Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Problem of Religion

I am an example of what has become a contemporary cliché in that I regard myself as spiritual but not religious. I define religion as a prescribed set of rites, rituals and beliefs that are supposed to provide moral guidelines to their practitioners, while deepening their spirituality. Though I appreciate the idea of religion in the abstract, I am not a big fan of how it is typically practiced today. The primary benefit I see in our major religions is that they sometimes give comfort to worthwhile people who would otherwise feel spiritually lost.

For me personally, the potential spiritual benefits of today’s major religions are simply not worth their secular costs. Since I am not a paragon of morality and spirituality, I have needs that the right religion could conceivably address. But my needs in this area are not great enough to force me to endure or worse, contribute to the difficulties that often manifest in and through religions.

As I see it, the problem with today’s religions is that they are generally divisive belief systems that are easily perverted for exploitive and sometimes even more appalling purposes. The divisiveness of religions is based on the manner in which they distinguish true believers from the rest of us. When religions regard infidels and heretics as inherently inferior, the religious capacity for atrocity emerges. This is because once a religion draws the line separating the sacred from the profane (or at best the mundane) between true believers and all others, it implicitly sanctions the former to treat the latter horrifically. Only in a religious context could the oxymoron ‘sanctified atrocity’ make sense.

The exploitive nature of religions manifests when they begin to develop hierarchical organizations. Such structures typically emerge when a religion’s core precepts represent arcana that require mystical interpretation. In such belief systems, the deeper your understanding of the founding principles (as subjectively assessed by other profound believers) the higher you are in its hierarchy. This dynamic generally leads to a perception that advancing your position in the religious hierarchy is synonymous with spiritual growth.

Once this view becomes commonplace in an organization that distinguishes itself from the secular world (in which spiritual growth is objectively demonstrated), the religion has essentially transformed itself from a spiritual vehicle to a political one. This invariably leads to increasing numbers of people of dubious morality and spirituality rising to leadership positions in the religion. Such leadership can, and with distressing regularity does, selfishly exploit its followers under the guise of promoting their spiritual growth.

Be that as it may, I do not subscribe to the cynical belief that religion is the source all human problems in the world. I maintain that it is the perversion of our basic survival instinct into excessive self-centeredness that is the culprit here. I do believe that the nature of religion makes it arguably the greatest mechanism available to us for amplifying the negative impact of our self-centeredness. Ultimately, it is not the existence of religion, but the manner in which it is often structured and practiced that makes it to such a destructive force in our world today.


Ty said...

Agreed, Captain.

But might I add the biggest (non-cynical) problem I have with organized religion is, regardless of faith or denomination, it has evolved into huge Business run as businesses. Especially in the U.S.

Everything is sifted through these "deeply hierarchical organizations" to satisfy one objective: survival.

Survival means ensuring a steady pay day for those most deeply invested and rooted.

So all means justify simplistic ends regardless of collateral damages.

Like you say, "Ultimately, it is not the existence of religion, but the manner in which it is often structured and practiced that makes it to such a destructive force in our world today."

Captain Rational said...

I concur, Ty (love your work, btw). These days proselytizing is often just a strategy for gaining market share.

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