Sunday, September 2, 2012
Logic and Religion
Organized religion: what is it doing here? How does it fit into our modern world? Does it even matter? (Note: the following paragraphs may contain gross generalizations. Also, for the purpose of this writing, i'm leaving the various cans of religion flavored worms closed - violence, corruption, oppression. I realize every sin that exists has, at some point, been committed in the name of religion, but you can read about that anywhere.)
Let's take a moment to consider why religion exists. Think about this: it's the middle ages, you're born in a small village, you grow up among adults who were born in the same small village. They haven't seen the outside world, and you probably never will either: there's too much work to be done at home - work upon which your very survival depends. That's right, no going to Paris for the weekend, no vacations in Iceland - Paris is weeks away by foot, and there are too many Vikings in Iceland.
Every now and then, you experience out-of-the-ordinary events - a mysterious sickness kills half of your family; your crops are ruined by a plague of insects; drought; flood; basically all of that "wrath of god" stuff. Now, why did humans become the dominant species on this planet? It's a hairy question that could be debated until we're all dead, but i'd put some money on one of the reasons being: our ability to ask "why?". We want to know how things work. A peasant living in the middle ages is not going to know what we know today - nevertheless, their human minds will inevitably crave an explanation for extraordinary events.
This is where religion comes in: it answers these questions. Any religious text, or local mythology seems to have the foremost purpose of explaining why the world is the way it is. In addition to this, it gives the people a framework around which to base their lives. It gives them a community and a specified set of morals. I don't know about you, but if i had no education beyond what i needed to survive, i would have been more than happy to take all my answers from any source that offered them. It's protection from the uncertainty of the world, protection from the deep, dark abyss that is not knowing why.
My point here is that religion began with, in my opinion, the same basic goal as science - to explain our world and inform us as to how we should live in it. Over the past few centuries, science has taken over this role, often with resistance from religion. Regardless of the relationship between the two, science is now carrying one of the torches that religion and mythology started out carrying. Religion today, one one hand, seems to have become more of a political tool - for gaining and maintaining power over the masses. On the other hand, while these organizations have become vast and powerful, a large part of what's kept it alive is the community aspect. You're born into a faith, make connections through it, and have a framework for your life. I think that's why it's still around - not everyone shares the same endless curiosity we do, and people love structure.
Personally, i don't subscribe to any religions. I don't want the answers to be easy; in fact, i'm very wary of anything that's too easy. Still, i can totally understand the appeal of having unquestioning faith in something; something that tells you it's all going to be ok if you just follow the rules. As much as we try to isolate ourselves from the harshness of our world, it's still out there - death, disease, violence - these are the things which, in my opinion, drove people to religion in the first place.
And they are not going to go away any time soon.