Discuss the importance of religion in society today.
Religion has always been a hallmark of humanity. Even in prehistory, humans banded together because of shared belief. The priestly caste later evolved into the kings and advisers of the common people. However today we live in an age of unprecedented secularism. Many intellectuals of our time doubt the importance of religion. This, in turn, has led a backlash of fundamentalism and renewed religious fervor around the world. They argue that religion is still relevant to society today. I find that debatable.
Religion is used in the context of organized religion such as the three main Abrahamic religions. Their importance can be judged by their necessity and value to various aspects of society.
Starting at a personal and familial level, religion appears to be very important even today. Many have rejected the capitalistic ideal of materialism and have turned to religion to guide them in life. Statistical studies have shown that religious people are happier, are less likely to suffer from stress-related illnesses and are more likely to remain employed. Yet, what seems causal may only be a correlation. Growing up in a stable family for instance, also has similar effects. Furthermore, for every family that lives in harmony in shared belief there are people whose parents refuse to acknowledge them for the mere crime of atheism. It seems that sometimes, religion may not be that vital to self or family.
Religious leaders have always used their supposed moral superiority to others what to do and what not to do. In the past, it may have been justified that without the fear of a higher authority we would have devolved into mere savages. But in light of new studies that have shown that morality is deeply ingrained in us, is it really essential for religion to guide us morally? Even when it comes to ethical dilemmas, what makes a priest or lama more qualified than our parents or friends to give us advice? Ignoring the wars and violence some of the words from these leaders have caused, it could be said that being far removed from normal lives, these people could hardly put our problems into the context it requires. On the other hand though, a fresh and spiritual perspective may be needed when we are unsure what is the right thing to do.
Speaking of ethical dilemmas, in recent times Science has found itself in many a quagmire. From the human genome project to the Large Hadron Collider, every time science progress somebody fears the rest of humanity will lose a part of it’s soul. Einstein once said “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”. Though it may true that the path of a scientist may need occasional straightening by some moral guidance, science and technology is in no way hampered by the absence of religion. In fact it will probably advance even faster without the persistence of religious people who think they need to dictate the pace of technology. People only believe that science and religion must work in tandem, like Einstein said. But what Einstein was referring to was a personal religion and not of organized religion. As long as a scientist is true to his own principles then he can do science without fear.
It can be said that the hierarchal systems of many religions grew together with the class based system of early civilization. Today however many of us live in democracies where are all religions are treated equally, which is as good as saying they do not matter at all, for the basis of religious grouping is to prove a sense of superiority by belonging to the “right” group. If we could, like John Lennon imagine a free-thinking world, there would be little change in the world except that it would probably be much more peaceful. Religion has caused fierce xenophobia ever since the human mind conceived of it. Even in more peaceful times, there is really no dissolution to the the barrier of “they” and “us”. In this age of universal brotherhood, do we really need this type of thinking to take hold of us?
Any benefits that religion can bring is outweighed by the all the bloodshed and animosity that it has wrought among humanity. Of course, if this would be extended to the past then we would lose a great deal of culture for much of our human culture is entwined with religion. However I am arguing about the importance of religion now and it is my opinion that it is not. The modern era has diminished the cause of and the need for religion in the first place and though we can continue to appreciate the influence of religion on our ancestors and ourselves we no longer require it to live a normal life in a functional and ideal society.