7.10. What Religion Can and Can’t Do

Religions try to answer a really wide range of concerns–even though it isn’t really necessary anymore.

Religions try to answer a really wide range of concerns.

They tell us stories about how we got here, and what the meaning of it all is.

They tackle the issue of morality, of what it means to be virtuous and good, and how to conduct ourselves as we go about our lives.

They foster communities, conduct rituals, and form themselves into institutions.

They even claim to possess knowledge not just about everything in this universe—but about whatever may lay behind.

In other words, religions try to present themselves as a one-stop shop for everything you need to live your life—which is unusual, in this day and age of specialized disciplines and areas of expertise.

It’s not unreasonable to ask whether by trying to do too much, trying to be too ambitious, and insisting on absolute obedience—religions are overextending themselves, picking unnecessary fights with other knowledge and belief systems, and getting away from what they do best.

I’m not just making this up out of nowhere.

Twenty years ago, I went to a Catholic high school, run by Benedictine monks.

They taught me that the Bible was a religious book—not a history book, or a science book.

They taught me that the creation story in Genesis was metaphorical, not literal.

They taught me that there were things in the Bible that were socially and culturally obsolete, that don’t apply anymore to the present day.

They focused on things like love, charity, and social justice—the sort of stuff no science will ever supersede.

So it was weird to me when I grew older, and discovered that millions of people feel compelled to believe every single word of the Bible, reject the value of any other knowledge or belief system, and will tell you you’re going to hell, if you don’t do the same.

Those people reminded me not of Jesus, but of the Pharisees that ultimately got Jesus killed. Vain, petty, more concerned with preserving their own power than sincerely seeking the truth. More concerned with following the letter of the law, than adhering to the true spirit of the law.

Religions used to be our one-stop shop for everything. We don’t really need them to do that anymore—but neither do they need to do that, in order to still be essential, valuable, meaningful contributors to our lives.

There are an estimated 10,000 active religions on earth today.

We can look at this in one of two ways. We can pretend as if that means at least 9,999 of them are wrong, and ought to be rejected. Or we can respect and appreciate all of them for their valuable contributions—even if you choose to focus your faith on one of them.

The myths, the grand unprovable claims, and the insistence on absolute obedience aren’t what make religions valuable.

It’s the morality. The ethics. The emphasis on good, wise conduct, living fulfilling lives, and making the world a better place that’s the real beating heart of religion.

It’s a shame that this is being lost in a vain attempt to hold onto social functions we don’t need religion to provide anymore. Letting go of those unnecessary roles, I think, would benefit everyone.

 

This is the 118th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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