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Found this little effort lurking about the hardrive trying to convert the more fanatical .pdfs and .jpegs to extreme secularism - with much success may I add. Good lad. Had a call at work last year from a mate who was late with a philosophy essay for his eighth attempt at making it all the way through a year at college. Asked me if I could knock something up for him proper-quick-sharp. Which I did.

Has Religion served its Purpose?

Taking religion to mean a commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance I intend to suggest that religion has lost its relevance to Homo Sapiens as a result of the emerging reliance upon Science. To define what purpose religion may be said to have, or have had, I intend to explain what beneficial effects are attributable to such a belief system. Therefore religion will be approached as a whole and only infrequently on an individual basis. Of course it is necessary to mention that science can be classified as a religion as well – a scientist takes it on faith, as there is no definitive way of knowing, that what has happened in the past will happen in the same way in the future – but for the purposes of this discussion science shall be referred to as rational, empirical and provable in the face of religion’s need for blind belief. In J.B.R. Yant’s ‘Mortal Words’ he states that, “Religion is just superstition which has been around long enough to have become respectable.” Whilst perhaps true there is no doubt that religion has played a central role in Man’s social and personal life and development.

It is in Man’s nature to strive to answer questions posed by himself that are immediately, and possibly eternally, unanswerable. As Hans J. Morgenthau wrote,”Man will not live without answers to his questions.” Religion has long enabled rationally unanswerable questions to be answered. Perhaps the most basic query of them all being,”Why are we here? For what purpose?” Over time religion has provided a source of divine connection to a metaphysical deity or concept that has the effect of raising Man, in his own eyes, to a position of superiority over the rest of the natural world. The belief that Man is favoured by an all-powerful god-head enables the question to be, at least partially, answered. Religion enables Man to assert that the reason and purpose for his existence belongs to his god. Not even taking into account that some individual religions also supply the exact purpose, to the religious, such an answer is sufficient. An alternatively slanted approach might be to say that religion, in this case, alleviates a subconscious fear of death or simply, according to neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, meets the innate tendency of Man towards harboring faith, a need created by brain patterns. These alternative explanations are provided by and introduce what has perhaps caused Religion to lose its purpose; Science.

Science suggests that eventually we may find answers to such questions and without the need for reliance upon unquestioning faith to accept them. Facts will be empirically proven where possible and rationale will overcome dogma. As John Gray mentions,” (Science) rules our lives today…only after a long struggle in which it was ceaselessly opposed by the church.” (Straw Dogs). He goes on to mention,”…Science is a refuge from uncertainty, promising – and in some measure delivering – the miracle of freedom from thought; while churches have become sanctuaries for doubt.”

Religion has long provided rally points for mixed peoples to gather around as one, superseding previous tribal connections and allowing for greater mass unity and identification. The unity of purpose that arises from shared religious beliefs and practices, whilst frequently used against fellow men, has also enabled great developments in society. Where we now have democracies religion initially allowed for effective states to exist under theocracies, where religious law was, as far as was implementable, social law. Present day Iran is a good example of this. Such beds of social rest and compliance allowed time and energy to be spent on productivity and innovation rather than internal strife, which, eventually, has allowed for the development of scientific reasoning and practice.

On occasion religion has also provided moral behavioural codes which were frequently beneficial to the faithful’s fellow man and, once again, promoted cultural and social development. The fact that the majority of religions in history have showed some similar core beliefs as concerns god and morality might suggest some verifiable facts. Perhaps the most universally beneficial tenant shared by multiple religions is the Ethic of Reciprocity. In the Christian bible it is written,”So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). In Islam, Prophet Muhammad, in his last sermon, said,”Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.” Admittedly, Christianity and Islam grew from the same tree but such a tenant is also found in Hinduism in the form of Karma. No one could argue that such ‘rules’ were morally incorrect and therefore religion must be attributed the praise of such enlightened thinking. However, it is equally easy to argue that these similar core beliefs exist simply as Man’s nature is shared and thus results in similar conclusions whether or not the thinkers are separated by oceans or millennia. Therefore, taking religious doctrine out of the equation, there is no reason why Man would not maintain decency towards his fellow Man. Indeed, ridding the world of the inevitable conflict created by the differing aspects of separate religions is hard to disagree with by any rational individual. If it is evident that Man naturally steers towards decency then the need for religious code maintaining this is no more. Instead, perhaps, additional unity can be provided by science.

The gradual spread of and dependence upon science has clearly been the main reason why religion is suffering global decline. Where Man once had to rely upon apparently prophetic teachings, ancient writings that described ways of existing and signs from the gods, now he can decide for himself how best to approach his existence with the constant companion of rational thought aided by a constantly increasing sea of tangible and empirical knowledge, or fact. “Science is the supreme expression of reason.” (J.Gray, Straw Dogs.) Religion developed in ancient times when no better answer to Man’s questions and needs was available. Through the course of the ages religion has enabled, for the reasons mentioned above, Man to develop to such a point where he was able to explain religion itself. Due to the prevalence and acceptance of science religion now finds itself, having served a grand purpose perhaps, relegated back to its original embodiment of Man’s superstitions. Religion is outdated. This is perhaps best summarized by Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot when he says,”How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded,”This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant.”


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