There was a time when religion was almost universally recognized as representing virtue and humanities’ most sincere striving for goodness. Not anymore, in 2013, the era when religion was viewed as an unalloyed positive seems so…2000 years ago!
Today, the word itself is more likely to elicit frowns of disapproval than visions of righteousness. You know a tectonic shift has occurred when people who may have previously described themselves as religious now prefer to describe themselves as spiritual instead; as in “I am spiritual; not religious”. Consider also the pejorative connotations associated with the phrase “organized religion”, as in “I don’t believe in organized religion.”
The popularity of so called non denominational churches is a direct byproduct and expression of this suspicion, or disdain, for traditional religious institutions and forms of organization. As one who does in fact subscribe to “organized religion” I’ll be the first to admit that religious folk have not exactly distinguished themselves in the eyes of the world as recent headlines attest; when children are abused by men appointed to oversee their spiritual well being; and when the appointing authority appears to then engage in systematic and concerted efforts to shield and protect the abuser, not the child, we cannot blame society for taking a dim view of the church’s claim to be a repository of righteousness and society’s moral conscience.
Other headlines daily proclaim misguided religious zealot’s efforts to blow up planes, with their precious cargo of son’s, daughters’, husbands and wives, out of the sky, in the name of God. Across the world, on any given Sunday, or Saturday, or Friday, sectarian conflicts and divisions are started and maintained against those who dare to believe or practice faith differently than some. In popular culture today, it’s fashionable to blame religion for the ills of the world, and there isn’t a lack of “supporting” evidence for those who are so inclined. It’s enough to beg the question, what is religion good for anyway? Much, I would venture to say:
My religious beliefs provide insight on the human condition; that we are wounded and broken vessels in need of divine healing and grace. There are some who see these claims as an indictment on religion; a not so subtle attack on the dignity of man. For me, the insight into my inner condition and struggles offered by my religious beliefs is as welcome a relief as a diagnosis that finally explains the struggles of a lifetime.
The brokenness I feel within is mirrored in the world around me; evolutionary theory notwithstanding, when it comes to the things that matter most; ethics and morality, kindness and compassion, the human species seems stuck in a rut tats as old as the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve.
Religious beliefs challenge us to be better by compelling us to serve something bigger than ourselves. Faith in a benevolent God, who is creator of all, inspires me to expand the focus of my ambitions beyond the confines of my world and that of my family. Though religious people fail at it every day, the expectation is clear; we have a duty to treat our neighbor with justice, the disadvantaged with compassion and all men with charity. The fact that people of faith fail, sometimes spectacularly, on these and myriad other fronts, confirms rather than nullifies these claims, I am better for having aimed higher, though I miss the mark every time.
Religious faith introduces a new dimension to living; beyond the 2D experience of time and space, lies a world to be explored, an adventure to be enjoyed, a journey that promises much more than celestial pleasures by and by, it offers light, color and assurance for this life. To the question; “what is religion good for?” I answer simply “a lot.”