Ahhhh! I know there are those of you who are very worried right now because you don’t have any idea what I’m about to write. Just stay with me for a little bit.
A while ago, I listened to a debate posted on NPR’s website and aired on 11/21/2011. The title of that debate was “Would the world be a better place without religion?”
Now, most of you don’t have to think about what the word “religion” means. Your set of values and beliefs are arranged nicely and neatly in your own minds and hearts. In the United States, that term most often involves a place for worship, a routine way of worshiping, a set of values or beliefs and a concept (however defined) of a supreme being that created and/or maintains our world and existence. I suppose that this is what was being debated on NPR. However, I cannot say so definitely as NO ONE bothered to define the word religion before or during the debate except for the pro-side which proclaimed that what was NOT being debated was the existence of such a supreme being and that one common aspect of all religious ideologies is that the structure of any religion affords sanctions against doubters or non-believers (“pagans” or “infidels”). That debate, I believe, has been on going since the dawn of recorded history! Now, if you want to listen to the debate on NPR, it will take you about 50 minutes of time when you go to NPR’s website. I’m not going to reiterate the points made for either side here.
Personally, I think it is a moot point, since there seems to have been no time in recorded history when there was no religion and, it could be argued, that humans are hard wired to have beliefs and values based on personal experiences, cultural and family training and an “us versus them” mentality. We look for the similarities and differences between us and "the other" to improve an assessment of danger. That's the "hard-wired" part. What we do with those assessments, is NOT hard-wired. Consequently, the question leads one to wonder if the world would be a better place without humans.
In North America, if you're walking in the forest and, in the distance, see a big, dark brown, apparently furry figure, it is appropriate to feel alarmed...most people would freeze, at least momentarily, until a better look can determine if it is a bear or a bush. If it is a bear, what kind of bear might be important to know in order to develop a suitable plan for response. For example, no matter what kind of bear, knowing that you are not capable of out running it will play a role in your survival. Knowing the difference between a brown bear or a grizzly bear gives you a chance to either make a lot of noise (brown bears are easily startled and tend to run away) or climb a sturdy tree (grizzlies, with their long claws, tend not to climb trees but can push over smaller trees). On the other hand, if you're walking down a well traveled, well lit street in, say, Glendale, CA, and see a person wearing unusual clothing that marks them as an observer of a certain religious persuasion, this is not automatically a cause for alarm. If the person is dressed differently from you, the momentary alarm (your amygdala in your brain) will begin to sound just as it did in the forest before you realized the distant figure was not a bear but a bush. So, what changed between the moment of uncertainty and relief from alarm? Recognition. You recognized the bush was not a bear and experienced relief. Recognition literally means thinking a second time. We fear the unknown for good reason. Once someone or something becomes known, our fear resolves to a certain extent. The more we know, the more options we have for responding to the world around us. What if you can't tell by how one is dressed? Should you ask? Yes, ask YOURSELF, "where are the points of intersection between myself and this other?"
Interestingly, what we need to know more than anything or anyone else is ourselves as individuals: Inside and out, conscious and subconscious, good and bad, beliefs and doubts, peace-loving and angry, loving and hateful, spirit and body. Back to religion...my observation is this: religion is the natural, human outgrowth of our beliefs and values. Atheism is as much a religion as anything else. So is science. When you are truly comfortable in your values and beliefs, NO ONE'S other belief system is a threat to you. If your values and beliefs are not yet there, work it out within yourself. Trying to convince or coerce others that your religion is the one and only true religion is, in my mind, evidence that you have doubts. And, there is nothing wrong with having doubts. We are human beings living in a world of constant change. Doubt is natural. Balance is not something to achieve but something we play at from moment to moment. Like riding a bicycle, balance is best experienced while moving forward, not backward and not stationary. Your beliefs and values serve a purpose for you. Know what that purpose is, and you'll know your purpose. Namesté.