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as a sort of control mechanism, restricting the followers to blind belief, enhancing prejudice and, essentially, an outdated concept for people who are scared of death; so they choose to invent ideas about: a God, heaven and hell and all other sorts of methaphysical concepts.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.