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Religion - A Necessity For Man?

Updated on June 12, 2015
The Need For Meaning
The Need For Meaning

The Debate

There's a debate among atheists and religious believers about whether or not God is an ameliorating factor for the human species or a source of mere antagonism. The antagonism is not really between atheists and the religious but among those who consider themselves religious to begin with. As we've seen most of the antagonism resides among those who believe in a single God but who dispute Christianity over Judaism and over the Islamic beliefs that came after. You don't see Hindus battling Buddhists (at least not on a global scale). The greatest conflicts we see today seem to be about the interpretation of a monotheistic god and his teachings.

Into this fray the atheists are nothing -- a drop in the ocean. Most scientists are atheists because they can comprehend a bigger (or if you will, entirely different) picture and place logic/reason above "belief." The atheistic but not necessarily non-spiritually minded think that science is the next step forward, but no one can put a time scale on this leap. I fear we will probably destroy ourselves before rationalism can get a foothold or even a toe-hold.

Do We Need God?
Do We Need God?

Man's Capacity

Man may be intrinsically evil, thoughtless or selfish, but at the root of it all, he is fearful, uneducated and incalculably cruel. This doesn't bode well when "beligerant" countries start to possess nuclear weapons.

Countries at war always seem to think that God is on their side. Even the Germans during WWII thought this. They could not conceive how a master race could be defeated in a noble cause.

Wasn't it Marx who said that religion was the opium of the masses?

I sense that the "masses" require some kind of overriding ordinance, something to give them a sense of guidance, purpose and meaning. It may be a kind of opium, but if the construct helps the civilization, shouldn't everyone just turn a blind eye?

Without various religious doctrines, without the fear of a judgmental god, the result could be complete anarchy. So in a very real sense, religion is (and has been) a kind of secondary government for a very long time. Prior to democratization, religion was the only government.

Yearning for the Divine
Yearning for the Divine

The Insufficiency of Social Government

Social government isn't sufficient.

Without a "moral compass" could men bear the thought of being utterly free without reverting to some kind of destructive animal instinct? I think that in this point in our development (if we are in fact developing -- and I hope we are), the answer would be that barbarism might return and we'd all be worse off. Do religious detractors serve mankind a thoughtful purpose by depriving the masses of the very thing that keeps their collective psyche intact? If believing in God gives someone hope and solace, why deprive them of that? The counter-argument might be that such an individual can be enlightened (re-educated?) to believe that we must take full responsibility upon ourselves for whatever moral direction the species may take. The argument is logical -- but by being based on logic, is man ready to take on this gigantic responsibility?

Some are willing to deconstruct the Christian Jesus as a historic being (for example), but is that wise? A few individuals find it necessary to invalidate the existence of Jesus as if this were going to sling the entire civilization into their own kind of non-religious but benign, altruistic view of the world. Naturally, the effort creates a lot of antagonism and resentment. This would be expected. All change seems to be preceded by antagonism and resentment, but that doesn't discredit the effort -- if it is worth doing. Atheism has been with us for quite a long while and not gotten very far. I'm not disputing that it (atheism) may be the next big leap forward in the consciousness of mankind, but is such a huge adjustment actually attainable and is it advantageous? Can the average, uneducated man function without a firmly established and rigorously upheld moral base -- even if his beliefs are based upon nothing but wishful thinking?

There has been a steady decline in Catholicism. This is a statistic. Are these one-time Catholics bleeding off into other churches or are they becoming secular? I don't know of any study that has dug into this specific issue. If the flock is trending toward the more secular then we may be witnessing a quiet but steady trend away from dogma -- at least in this branch.

If the trend continues or increases, one might extrapolate that many people feel like they can live good, moral lives without the church.

Spirituality (for many) resides within them as a personal experience. They do not rely upon dogma to keep themselves afloat.

Christianity -- though it may be on the wane -- is mostly centered in the western, civilized part of the globe. The trend toward secularism may be an adjunct to modernism. But, what about the rest of the world?

The Ultimate Father Figure
The Ultimate Father Figure


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    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 2 years ago from back in the lab again

      I did notice the very open-ended nature of your hub and I genuinely appreciate it. It's a very interesting hub and one that asks a lot of important questions about human nature and the part that religion plays in society and morality.

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 2 years ago from Irvine

      Titen: Thanks for your remarks. Most of my stuff never gets a comment, so any feedback is truly appreciated. On this subject you may note that I leave a lot of sentences open with a question mark. I cannot even pretend to have answers to the questions that I've raised. Some things about our history as a species are self-evident, but when it comes to the question of whether man is inherently a good creature or a beast, I have to leave the answer to others such as yourself to decide.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 2 years ago from back in the lab again

      An interesting hub Rjbatty but I have to disagree with the idea that mankind is, generally: “fearful, uneducated and incalculably cruel.”

      Certainly some individuals are and certainly human nature is such that even ordinary people can be driven to cruel and evil behavior given certain motivating factors but mankind also possesses natural empathy. We have special neurons known as Mirror Neurons which light up when we put ourselves “in the shoes” of another human being, when we experience the emotional state of another or imagine their pain. There are, of course, ways around this natural empathic moral compass and two of the biggest ways, historically speaking, are religious and political ideologies that divide mankind into groups.

      Human beings are naturally social animals but history tells us that we started as isolated tribes of Hunter-Gatherers. So tribal mentality might, in a competition for land and resources, lead to a very divisive political attitude Once civilization and superstition enter the mix we now have an impetus not just for mass political conflicts, actual wars between factions kingdoms or city states but we ALSO have the added factor of religious belief, people who believe their act of war or ethnic cleansing is ordained by whatever deities they worship. (we also have situations where other groups are dehumanized for following the wrong gods or wrong ideology)

      So while I agree that religion can be used to codify and unite people and perhaps even keep them in line my view of history is that this has had a far more negative effect than a positive one.

      “Without a "moral compass" could men bear the thought of being utterly free without reverting to some kind of destructive animal instinct?”

      Except that mankind very much does have an instinctive moral compass based upon empathy and the fact that our ancestors had to be social to thrive. There is a phrase that illustrates this point, a very old one, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Human beings are mammals that usually give birth to one child at a time, it's a painstaking process that lasts for the better part of a year and AFTER the child is born it is exceedingly vulnerable and needs careful care and upbringing for years until it is ready to be a true member of the group.

      It would do absolutely no good if we were all immoral lawless beasts. Rather we have evolved to thrive in groups and while sometimes our behavior is destructive this behavior is usually targeted to groups outside of our own, groups we label as “others” or as enemies. Self-destructive behaviors or erratic behaviors that harm our own group or tribe are usually a sign of mental illness.

      So I hold that human beings have an innate form of empathy and basic framework to do their own moral reasoning.

      “but by being based on logic, is man ready to take on this gigantic responsibility?”

      If mankind does not grow out of its destructive religious (and political) obsessions I fear we will never get off this planet, we will sit here in squalor as we pollute and overpopulate this rock until one day, either by our own hand or by natural disaster, our species is snuffed out. Certainly some forms of religious belief are more benign than others and perhaps some nominal form of superstition is harmless for most people but beliefs inform actions. False hopes, such as hope in an afterlife, might lead people to be more cavalier about death, might lead folks to think that becoming a martyr is a good idea (Jihadists who blow themselves up). I suspect that most religious folks don't treat death like a joke because they do not sincerely hold the belief in an afterlife, rather they are victims of cognitive dissonance, half holding onto a comforting notion of heaven while suspecting, instinctively, that death is the end.

      I don't expect humanity to give up superstition or religion entirely but what I do want to see is more and more human beings who treat their religious canon as part of their culture, part of their inherited beliefs, without actually sincerely believing them. Think of it like Comic-Con. People would go to Church but they would understand that these are all just stories, some meant to teach a lesson, others meant to encourage awe, or wonder, or hope or fear. They might cosplay as their favorite person from the Bible or their favorite Hindu god. They might treat the Bible with the same reverence that Trekkies treat Star Trek but still understand that it's fiction.

      We can keep the good parts of religion if we acknowledge that it is mythology, and jettison the negative. Keep the charity and to some extent keep the mythology but rid ourselves of the Jihad, the Evangelical discrimination against gays, etc.