FOR & AGAINST: Religion unites and teaches us compassion

Debate: Is it time for society to stop clinging on to religion and let the higher powers die out?
God is a DJ
Who is yours? Picture: Frank Munari/Flickr

I don’t know who my adversary is in this debate, because unlike ‘God’, I can’t predict the future. But I bet they’ll talk about religion being the starting point for war, like in the Middle East in the last few decades, or throughout Europe in centuries past.

If they’re particularly daring, they might even relate religion to terrorism and extremism in those regions, perhaps citing 9/11 as one big reason religion has done the world no good.

Feel free to cross-reference this list: Jedis on the Census, low church attendance, the Pope telling people not to use condoms, war, and even the recent natural disasters in Japan.

God can’t exist, religion is extremism’s largest AK-47 and we live in an ever-more secular world. The problem is, that’s not religion. That’s people.

People start wars, people mock others’ beliefs and people choose not to tolerate others. Religion is so often the sacrificial lamb, pointed out as the sole cause of the world’s problems.

The thing is, if people want a fight, they find an excuse. Just go down to Barnsley on a Friday night. Religion preaches tolerance. People practice intolerance.

In its ideal form, religion is a great thing for society. It unites people, teaches children valuable lessons (although sometimes in the form of agonising biblical passages), and more than anything, it offers people hope.

“Hope is the rack on which every human hangs their hat,” as I think I heard in a dodgy B-movie once.

Even the most ardent atheist, facing their last moments, will pray. Even in a society which so increasingly downplays its importance, you only have to look at the faces of Muslims kneeling to Allah, Christians praying for a loved one, or the legions of any other religion for that matter to see that hope still keeps people coming back.

It’s no coincidence, in my book, that the relative fall of religion has coincided with the rise of suicide rates, depression, crime and most notably, greed. All these things existed 500 years ago, when religion was at its peak, but none thrived so openly.

In its purest form, religion promotes tolerance.

I believe God created the Big Bang. You may think that’s stupid. But religion tells us we should respect each others’ opinions, and that’s fine. At no point does religion tell us to start a war over it.

Every aspect of this is much more hopelessly complicated than can be conveyed in 500 words, but the fact is that religion still has the potential to do so much good. It’s a shame then, that it is so often used as a way of controlling, belittling or downright fighting others.

Yes, the Bible is metaphorical, not literal. Yes, the Pope is wrong on contraception (and, tellingly, has started to backtrack).  But no, if religion didn’t exist we wouldn’t be a peaceful world with no conflict. We’d all just fight about something else.

After all, we’re not gods. We’re only human.


One Response to “FOR & AGAINST: Religion unites and teaches us compassion”

  1. R. Hardy

    Dear Alex,

    I really want to get my hands on your ‘book’ that has managed to link cause and effect of the demise of religion to so many ills of society. As you say, if such statistics did exist (which of course they do, they are in your book), they are not at all coincidental or artefact’s of any other social, political or economic issue occurring at the time.

    Take Lithuania for example, a country that Wikipedia tells me has the highest suicide rate of any country (I am sorry for using such poor references but I could not source your book for some real world facts). Lithuanians seem to enjoy a strong connection with their religion ,mostly Roman Catholicism, with only 10% of the population being classed as non-religious.

    Now personally I do not see how this data could be correct as it goes against the general trend of losing ones religion leading to more and more suicides (Reference A. Evans, 2011, Forge Press). However, I would like to see your primary data (tracing back 500 years!) for suicides as well as the other ills of society like depression, crime and greed.

    Yours Sincerely, R. Hardy

    PS. I am particularly interested in the way greed has been made quantifiable. What with I wonder, a greedometer? Please get back in touch with pictures of said device if possible.

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