The State of Religion

For years there have been disagreements about the place of religion in the United States. Some say that religion is destructive to enlightenment and free thought. Others say that a person’s religion is their own business and should be left to them to decide how to believe as long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s right to the same. Still others are certain that only religion can keep our society from anarchy and push the bounds of the Separation of Church and State daily. Is there a way to determine which is correct?

Gregory Paul thinks there is. He is a scientist who has recently published a study in the Journal of Religion and Society, a journal published by a Catholic University (Creighton) in the United States. He asked the question, “What value is god in a modern democratic society?” In an interview he answers:

I started finding that basically, the more people believed in God in the western world, the worse off the society was in numerous aspects.

For example, the United States again is the only prosperous democracy where religion is really popular and we’re the only nation among prosperous democracies to have really high murder rates.

We also have the highest juvenile mortality rates. We have pretty much the shortest life spans. We have the highest abortion rates among democracies where abortion is legal. We have the highest sexually transmitted disease infection rates. We have the highest teen pregnancy rates, pretty much across the board we have real, serious social issues that other nations don’t seem to be suffering from.

Wow. That flies in the face of the argument of those who feel that only Christianity can save America. How is this possible? Shouldn’t the stringent rules of Christianity dictate that their followers be more caring, more loving to others, less debauched and less violent than the godless heathen that avoid the mysticism of a Sunday visit to god’s house?

It may appear not. There are several reasons why that can be looked at.

• Many of the rules that Christians live under are not believed in or even agreed to from different sections of the faith. Some say you can live to rock music, others say no. Others say you can eat meat on Friday, others say no. Some say you can have female religious leaders, other say only men are capable of that role. The difference rules lead many of the faith to feel that many of the tenets of their religion are not important and start to choose what they follow and what they don’t want to.

• The current religious leadership is, for the most part, beyond horrible. Falwell, Swaggart, Robertson, and many others are more concerned about advancing the faith for power of some kind. Sometimes it’s political and other times, personal. Are they a result of the beliefs of Christianity or are they abhorred by many in the faith? If they are abhorred by those in the faith, how are they so powerful? It’s the same issue when examining the ever declining quality of presidential candidates in the country, are we settling? As a result, are they advancing for power or for the best of the faith and the community they profess to serve, even the godless ones?

• The Fear Factor. There is a large number of believers who follow their faith simply because they are either afraid of being punished with ‘eternal damnation’. Is this a good motivator to follow the faith and its tenets?

• Hedging Bets. There are also those who follow their faith simply as a way to cover their bases. The thought process, “If I am wrong, no big deal. If I am right, I won’t pay for it in the afterlife”. As a result, they do the minimum they feel they need to do to ensure their place in case there is a god, then act selfishly the rest of the time, sometimes even more so than they normally would to overcompensate. I’ve been presented with this particular argument many times by those wishing to convert me to their religious beliefs when they see their normal line of persuasion isn’t working (usually, believe in the word of god because the word of god says you should).

This is just a small sampling of things to consider.

Now, my personal take on this issue is that while the study is provocative it is not complete, nor does it point directly to a cause. There are many societal problems in the United States that need to be addressed. And while this gives us much to consider, it in no way PROVES anything beyond the obvious, that the argument that faith is necessary for a society to function well is no longer valid. It does not prove definitely that faith is the main factor in the society issues we have today and the study admits this quite clearly. It calls this a preliminary look into the issue and I can agree with that assessment.

However, I think that this type of examination is necessary in order to find out what those main causes are. We should look under every stone, consider several viewpoints with an open mind and really get to the heart of the matter. I seriously doubt that one single thing can be pointed to as a single cause and I also feel that religion, in and of itself, is not something that should be shied away from because of this study.

But I do think that this should help put to rest the attempts by many in the religious leadership in the United States to force their faith upon those of us who do not believe in their specific dogmas in order to ‘save our society’ from descending into anarchy and chaos.

However, there is the problem. Those who need to gain something from this will most likely dismiss it because it goes against their religious dogma. Such hardcore religious beliefs prevent people from having an open mind about many subjects, especially when it involves their own religion. This isn’t limited to Christianity by any means, or even established religion. I equate other belief structures to similar problems, including hardcore environmentalism, socialists, capitalists, etc.

We have to accept the fact that we could be wrong in our own dogmatic beliefs. I’m not saying we should abandon them, especially ones that are embraced through long examination and critical thought. I am saying, however, that we should be willing to accept that we are wrong when presented with overwhelming evidence or critical thought no longer sustains our beliefs. We must always be willing turn a critical eye to ourselves and our beliefs; if they are valid they will hold up under the scrutiny.

You have to ask yourself, are you willing to do this?

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