Do We Need Religion in the 21st Century?

 Having been brought up in a moderate religious tradition, I have been able to question, ponder and reflect over the purpose of religion. Many see religion as a sort of control mechanism, restricting the followers to blind belief, enhancing prejudice and, essentially, an outdated concept for people who are scared of death; so they choose to invent ideas about: a God, heaven and hell and all other sorts of methaphysical concepts. I, however, believe that religion is essential for society, as well as for the human psyche-and I will tell you why.

Religion is a force for good. Atheists, secularists and rationalists may be snarl at that last comment, but let me share with you the most profound reason why a human being needs religion. You see, by nature, a human being’s conscious state is that of tension and the contradictions ingrained in our personality denote that our origin is fraught with problems. Everybody, I repeat, everybody has personality defects. Whether it be a lack of patience, anger management problems, uncontrollable lustful passions or even the vice of extreme laziness. It is crucial that we address these problems.  There is no better system in human society which deals with a human being’s innate contradictions and flaws than religion. Every religion deals with these human problems by discouraging them, and even enforcing punishments for those who do not try and combat them. All religions echoe the biblical message of  “Love thy neighbour”-it is at the heart of all religious traditions. But deeper, more profound messages are taught within religion pertaining to: ethics in business, the environment and the importance of virtue even within your own household. 

Some at this point will be thinking…”I can be a good person, I don’t need religion!” But I pose the question-who are you to define what is good? Good, without religion, is a wholly subjective term. Ask a million people what good is, and you’ll get a million different answers.  Furthermore, is a human being able to struggle with oneself to defeat the contradictions within his personality without religion? Maybe slightly, but they can’t achieve self mastery. The primary purpose of religion therefore, is to completely suppress  these sinful inclinations in man or woman so that they can better themselves as individuals. And holistically speaking, better the whole of society.  Once these harmful, innate inclinations are suppressed, beneficial innate inclinations will start to eminate from a human being without them thinking twice. This is without doubt the highest state a human being can achieve. Whereby they suppress the evil and promote the good (naturally). They, in effect, no longer need to turn to the teachings of religion, but they will end up teaching others about religion through their daily practises. This is the spiritual state all those who follow a religion should strive for.

However, it would be a idiotic of me to assume that the current state of religion is perfect-because frankly, it’s not. Religion can be used as a tool for bigotry, racism and prejudice. But, is it the religion itself which advocates such things? No. It is the ‘followers’ of that religion. Using certain scriptual verses out of context, or particular concepts in an unjust way, people can use religion to further their ignorant and evil intentions. But at the same time, books like Richard Dawkins ‘The God delusion’ (which basically calls religious followers backward and stupid) can be used to increase prejudice against religious followers and increase tensions between atheists and believers.

What do I propose? Religion needs a reformation. Not a reformation of central beliefs or practises. But a change in the way we go about religion in the 21st Century. We need to adapt our religious customs with the change in time without changing the religion itself. This is why I believe liberalism and religion do not necessarily contradict per se. Religion needs intellectual and academic scholars to steer religion and the followers of religion in the right direction. Albert Einsten once said ‘science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.’ One must not follow a religion blindly, but must test their intellectual capacity, think rationally and deliberate over their religion. Intellectuals such as Hamza Yusuf, say, without religion, the human psyche can enter into a state of despair. It is not religion that needs to change, but our understanding.

Omar Shahid

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9 Comments

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  1. Omar, i have read your note and disagree with your main premise. The fact that you take this considered view tells me a lot: in a nutshell, you are simply wrong and should be pitied. People like you are, on the surface, harmless and your beliefs probably reflect your upbringing. However, you have a tendency to become controlling and may well end up in the church or equivalent, because you are so plausible to the masses. Your ego will be suitably enriched and your life okay, but you will still be, like many before you, pathetic.At least you don’t sound like a TV evangelist – the next wrung on the ladder and absolutely corrupt – but they get away with it (some of the richest Nigerians are ‘missionaries’
    Think about it, but with an open mind – probably too difficult for you.

  2. Religion is no longer needed to guide the masses. How can people say they are speaking to god or inspired by it, if they have no proof of there contact with it or the entity.

    People can live full lives without religion, all relgions were created by clever people to control people and and create there version of morality and a world.

    There is no proof of a god or ever has been.

    God is dead and people should just accept we are all going to die eventually and concenrate on what is real. Why waste your time on fairy tales. Religous people are bigoted and weak.

    Why do people need to run to an invisible being to get answers when you can think of a way out. Although praying is harmless.

    Life is far more complex thean we know and cant be explained by a bloody book .

    Religion and god create weak minded people and slaves, wars, genocide what more does religion have. Religion warps scientific truth ie creationisim theory without proof.

    Relgion seems to need money to spread its lies all over the world. Why does god need money.

    Clever people made god in his own image to elevate certain people to be worshipped as gods.

    Religion divides people as essentially we are one race then why have so many different languages and belieafs if were the same, say thank you to religion for the dark ages.

    Thank the existance god no longer is here, but the lies still remain.

    I belieave one day i will die . Ihave accepted this and live my life to the full i dont need a book to tell me how to treat people.

  3. Religion is an important part of our life and it is a pity to see how everything is falling apart without it. I’m not sure about the real importance of a god though. Nor am I sure about all the good aspects and consequences of believing in a god…
    What I don’t like, on the contrary, about religion, is the “brain wash” it does on the masses, and how difficult it then is to find a true answer to one life.

    I disagree with you on the point of “what’s good without religion”: I know it sounds easy to say that but religion has made “bad” things in the name of gods. You can argue that it is because of the interpretation of the laws that this “bad” was done but if religion was good in itself, why would there be the possibility to interpret it the other way round?

    • I didn’t say “what’s good without religion” I was saying defining what is ‘good’ without religion is subjective.

      Langauge, by its very nature, is open. And therefore, a human can interpret language in whatever way he/she pleases. Be it with religious or non religious scripture.

      The concept of the day of judgement in religion is important here, because, it is on that day when all things will be reconciled and the truth of all matters will be unveiled.

  4. You could say that religion helps people better themselves, and its a motivation and what not.
    What about me? I am not religious and I’ve started going to the gym, that’s me trying to better myself physically, why? Because for personal and social reasons I crave the self improvement.
    And personality defaults? Sure I’m a Jealous person or I’m opinionated and some have said argumentative.
    And I’m working on all of those things, why? because of religion? No, because I’m a rational human being who understands that these faults must be annoying for people like my girlfriend.
    Religion doesn’t come in to it and has no need to, I can recognise these faults (or others can for me) and work on them at my accord.
    Also I put it to you, do all church going Christians combat their flaws? if not then I fail to see
    how religion has helped at all, how do we know that these people never would have with or without religion? And how do we know the people that do combat them wouldn’t have anyway? I mean…I did.

    Standards of good, hmm yes your right there, and does religion set a standard then? I mean just by reading the holy books anyone can see that religion does NOT set a good standard of morales. The bible for example is full of evil actions by followers in the name of God and by God himself.
    If you pick and chose the stories and the teachings then sure you get some good stuff, but how
    does that make sense!
    And lets look at another view, religious people have what they believe is good, and I have mine.
    I doubt that they are all too different, I expect they were very similar indeed. But how?
    My morales are not from God, and there’s are. Something going on there?
    It seems to me that sure we all get our morales from somewhere, but it is certainly not religion!
    There is a lot of research on how morales are actually innate in human beings, factors can change
    our morales for example psychopaths, society and uhem extremist religious teachings but generally its there and pretty much the same for everyone.
    Also I see you speak of mastery, that is actually laughable, that any Christian, Muslim or anyone of any faith has mastered themselves, as much as its laughable that any non religious person has either.
    Even God himself states that we are not perfect and will always sin, hence Jesus dying for our sins.

    Well after all I’ve said so far at least we have one thing in common: “it would be a idiotic of me
    to assume that the current state of religion is perfect-because frankly, it’s not.
    Religion can be used as a tool for bigotry, racism and prejudice.”
    So you say its the people not religion? well get rid of religion and those people wont be able to aye!?
    Also I’m going to make the assumption that you’ve read The God Delusion, otherwise you would not have referenced it, in which case you should know that he makes it very clear that he does not assume religious followers to be backward and stupid, he says the very opposite in fact, many many times.
    He says how there are great intellectual people out there who follow religion and that following a religion does not having anything to do with intellect.
    He believes that it is often down to childhood manipulation and brainwashing – hard to disagree with and that the rare people that convert without childhood influences are often manipulated due to being mentally weak for a reason such as a death in the family. Others may be because they can’t explain the universe any other way and crave an answer. He makes note of a lot of reasons but doesn’t say its because they are stupid anywhere. Any tension between religious believers and atheist, in my experience has normally been down to the aggressive or ignorant reactions of the religious person.
    That is of course only my experience.

    “science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind” hmm yes he did indeed say this, of course the entire quote is “Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other” there are “strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies […] science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind […]
    a legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist.”
    This sort of weakens the quote a little from your perspective, more interestingly he has many more quotes on religion.

    “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world,
    not in a god who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

    “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness
    of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does
    not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of
    reward and punishment.”

    “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one.
    You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist
    whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious
    indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the
    weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

    I only show these quote to show how you have done exactly what you say you are against

    “It is the ‘followers’ of that religion. Using certain scriptual verses out of context”

    And yet you’ve done the same with Einstein, by using what he has said out of context you get
    the out come that you looked for.

    Id like to finish with saying there are no hard feelings and I apologize if I’ve come across
    aggressive, rude or patronising in anyway. I simply really enjoy a good religious debate! 🙂

    (p.s I typed this up in notepad and copied and pasted it in so I also apologize for any spelling mistakes and weird sentence structuring 🙂 )

    • Oh believe me…I enjoy a religious debate more than anyone.

      Just out of curiosity, do I know you personally, or are you on my course at uni? Because you have come up as ‘anonymous’.

      A reply to everything you said would require another blog post, so I’ll try and reply here with what ever time I have got.

      You talk about how you do not need religion…well perhaps-maybe you don’t. Everything I said is a generalisation, because essentially, religion is for the masses. However, without religion, I believe, a human being can lose their way.

      With regards to morality: here, again, you and I will probably disagree. Morality, logically speaking, must have come from an objective reality. God is the only concept which transcends our subjectivity. Anything else does not provide a rational objective foundation for morality. I could elaborate further, and provide quotes from professors who agree with my statement, just as you could find professors who agree with you, but I shall leave it there.

      Self mastery is not complete perfection. It is a spiritual state, which is indeed attainable by a human being-and it is here I disagree with you because it is a state which I believe some people have reached. Immanuel Kant’s version, perhaps, is the ‘summon bonnum.’

      The full quote from Einstein takes nothing away from my shortened version, a version which is used throughout the world-without objection. Neither do the rest of your quotes. So I have not taken anything out of context.

      And there was no offence taken from your reply at all.

      🙂

      • Prefer to keep it anonymous, otherwise should we ever speak outside of these terms you might have false presumptions about my personality :) January 27, 2011 — 9:21 pm

        A friend of a friend of a friend haha. I am very interested in this topic as a whole and couldn’t keep myself from participating. A lot of my friends and such aren’t very passionate on the subject on either side of the argument so I thought this would be fun.

        Ill try to reply to each paragraph.

        Paragraph 1 as in “You talk about how you do not need religion…”

        That’s fair enough, of course you didn’t mean everyone, and I guess its hard to argue against “some people can lose their way”.

        Paragraph 2 as in “With regards to morality:”

        As far as morality is concerned, I can grasp how morality can evolve. Morales have been shown in the behaviour of apes, I forget which exact species, but a current cousin of ours and probably more than just this one species. It makes sense that morale would develop as a sort of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” and as our conciousness has risen, as society has developed we’ve managed to develop these. Also if God is the bench mark of our morality, how did we learn this from him? I’m interested to know how God has communicated what is morally right and wrong?

        Paragraph 3 as in “Self mastery is not complete perfection.”

        Well then I guess I misunderstood, it happens 😛
        So, can you explain this summon bonum? I mean I’ve not really heard of it, so because your being a bit vague, I don’t really know what to say. It’s some sort of spiritual state, as in what?

        Paragraph 4 as in “The full quote from Einstein”

        “a version which is used throughout the world-without objection” I guess I’ll be the first!
        To me, it sounded like you were quoting Einstein as some sort of a religious follower? Christian, or more likely Jewish or something. But of course he certainly was not. If of course you were only using the quote for the sake of your point, then I would hope you would take from it, that with enough testing of intellectual capacity, religious deliberation and most of all rationality then you would probably not follow a religion at all. Of course that’s only my interpretation. Science would be lame, as in “would lack effectiveness”. Because when the Church finally accepts a scientific concept, then who better to convince so many people so quickly of its truth? And religion being blind without science, well of course, if all Christians for example followed the beliefs of creationists then I don’t think it would stand the test of time. It needs to adapt and evolve with science.

        And I’m glad you found no offence, I tend to get carried away with no hate or disrespect intended!

  5. oops…I accidentally liked this post…and not quite sure how to unlike it…hmm

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