactics, a narrowing of targeting to the misuse of religion rather than the existence of it.

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