Conventional religion is deplorable. Until the alternative becomes dominant.
We all recognize the damage religion has done through the ages: Crusades, Inquisition, Al Qaeda, Westboro Baptist, Falwell, Swaggart, Bakker, pedophile priests. Unfortunately, hypocrites and charlatans get the lion’s share of attention.
But imagine a world without religion. Would it be actually better?
Through some idealistic eyes, yes, it may be. But outlawing religion has proven to be a failed experiment, i.e., the Soviet Union with its satellite Marxist states. The medicine was worse than the illness.
America was founded on the principle of “freedom of religion,” and somewhere down the road the word “from” was thrown in to include non-believers, atheists, agnostics, and those that hold contempt for any belief system that narrates the supernatural. Personally, I appreciate the formula. Otherwise we wouldn’t fully realize “freedom.”
“Separation of church and state” is taken from the aforementioned concept. The freshly liberated colonies did not want the new government patterned after European models where each country had (and has) its own state religion which left other denominations subject to oppression and taxation. (Taxes were collected for the chosen state church; amazingly the clerics were on payroll from the government treasury. Others were left to their own which created a negative collective profile in the public mind – in part, leading to persecution.)
The new system actually strengthened both church and state because it granted free choice to its citizens. (Isn’t it human nature to reject doctrine being force-fed by zealots and cultists of any derivative?)
What would the world be without a Jesus Christ, Buddha, Moses, or Mohammed? Specifically, what would the United States be without its 500 denominations and religions originating from all habitable continents? Can man exist without a belief system?
I believe it’s in our nature to seek truths, attainable or not. The spirit of discovery and affection for the quest itself are seemingly an integral part of humanity. We question “why,” then tear down any obstacle to arrive at the answers – even if the tenacity lands us on the moon. We have an insatiable appetite to see the past, present and future – to visit distant galaxies where no man has gone before. We are unlike any other animal on earth. Observing the grandeur of nature gifts us with an awe-inspired perspective.
Of course, that unquenchable human drive was exploited by charlatans and cult leaders in the past – as it will be as long as the species exists. Wherever there’s a void, there’ll always be false prophets and con artists to fill the emptiness with the counterfeit. Cultism and criminality are lucrative businesses only because of man’s number one weakness: desire.
The colonies were settled primarily by religious people seeking refuge from persecution suffered in their mother countries. Puritans, Pilgrims, Quakers, Shakers, Amish, Jews, Baptists, and Catholics were fleeing Europe to start life on the new continent. No one can erase this history, nor should they; it is an integral part of our national fabric.
It is my position that America is better off with religion – despite its many flaws – noticeably more menacing in recent years. Regardless, there are more “good” Christians than “bad,” more “good” Jews than not, etc. I appreciate America’s assortment of races, religions and creeds. But I also recognize we must have an ongoing tolerance for all. The diversity that defines us cannot withstand the test of time without a willingness to accept one another.
Is the sense of morality taught or bred? That’s the question that springs from “Is religion necessary?” The many cultures around the globe have developed values based on respective belief systems. We are no different. That given, I cannot imagine a society devoid of any spiritual leaders and teachers of ethics. The Soviet example did not survive, Cuba still maintains Catholicism, and contemporary China is riddled with millions adhering to religion.
The husband-wife metaphor has been used often concerning the two-party system. Usually the male role is assigned the “Republican” and the female, the “Democrat.” This time I’d like to reverse it for reason my own Mother and Father reflect the roles depicted.
Naturally, it’s agreed the couple must remain as one. After all, didn’t Abraham Lincoln forbid national divorce (the states must stay united).
The Democrat (the husband, Dad) is a student of Thomas Jefferson and the framers who were mostly deists – believed in God but believed He left the universe to its own devices – to be governed by the natural laws of physics and biology. On the other hand, the Republican (the wife, Mom) is an avid fundamentalist – believes the Bible to be only infallible word of God. Every line, word and verse were inspired by God, according to her.
Mom is fine during another stressful economic era – the Great Depression. She doesn’t push her beliefs on Dad, doesn’t force him to go to church, doesn’t scream, “You’re going to hell if you don’t believe just like I do.” Rather, she leads a quiet, peaceful life as a true Christian, an example to follow.
Dad (the Democrat) is resistant to organized religion, certainly. But at the same time he respects Mom (the Republican) by attending services Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and special occasions. The two get along because they both are tolerant and want the best for their children.
But something changes 50 years later – around 1980 and gets worse through the 90s and into the new century. Mom becomes a rabid fundamentalist. She no longer can tolerate Dad’s reasonable approach to life and religion. She makes an effort to indoctrinate the kids into the same cult-like toxic mix, and together they gang up on Dad to force him into believing their way.
The greatest stress for the couple is, of course, economic hard times. It could mean drawing closer or breaking apart. In the married couple’s (America’s) first bout, religion serves a uniting role. In the second, it serves a dividing role.
Mom now insists Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and the framers were all fundamentalist Christians because her pastor tells her so. Dad tries to explain the facts, attempts to correct her to no avail. Mom hangs a large picture in the living room of Jesus personally inscribing the U.S. Constitution while the submissive, observant founders stand in the background. She makes the Declaration and Constitution into divinely inspired documents like the Bible. She worships the flag and cross – not realizing her religion has turned into some form of idolatry.
The difference between the Great Depression and the Great Recession is that Mom is a true Christian during the first period and an intolerant, racist zealot during the second. Her nationalism is idolatry and her “love” of country conditions her into believing in war – directly contrary to what she believed during the Depression.
If Mom and Dad stick together, it’ll be a miracle. But meanwhile, their finances and living standards are blown to hell because the family can no longer function. Mom is set in her ways, and they’re not Christ’s ways. Their house now looks like it belongs in a Third-World country instead of the USA.
This is how I see religion in America today. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater is no solution. Besides, how can the religious beliefs of 200 million be erased?
No, the answer is a return to the basic principles taught by religion: “Love thy neighbor; do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” etc. Mom needs to remember how she was during the first Depression so she won’t contribute to the breakup of the family during the second.