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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

Part 1 of 2:

Do We Still Need Religion?
About the functions performed by religions.

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Many Atheists insist that all religions are evil and must be wiped from the face of this earth. They point to all the Evil that has been committed and is currently being committed by religious people as their proof. I point out that bad people do bad things and they will use, twist and pervert anything -- their religion, science, historical facts -- if it suits their purpose.

This applies to all religions, in the broadest sense of the word: any group with a defined doctrine or dogma. This includes Green Peace, the Republican Party, Capitalists, Comunists, and Atheists.

We see it happening now all over the Middle East. Both Hamas and the Israeli’s claim they believe in the same God, they both see themselves as God’s chosen or favorite people, and insist that He supports their cause, and they are eating each other up.

I can’t help but think of one of my favorite poems from my childhood, “The Duel”, by Eugene Field:

“The gingham dog and the calico cat,
Side by side on the table sat;….
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate,
Appeared to know as sure as fate, There was going to be a terrible spat…..”

“Next morning, where the two had sat,
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup, Is this: they are each other up!”

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It seems to me that everyone that has ignored the plight of the Palestinian people for 60 years bears some responsibility for the rise of militant Islamism and this current disaster in Palestine.

Do all the current problems mean that Religion is to blame? Saying that Religion is Evil implies that all Religious people by extension are Evil. Those of us with saner heads know that ism’t true. There are good people that are religious and not so good people and downright evil people that are religious. Just as there are good people and not so good people and downright evil people that are NOT religious. Religion has nothing to do with whether a person is a “good” person or a not so good person or a downright evil person. Bad people are the problem, not Religion.

I point out to Atheists, that if they want to get rid of Religions they will have to educate themselves about Religions and the many purposes/needs they fulfill in people’s lives and then, offer a better alternative.

We know there are lots of “bad” people in our world. They are found in the offices of Wall Street , in the Halls of Congress and Corporate Board Rooms. They lie, cheat, manipulate people and markets for personal gain with no regard for the people they exploit or hurt. The divide between the haves and the have not's grows wider each year. The rich have more money than they can spend and we know they won’t be able to take it with them when they die. AND history has shown us that wealth, gated communities, home security systems won’t protect them from a collapsing government, or mobs of hungry fed up citizens.

We also know there is a great deal of crime in our country. The United States has a larger percentage of people incarcerated than any other “civilized” nation. There are more and more mass shootings each year. Bullying is a problem in schools, online chat rooms and on Face book pages. Drug addiction is a rising problem. One drug pipeline is shut down and another opens up. Drugs harm the addict, their families, their community, and the economy.

We also know that there are lots of people who are struggling. Food pantries have seen a huge rise in the numbers seeking help. Social services have been cut. Parents are struggling to find day care they can afford and services for their disabled children. In the richest country in the world we have people that are homeless and children that go to bed hungry at night. Most of these folks arena’t “bad” people, they arena’t beyond hope or help. Certainly, some have done things that got them into trouble in the first place. Sometimes the odds have been stacked against them: prejudicial government policies, poverty, where they were born. Are we going to make their children pay for the sins (real and imagined) of their parents? Do we turn our backs and write both parents and children off as a lost cause?

In times past and presently churches stepped up and fed the hungry and clothed the destitute. Neighbors helped out in times of sickness or injury. How much money can neighbors/churches raise by holding bake sales and placing cans for change on business counters to help with medical expenses, addiction treatments, house payments? $100? $100,000? Can we expect churches to solve our problems or are they part of the problem that got us into this mess as some Atheists claim?

Something needs to be done to help people become better people--people that don’t harm others or themselves, people that help make the world a better place not a worse place. It is time for a change.

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What purposes/needs does Religion fulfill?

Here I will mention five.

1. Explain the unexplainable, bring a sense of order and security to a chaotic and insecure world. All the world’s Religions and Ethnic groups developed explanations (beautiful stories) of where their people came from, how the world came to be the way that it is, why they are special and what they need to do to live a safe, happy and secure life and maintain the deity(s) favor. Religion was created to impart this information and rituals developed to keep the people right with God/Gods/Goddess/Goddesses. Science has now taken over and explained much about how our world works, and how we came to be who we are, and there was no deities in their explanation. Historians and Schools teach us about our past, and usually, though not always, in a more honest and unbiased way.

2. Provide a community for people to be a part of, and help build their cohesiveness as a group. Early on, religious leaders realized that there are some things that people can do together that they can’t accomplish alone. They also realized that without guidance far too many people simply don’t know how or refuse to “play well with others”. So they devised stories and rituals that helped pull and hold the people together. The biggest problem here is that unscrupulous leaders can also use these same tools to create an “us versus them” atmosphere, where we are the good guys, and you are the bad guys. That has torn and continues to tear our world apart.

3. Provide rules to govern people’s behavior so they can live together in some sort of harmony for the benefit of the group. All the world’s religious groups have rules, The Ten Commandments are simply one well-known example. The problem is that rules can be devised to benefit the group or to benefit a few at the expense of the group. Another problem is that people and times change. Rules that were necessary for a small tribal group living in the backwater area of the Roman Empire aren’t necessarily appropriate for our modern culturally diverse cities. That doesn’t mean all the early rules are bad and should be thrown out, there is still wisdom in the command to “not bear false witness against a neighbor”. That means spread lies and misinformation about others. Governments have codified the rules and taken over part of this function. BUT I think there is still a need for someone or some group to teach and promote common civility, polite and appropriate behavior. We need to help people save themselves from their own self destructive behaviors. And we need to help people learn how to get along with others for the benefit of the whole group as well as the benefit of individuals in the group.

4. Help them find a connection to that something that is greater than themselves whether it is called God, or Allah, or Brahmin, or the Tao, or peace, or Oneness with the Universe. This is the purpose that seems to get lost in the arguments over whether the Bible is or is not the work of God or the work of men, and whose interpretation of the teachings is right and who is wrong, what is and is not a Sin.

5. Perhaps save us from sin. Many religions claim that governments and Atheists can’t do that. ... but maybe they can.

The problem here is that many Religious folk show by their words and actions that they haven’t been saved from sin. They lie, they cheat, they utter unkind words and sometimes do terrible things to other people -- often claiming their words and actions are sanctified and justified by God. It’s as though they think being “saved” gives them a free license to behave badly—a “Get out of Jail Free” card. An evil act, an unkind word, an act of oppression is bad and to be avoided whether someone claims it is sanctioned by “God”, or whether someone claims they have been saved and their bad deeds are forgiven.

I have never understood how people could think that God could forgive their bad behavior. Only the person harmed can forgive your bad behavior. Our words and day to day actions show the world whether we have been saved from committing sins (bad behaviors) or not.

Some will say I misunderstand, it is to have your sins forgiven and be saved from the wages of sin (having to pay for your sins—that “get out of jail free card”), it is about being saved from reaping what you have sown, being saved from death to have life everlasting.

There are two problems with this concept.

  • First, few agree about what one has to do if anything to be “Saved from Hell to have everlasting life in Heaven:” Believe in God, believe in Jesus as your savior, believe in the resurrection of Jesus, do good works, do good works and believe. ..." They can’t even agree as to whether salvation will be granted to everyone (not just Christians), or whether it will only be granted to a few who have already been selected (even good Christians won’t get to heaven if they aren’t part of the chosen group), or whether you even have to do anything (even accept it) to receive it (forgiveness, salvation).

The way some people talk about salvation makes you think the God they worship is a petty, narcissistic, vindictive tyrant, certainly not a loving and compassionate God. No wonder many reject their beliefs.

Few folks admit that the Bible isn’t clear about this matter, there are passages that support all of these different ways to be saved. Theologians have been arguing over these points for centuries, each claiming that they are right and all others are wrong. They can’t all be right. They can all be wrong. Or perhaps it simply doesn’t matter. Being saved from Sin to have everlasting life in Heaven is a distraction that has actually taken people away from what is important. Or perhaps people simply don’t understand what the Sin is that we are to be saved from. Note that is Sin in the singular, not sins in the plural.

  • Second, there is also the argument that the very concept of Grace, forgiveness, means that it is freely given with no strings attached. If you have to do this or do that, believe this or believe that, attend the right church, practice the right sacraments (be sprinkled rather than dunked in Baptism or be Baptized at all), wear the right clothes ... then what you have isn’t Grace. You have bribery, coercion or a quid-pro-quo. If there is any truth to the concept of God’s Grace (forgiveness, salvation) than all will be saved, saints and sinners, Christians and non-Christians.

If saving us from Sin isn’t the prime purpose for Religion, what is?

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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Originally published: 2015-FEB-19
Last updated 2015-FEB-20
Author: Susan Humphreys.
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