I just finished watching the movie, American Jesus, primarily a survey of the different ways Christianity is marketed to people in the U.S. The movie highlights ministries geared towards ex convicts, cowboys, surfers, bikers, etc. Journalists, writers and ex-church members offer alternative views on the direction Christianity has taken in this country and the purpose it serves for people in our highly consumerist culture.
While I agree that religion is not immune to being used to perpetuate consumerism and complacency, I found myself wondering as I have for many years, “Why do people need religion?”
I get that people like the community, togetherness and sense of purpose but isn’t all that possible without a belief in God? There are a lot of ways for people to come together and I don’t think of religion as one of the main ones. Historically, religious beliefs have been used to justify wars, killing, oppression and separation among people. Religion seems to divide people MUCH MORE than it brings them together.
I can even see the appeal of believing in an all-loving and accepting parental figure but isn’t this the same god that would have you sentenced to an eternity of suffering for disobeying your parents or committing any of the other myriad transgressions outlined in the “Good” Book? This seems a tenuous relationship at best, one based on mistrust and fear. Are monotheists motivated to be kind by the belief that all people deserve kindness or by fear of eternal damnation? Maybe both.
What about the relationship with something bigger than ourselves? This is truly a noble reason for the belief in God. Well, if you believe that humans are at the center of the universe than I can imagine a relationship with an omnipotent, human-like presence might be very fulfilling. But what is it that one fails to recognize as great or miraculous about the vastness of the universe and the magnificence of life? Is connection to all living things so dissatisfying that we need to have a father-figure in the sky that created everything so that we can feel fulfilled?
Perhaps religion, particularly monotheism, is answering many needs for people. In one religion, we find a parental figure that is judgmental and accepting, all-knowing and mysterious. We get all the answers we need and don’t have to ask questions because it’s wrong to do so anyway! We get the comfort of knowing that if we follow the rules we can enjoy eternal bliss in the after-life while those who don’t believe the way we do will suffer for their ignorance and wrong-doing. We even get to judge others because we’re special and better and “chosen!”
What could be better? We have all our questions answered and a clear course for our lives mapped out for us by someone who knows better. We can feel secure in our goodness and purpose in this world and we need only spread the “good word” to others…….by force if necessary!
It saddens me that we cannot find fulfillment in relationship with humanity or find wonderment in all that surrounds us. For some of us, relationships extend far beyond ourselves and our loved ones to all people, known and unknown. We have faith in the value of all living things and belief in deep compassion and respect for others. We “give thanks” by recognizing the miracle of all that surrounds us, the boundless nature of life in all its intricacy. Is it not valuable to forge a relationship of acceptance and forgiveness with ourselves and each other? Do we not know how to do this?
I believe we are limitless and are only bound by the limits we set for ourselves. We are capable of a relationship with something greater than ourselves by acknowledging what is greater than ourselves. We can find purpose in living our lives fully and helping others to do the same. The word holy has it’s roots in the word whole or complete. By finding our connection with everything and everyone, including ourselves, we can feel whole and complete.
I hope that one day we can let go of religion and all the hate and suffering that comes with it. Maybe we can break down the walls we’ve built and have the courage to share our love and fears with one another. Perhaps we can build faith in our humanity and our ability to recognize the humanity in others. We need not live in fear of future punishment but with a consciousness and respect for all that we come into contact with.
There are many paths we can take for need-fulfillment, religion is only one path and quite a narrow one at that.
Thank you for reading.