I was brought up as a Christian and never questioned it.
But then two things happened: I realized that my life was not going to be free of suffering even if I prayed to the all mighty powerful God; I also grew up and realized some people I knew were horrible and used religion to justify their actions.
Religion is no where close to “the amazing thing” that believers purport it to be because even though the subject of religion is supernatural, its creators and believers are human. And like all things, it is susceptible to use and abuse.
Abused for political gains. It’s been shown in history, from the Romans, to the Chinese, to the Pilgrims, to the Shiites and Sunnis of today, differences in religious belief often create strife. But why though? All religions promote tolerance, understanding and love. Why is it that the more zealous the believer, the more radical and bloody his actions.
Abused for money. Financial donations to the Catholic church by wealthy individuals all throughout European history so that the priests will say that their horrific sins have been forgiven.
Abused for manipulation. Using God’s words to control others, saying it is God’s will when it is really manipulation. Religious people counting on prayers to be answered and miracles to happen.
One of the most puzzling things is the animosity between believers of different or even the same religion. “People who don’t believe in God will go to Hell.” is a phrase often said by a devout Christian in my high school. I think that statement is definitely flawed. I don’t believe an all-loving God would like another person to burn in eternal purgatory hell just because he doesn’t believe in you. The dichotomy between the salvation of all of mankind and a need for them to be eternally punished is absurd if you ask me. To me, it’s more of a fear tactic to make sure people keep believing. For obvious financial reasons, having many believers would be beneficial for Catholic churches to survive. But it also doesn’t make too much sense why God would create natural disasters to make people suffer.
I believe religion arose from a few things, one of them being fear. Fear of natural disasters, of death, of misfortune led us to reason that there are greater forces controlling our lives. I believe in supernatural foces, God if you must, of any denomination, but I think human’s explanation of God’s words i.e. religion is flawed. But I do think religion has worked and continues to work because it helps human beings to survive.
The role of religion is tied with survival: how to deal with the past, present and future.
Religion allows us to absolve our sins. According to my understanding of buddhism and christianity, if you truly repent, your sins will be forgiven. This allows us to leave the past behind. It frees us from the shackles that bind us to the past.
Religion lets us act correctly in the present. I think religion gives us a conscience, a guide when we make decisions. I think the present state of mankind, society is a good indicator of human’s inherent desire for mutual prosperity over survival (self prosperity, a term I coined.) Just look at Hong Kong, why would we create tall, technologically advanced buildings and a stable society if all we wanted to know was to selfishly survive? I think self-preservation is still a reason. The goal of mutual prosperity is carried out by acting for the benefit of others.
Religion helps us not fear the future. Prayers calm the mind. After you act, there is no reason to worry since the situation won’t improve even if you do. By convincing ourselves that everything is in the hands of God, we remove a psychological barrier. In turn, hope creates positive psychology which leads to self-fulfilling prophecies.
Religion is not perfect. But the most important points of religion is its ability to allow us to behave and act in a way that make our lives better.