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Religion in Society: a Necessity or a Luxury?

Updated on July 9, 2014
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Jamal is a graduate from Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

One thing that the recent court ruling regarding Hobby Lobby shop established is that religion is still volatile topic. More specifically, the role it plays in our society, that it should play, and who determines that role. The ruling said that the business could be exempt from certain laws based on religious convictions; in this case, providing medical funding for the morning after contraceptive pill. In other words, if a particular law such as equal pay happens to go against your beliefs, you are exempt.

This incited a fury of protests from many people and groups who felt that this was an intrusion of religion on the personal rights of female workers. Others felt that this was going to open the flood gate for other potential ‘violations’ from other religious oriented companies and organizations to use their beliefs to not provide or respect the rights of their employees.

Why does religion generate so much conflict and passions, even in a society that values freedom of religion?

A Tale of Two Cities

I would say that the conflict stems from two different perceptions of religion in Western society. The first sees religion as critical piece of the social fabric. Growing up in a Christian background, I often heard it said that the Christian interpretation of family was the backbone of our society. Supporters of this view feel that religious beliefs, typically Christian in Western countries and Islam in some Eastern and Middle Eastern countries, are a invisible pillar that protects it from dystopia. It is also felt that it keeps the community in good standing with the divine.

The growing secularization of society in the 20th and 21st centuries has left many of these religious groups fearful of a fall from grace. Islamic extremists are violently trying to hold back this tide. Many commentators and critics are starting to wonder where Christian fundamentalist and lobbyists are getting this idea of ‘Christianity under attack’, when in fact the sentiment has always been there. Religious values and their influence are now becoming less crucial, seen as commodities rather than necessities, which lead us into the second view of religion.

Supermarket Religion

Many of us, living in a society of religious freedom, have come to view religion essentially as a luxury. Actor Brad Pitt is quoted back in February of 2012 during the Cannes Film Festival saying;

“I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, until then there’s no point thinking about it”

This is a stance that many non-religious –affiliated people take on it. They’ve seen no proof of God and everyone claiming to represent God is all too painfully flawed or biased to be taken seriously as truly being a representative. This is one of the reasons why America instituted the separation of church and state to begin with, as that long before there was evolution, there were the wars of religion and corruption in Europe.

Another factor in our perception of religious luxury is our true ‘religion’ of individual liberty. The history of humanity is one where usually the group is placed before the one. If personal rights need to limited or sacrificed to maintain the integrity of the group, then it was done. Many nations are no longer like that, but half the world still thinks that way.

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."

Martin Luther King, Jr.


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Riding the Fence

The middle ground in all of this lies in misunderstandings of each other’s positions. Modern age secularist don’t truly understand that to live in societies where there is no social security, police force, or computers, religion is anything but a luxury. It provides order in an existence in desperate need of it, real or not. This is often frowned upon as backward and archaic.

The misunderstanding that religionists have is that all secularists are hostile to spirituality and are self-centered and lacking a moral compass. They often do not take into account that much of this sentiment is not rooted in wanting to be greedy, but in that the religious glue thought to be holding society together took advantage of the individual. A person became a twig caught up and lost in the river and its fate is of little consequence.

Also they were often subject to injustices that were perceived through the lens of religion. Examples of this include the witch burnings of Europe, the persecution of Anabaptists who were seen as hostile to the nation, and women who violated cultural or family honor to marry someone they loved who was not approved of. These failings are often glossed over and given little weight in light of the greater good maintaining the social and moral integrity.


Finding Eden

To be fair, even if these misunderstandings did not exist, it wouldn’t guarantee utopia. It may increase better chances of dialogue and understanding, but humans are creatures of habit. We become comfortable or used to a lifestyle, hard or soft, and it becomes very hard to want anything else.

The truth of God’s existence or not, is for God to prove or not prove. For humanity, the challenge for us is to rise above what we want to see each other as, and decide whether or not we find common ground to co-exist or fight it out until one side truly dominates the other.

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