Agnostic/atheists pick on religion a lot, and frankly, it deserves it. But religions do have positive qualities. My mom dragged me to Christmas mass and it was as rote and soulless as always. Yet I did see a bunch of well-meaning people gathering together in celebration and fellowship, singing songs, listening to stories, shaking hands and smiling. It got me thinking about the tangible good things that religion is capable of:
1. They sing songs and shake hands and smile.
2. They do charitable works.
3. They create community.
4. They teach.
5. It brings people together in a common purpose.
It made me wonder whether there are secular versions of the same thing. Organizations with the sole purpose of fostering togetherness, charity, community, art and education. Imagine a bunch of atheists meeting once per week and playing music, telling stories, reading aloud from books and having discussions, coffee and donuts. It might be kind of fun. Now what if they pitched money in together to help improve people’s lives and spread a message of tolerance and peacefulness. It could be very effective. (I’m sure many such groups exist.)
So besides the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, religion may fill a need in people’s lives in other ways. As we continue, from what I know, to become less and less of a church going population, is there a gap there? Do we need to congregate to have healthy societies?
Of course we are all very social creatures and participate in all sorts of cliches and clubs and social circles. It’s not that we don’t have fellowship with people around us. There is a difference, I wonder, when the entire point of gathering is focus on the big picture and the big questions: death and god.
I don’t know. I’m just wondering.
I’m basically an atheist/agnostic now because all these religions seem like simplistic mythology to me. Wishful thinking of fatherly deities who hug you when you feel sad and promise eternal happiness when you die. From a universe that has quantum mechanics, general relativity and the 2nd law of thermodynamics, I can’t believe that I am a little actor on a little stage that God made. The answer certainly has to be more complex. I believe a lot of things are possible. I believe that there can exist beings greater than I. But heaven, hell, Moses, Jesus, Allah, sin — it’s all fiction.
Even so, much of it is good or at least interesting philosophy. I do believe we should treat others as we would be treated. The teachings of Christ, Mohammed or Lao Tzu are worthy of our study.
One thought on “Religion's Good Stuff”
This is an interesting point, because I think that one of the most valuable things about religion (and what draws people to it) have to do with the social aspects. There is a small percentage of people who devote themselves so wholly to the belief system that they are willing to pursue it in solitude and/or silence, but the great majority of people (I think) are drawn to the community of it. It’s nice to be surrounded by other people that think or feel the same way you do — it’s human nature. This can be both good and bad. Good because, as you point out, it can lead to good things like people deciding to pitch in and help other people. Bad because it can also lead to things like excluding those who don’t believe in the same things. Like, “You’re going to Hell, and we’re not! So there.”
That’s my two cents.