An essay donated by Susan Humphreys
Part 2 of 2:
Do We Still Need Religion?
About the functions performed by religions.
Still another purpose for religion:
There must be something that Religion was supposed to do that couldn’t have been accomplished by something else, something like a government, or chiefdom, or monarchy. Here is a sixth purpose.
6. Many Religious leaders say the sole purpose of Religion is to save Souls. This is why religion is as necessary today as ever. People are in trouble and in need of salvation. The crime rates, addictive behaviors, the religious wars, prove this.
Most Atheists will admit that saving Souls is not important to them. Governments certainly don’t claim to be in the business of saving Souls.
I however think they are wrong! Atheists and Governments should be as concerned about saving Souls as Religious leaders claim to be. They are simply as confused and ignorant about the concept of “salvation” and what a soul is as their Religious counterparts.
What are Souls to be saved from? From death, is often the reply. What kind of death, I ask? And folks look at me as though I am crazy, there is only one kind of death they say. Not true, I say. Death can also be understood as an abstract concept. I admit literal minded thinkers have great difficulty with abstract concepts.
An abstract concept is an idea or quality that is not concrete, not something that is real, to be touched or seen or measured. Freedom is an abstract concept, it can only be understood as a situation a person finds himself in, not as an independent entity. Death and resurrection are also abstract concepts. There are many kinds of death—intellectual, emotional, spiritual as well as the non abstract physical. Abstract concepts are not physical realities.
What is a “Soul”? How can you save Souls if you don’t know what it is you are saving? Some would answer, “A Soul is a gift from God and it needs to be Saved from Sin and Hell to find everlasting life in Heaven.” That only explains where you think a Soul comes from and where you think it is going, it doesn’t explain what it is.
Is a Soul like a ghost, like the Holy Ghost, something that is supernatural, something that lives on after the physical body dies, a disembodied Spirit? Is that what you mean by Soul? Most folks aren’t exactly sure but they do agree that it is some sort of an entity unto its self. Like God is an entity, a living reality. A Soul is also a living reality, separate unto its self.
This still only tells us that you think it is something separate from the body but not what that something is. This is where Atheists get confused. They don’t want to have anything to do with supernatural nonsense. They too are guilty of confusing an abstract concept with a physical reality.
When the word Spirit is used as another word for Soul folks are getting close to understanding what a Soul is. Please note I am not talking about Ghostly supernatural Spirits here.
When we say that a person is in high Spirits what do we mean? We mean that he/she is full of life, full of joy, full of energy. When looked at this way, what is our Spirit/Soul? It is the core of our being, who we are as a person. It is our character our personality our primal energy. It is our hopes and dreams, our fears and regrets. It is created by our physical condition, by all that we learn and all that happens to us throughout our life. It changes and grows and blossoms as we grow. It withers and dies when it is unable to cope with life’s difficulties, or with the unkind words and actions of others.
Some friends and I run a “Free Store”, it is a place where all items are donated and given away. Clothing, Shoes, Toys, Kitchen Ware, Decorative Items, Craft Items, Household Items. I call it the Recycle Shop. It is a place where neighbor can help neighbor by donating items they no longer need or use, such as clothing their children or they have out grown and where they can take any item that they need or can use. During this last round of economic hard times some of us realized local families needed more than just a food pantry, they were having trouble clothing their children and themselves. This was one small way we could all help each other out.
Each week while I work at this store I see people that are half dead inside. Their Spirit/Soul has been seriously damaged and they are barely hanging on. I see people that are coping but only with the use of drugs and alcohol and sometimes food and sex. These things provide temporary relief but in the long run do more harm than good to a Spirit/Soul I see many people that are simply lonely. Their Spirit/Soul needs a friendly face, a real person to talk to and show that they aren’t forgotten. AND I see some amazing people that have suffered from cancer or serious disabling injuries, people that have had more than their fare share of difficulties in life and their Spirit/Soul is still strong and vibrant.
Some of these folks are Religious and some aren’t.
I have read accounts by prisoners of war. Those with strong, indestructible Spirit/Souls survived; those without died. The purpose of their captors was to break their Spirit/Souls and often they succeeded. Men and Women returning from War discover that their Spirit/Souls have undergone massive changes and many are in need of help to rebuild a strong healthy Spirit/Soul from the shattered remnants.
Rape, assault, bullying are tools used in an attempt to humiliate and intimidate, to kill a person's Spirit/Soul. We need to help rape, assault, and bullying victims,
Our society change the narrative. The rapist, or mugger, or bully has a need to dominate another and mistakes force (physical or verbal) for power. Our society reinforces this concept in movies, books, video games and news reports. This need to dominate others shows a lack of self-respect and self-control and is a sign of weakness. We need to help people understand that it isn’t what is done to us but how we deal with what happens that shows our strength, our power. We need to help the injured person rebuild a shattered Spirit/Soul. Note I used the word “injured” person. The use of the word “victim” is a Spirit/Soul killing word that continues the powerless narrative.
Wars, natural disasters, debilitating accidents bring out the best and the worst in people. They show the true nature of their Spirit/Soul. Some are horrified at what they discover. And some are amazed.
The death that I think we need to be saved from is the death of our Spirit/Soul. Sometimes we do things to ourselves and sometimes others do things to us and sometimes things just happen--things that strengthen our Spirit/Souls or damage and kill our Spirit/Souls.
The Sin that we need to be saved from is committing that which kills the Spirit/Soul of a person:
- Mean spirited words--calling a homosexual unnatural and unloved by God, denying them their equal rights harms the homosexual but it also harms the one that utters those mean words.
- Promoting practices that restrict the activities of women (or members of other groups): whether to get an education, to become a priest, or their health options in regards to reproductive choices harms the woman and harms the one that promotes the restrictive practices.
- Spreading lies about another person or lying to another person about science or history or religion.
- Calling another person names, attacking their character harms both the speaker and the other person.
The Sin that we need to be saved from is spawned by our own baser, self-centered, self-righteous Ego centered self. Putting our needs and our rights ahead of the rights and needs of all others harms us as much if not more than it harms the others. Attempting to build our own self-esteem while shooting others down harms both of us. Short term gains at another’s expense harms our self, our Spirit/Soul.
Our day to day words and actions, how we treat our planet, how we treat other people and how we handle our selves show the world the kind of person that we are. They show the world the health and well being of our Spirit/Soul, show the world how far we have come and how far we still have to go to reach our full potential as human beings AND how far we have to go to establish that connection with that which is greater than ourselves -- whether that something is called God, Allah, The Great Spirit, Brahmin, the Tao, Peace, Oneness with the Universe.
Many claim they have made the connection, they have found God/Jesus. They have accepted Jesus as their Savior and been Saved. I think they have confused the ecstasy that comes from the adrenaline rush and sexual flush of fiery sermon and heart pumping music, the mind numbing dream quality of muted colored lights and flickering candles, the sense overload of incense and chanted sacred texts with true Spirituality. After the adrenaline wears off, the lights go out and the music stops, it is back to business as usual, the mean spirited words, the lying and cheating. Their words and actions show us there has been no transformation, at least not for the better, of their Spirit/Soul.
I have read several books and articles and listened to discussions from religious leaders about the problems facing Christianity. I have also listened to the arguments from Atheists about the problems with religions and how society will be better off if we do away with religions all together.
Religion is in trouble:
- Pew Research polls show that there has been a rise in the “nones” those claiming no religious affiliation as well as no affiliation to Atheism or Agnosticism. They refuse to label themselves.
- Mainstream churches have been losing members. There is a small increase in the rise of more fundamentalistic and evangelical and non-affiliated denominations -- but not among young people. I see this rise as a further splintering of Christianity, a sign that Christianity is in trouble. Religious leaders have long understood that people “don’t play well with others”—they need encouragement and guidance in how to “get along”. When folks get mad -- for whatever reason, a perception of unfair treatment, a rule they disagree with, a perceived insult -- instead of trying to work things out, compromise, find a middle ground position that all can live with, they take their toys and start a new game with their own rules. Then when someone in the new group has a problem, the leadership in the new group is as intransigent and uncompromising as the leaders they objected to in the old group and a new group packs up and moves on. In the Qur'an, Mohammed warned his followers not to allow themselves to split into factions as the Christians have done. As we can see from current events in the Middle East, Muslims didn’t heed his advice.
- Many that claim a religious affiliation are not active in their church. Many report they attend services only occasionally. They maintain a membership so they can partake of the sacraments, baptism, marriage and burial. The number that claim that religion is very important in their lives is declining.
If people are rejecting Religious beliefs and the values and morals taught where does the fault rightly belong?
- With the beliefs, values and morals--they are seen as faulty or inappropriate for our times and place?
- Or is the blame placed on a “scapegoat”, the society, television, the removal of Bibles and prayer from public schools, lax discipline, too much tolerance, “intellectualism and rationality” as one Pentecostal minister claims in his book 1 or with Faith Based religious teachings as another minister claims in his book?. 2
- Do the problems stem from too much tolerance or too little tolerance? From asking too many questions or from not asking enough questions?
To admit failure is not easy for most humans. Old warriors keep re-fighting long lost battles, rehashing the “what ifs” over and over again. Religious leaders keep bemoaning the loss of old fashioned values, loss of strict discipline, too much tolerance, and/or the decline of morals and/or the rise of “intellectualism and rationalization.” They call for a return to the old ways, to the fundamentals, back to basics.
I agree that there is a need to return to “Basics” -- Saving Spirit/Souls, as many Religious leaders proclaim. I just have a different understanding of what the Spirit/Soul is and what it needs to be saved from.
The problem as I see it with many religions and religious leaders and the doctrines and dogmas they teach is that they strangle and kill Spirit/Souls. They keep people from reaching their full potential as human beings and from making that connection I mentioned in point #4 with that something which is greater than they are, whether that something is called God, Allah, Great Spirit, Brahmin, the Tao, Peace, Oneness with the Universe. What use it to save a Spirit/Soul for a life in Heaven if it has died before the physical death of the body?
Many will say that this isn’t true, this isn’t their intent, they only want to save people not harm them. They want to teach people that God/Jesus loves them and if they will put their faith and trust in God/Jesus He will keep them from harm, that without God/Jesus they are nothing. That last part is a Spirit/Soul killing statement. What are people to think when bad things happen--when God doesn’t answer their prayers and save them from harm? That even God/Jesus thinks they are nothing? It is the age old problem of Theodicy, why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. After all of these years Religious leaders still haven’t been able to deal adequately with the problem.
For many Atheists, teaching folks to put their faith/trust in a God that doesn’t exist or in a mythologized Jesus is deceitful and immoral. It encourages people to abdicate responsibility for their own actions and encourages dependency. It doesn’t encourage the growth of strong, healthy, self-actualized individuals (strong Spirit/Souls).
Sometimes the intent to harm seems blatantly obvious to those of us outside the fold -- doctrines and dogmas that are designed to keep people cowed, compliant, submissive and subservient to the Will of the Religious leaders. Sometimes I think people “know not what they do”, they have “ears that cannot hear and eyes that cannot see”, they are so enthralled with their selves they really are unaware of others. Their lack of self-examination keeps them from acknowledging the failure of their own doctrines and dogmas, the harm that they do to others in God’s name.
Instead of helping this world become a better place for all of us, they foster the fears and hatreds that far too often spawn the unholy Holy Wars that tear our world apart. By damaging and killing Spirit/Souls they drive people away from God, they don’t bring people to God.
I agree with Atheists and religious leaders it is time for a change. Do we need to discard Religion altogether? If so who or what will fill the void? Can we find ways to help Religion live up to its potential, so it can become the developer of strong, vibrant, self-assured, healthy Spirit/Souls rather than the destroyer of Spirit/Souls?
I might add here that such a change wouldn’t be going against Biblical teachings. There are many that think that Jesus taught and was concerned with helping people become “whole”, healthy people, not just spiritually but in their day to day actions. One example is the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Many today misunderstand the word Meek, and think of wimps, losers. Meek can also refer to the person who is non-violent, passive, though not submissive. This sounds like a contradiction. It is a difficult attitude to maintain, as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights protestors fully understood. But it is an attitude that shows signs of a very strong, under control, Spirit/Soul. The admonition to “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”, is about controlling your Ego centered self-righteousness.
Many other religious leaders over the centuries have also understood that force, coercion, bribery is what we attempt to exert over others. Power is what we exert over ourselves, all of those self-skills—self-control, self-determination, self-motivation, self-discipline. There are also some self-skills that are destructive: self-indulgence, self-righteousness. They have realized that it is our Ego that gets in our way and keeps us from becoming the best, most powerful person that we can be. They all just disagree whether and how to teach people to gain control over their Ego or whether they should simply subjugate their Ego to the Ego of God (or his self-proclaimed representatives on earth) or annihilate the Ego, get rid of it completely. Both of these last choices are Spirit/Soul killing options. Only the first is a Spirit/Soul growing option.
Can we convince Atheists and Governments that helping to create strong, vibrant, self assured, healthy Spirit/Souls is part of their responsibility, something all of us should be concerned about (religious and non-religious)?
Or do we just continue with business as usual; complaining about the problems, offering lame excuses for why they occur, ignoring the real issues while insisting the same old solutions that didn’t solve the problems and helped create the mess in the first place will get us out of this mess this time around!
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Daniel L. Butler, "The Last Generation of Truth," Word Aflame Pr; 1ST edition (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
"An explanation of the historical significance of the sectarian cycle as regarding the characteristics of the first, second, and third generations in the church."
- Hank Hanegraaff, "Christianity in Crisis," Harvest House Pub; First Edition edition (1993). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
"On Christian television, in pulpits, seminars and books, a growing number of church leaders are spreading distorted doctrines that undermine the very core of Biblical Christianity. Hanegraaff exposes the surprising blasphemies and widespread teachings and gets to the root of false teachings that are endangering unwary followers."
Originally published: 2015-FEB-19
Last updated 2015-FEB-20
Author: Susan Humphreys.