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Categorized | Religion

Who’s Afraid of Religion?

20070828BizReligion_dm_500Most of us Filipino Freethinkers are…er…come on don’t be shy and let us be a little truthful here. Most of us started as god believers.

I remember when I was a kid; I was once a born-again Christian. I believe the Bible, I believe that Jesus will save me, I’m afraid of making God angry, I believe in heaven and I am afraid of hell. I trust everything that my pastor told me in the church without questions.

Before that I was a Roman Catholic. On those times I remember that I was playing with my “Kuya” (older brother) and I accidentally hit a Jesus statue in the face with my slippers. It took me at least 2 weeks to have a good night sleep. I kept asking Jesus forgiveness and I was afraid of going to hell. Well, there isn’t too much to tell on my Catholic years other than praying and bowing my head on figures of god and saints made from Plaster of Paris and eating tiny round wafers every Sunday. Roman Catholicism offers nothing much.

I sometimes ask myself, “Why do I believe in those things before?” I never even bother myself to question my religious beliefs as if I just accepted all those doctrines and dogmas for granted. The most religious person does act like robots huh? Let me illustrate. I have the chance to talk to a member of ADD Church (Eliseo Soriano’s Church). She was telling me about the benefits of joining her church (I think she doesn’t know I was an atheist because if she did, hmmmm…maybe we are be talking of a different subject).

She thinks that Eliseo Soriano is the best person qualified in explaining the Bible and before she entered Eliseo’s church she does not even bother to read the Bible.

If you never even read the Bible then how do you know if Mr. Soriano’s Bible expositions are right or wrong? It looks as if there is a hypnotic effect in religion.

There are several perceptions when it comes to religion.

William James, defined religion as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand on whatever they may consider the divine.” William James definition makes religion dependent to human actions and experience. That makes religion quite relative – a matter of individual taste and very much subjective.

The philosopher Allan Menzies says, “Religion is the worship of higher powers from the sense of need.” He continues, “It involves the element of belief. No one will worship higher power unless he believes that such power exists. Should there be no belief in a higher power, no religion can continue. Religion has respect not to beings that men regard as on the level with themselves or even beneath themselves but to beings in some way above themselves and whom they are disposed to approach with reverence. Religion is not only the belief in higher powers but is a cultivation of relations with them. It is a practical activity continuously directed to them.”

I think I do not have the same opinion as Allan Menzies. How about those religions without the belief in gods or higher beings? They are also called “religion.”

Some say that religion is not dominated by the belief of supreme beings. They define religion as the compilation of all noble things. It is not just about temples, relics, churches, doctrines and martyrdom but also of discoveries in science and art. It is the fruit of learning and it refers not on sects, church or denomination but of spirituality.

In an anti-religion analysis, there is really no truth in religion. Most Filipino atheists agree with this point of view. For them, religion only conceals truth and asserts that “God did it” – this is really some admittance for lack of knowledge dressed cunningly as enlightenment.

Answers from religion are merely assurances and assertions. It also hides its shortcomings by coercion, terror and warfare. Religion also belittles the human ability. Religion asserts that humans are too puny to achieve full comprehension to embrace the ultimate source of complexity which is “god”.

Oh, before I forget, there are things about religion that Filipino atheists should be aware of first before going to a state of irrational tantrum.

First, religion can do without a god. Remember Einstein’s religion?

Here in the Philippines, religion is accepted as synonymous to god belief, but there are religions that do not have to revere a personal deity like Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism and Unitarian Universalism. Hey! There is even Christian Atheism as proposed by Don Cupitt in his book, Taking Leave of God.

Second, religious people are not dolts. Most Filipino atheists think that all religious people have the mentality of a louse. Hmmmmm…well if you will read some Christians’ posts from Friendster, you might agree, but seriously… Remember that even smart people believe in irrational things. That is quite natural to humans.

So why do people want religion?

There are factors that attract us to religion. That’s not about the so-called God gene (I don’t believe in Gene number 99) nor that there is a God who is controling us mysteriously inside our head. Nope! There are some factors in the interplay of culture that make us er…religious.

1.) It fosters a sense of understanding and the ability to explain things that we think cannot be explained.
Where do we go if we die? Who or what created the universe? What am I alive? These questions seem to require an explanation. Well…we don’t really ask these questions often in our daily life but sure…ask anybody and you will have an instant answer. “GOD”.

Religion explains things we cannot otherwise explain. Religious concepts are irrefutable and cannot be verified so it’s so easy to use them to answer tough questions that to use something that can be tested for verification using rigid scrutiny.

2.) It can foster a sense of control.
So you think you need luck in looking for a job? So you pray to God to give you this super job you saw in the classified ads page. You can even wear your lucky suit, a rosary and a Bible inside your attaché case. Have you also heard in the news why Manny “The Pacman” Paquiao always stayed in that certain Las Vegas hotel before a fight? He said that hotel gave him good luck.

Religious belief gives a person power or influence to control certain conditions or events. Religious people believe in some somewhat supernatural agents (God, spirits, divas, etc.) that can be appeased or bargain with by prayers or offerings. There are also objects like talismans, holy relics, statutes, crucifixes that are used to drive away demons which is believed to be the cause of misfortunes, disasters, sickness or death.

3.) It fosters a sense of social unity.
If you are here in the Philippines, chances are you will encounter the fight between Soriano’s “Ang Dating Daan” church and the Iglesia ni Cristo of Manalo. Obviously, members of the following churches are united to bring the other church down.

The schooling of fish and flocking of birds are certain phenomena involving grouping. That’s the same with church goers. But I guess this human group becomes as tedious as fish and birds.

Every religion has some communal sense and structure. Ritual is essentially a group exercise, except for magico-religious rituals geared to personal desires. Hence ritual nearly always involves professional ritualists and a group bound together by its experience.

Church fellowship brings unity to its adherents due to similar beliefs and doctrines. It also encourages group cooperation in the face of trials and enemies. Religions are indeed like corporations, as Rodney Stark and Roger Finke observed: “Religious organizations are social enterprises whose purpose is to create, maintain, and supply religion to some set of individuals and to support and supervise their exchanges with a god or gods”

As David Sloan Wilson said, “Religions exist primarily for people to achieve together what they cannot achieve alone.”

4.) It fosters a sense of salvation from death.
Every living creature will die eventually, but religion fosters a feeling that we can escape the inescapable. That’s why religion offers the concept of salvation in the afterlife. If you will notice all of these salvation doctrines, from reincarnation and resurrection cater the promotion of the idea of an afterlife.

A pervasive death anxiety has not been substantiated or found related to religion. Attitude toward death is multidimensional. Perspectives such as death as pain, as an afterlife reward, as courage, as unknown, or simply as an end has been found to vary in complex ways with aspects of religion. Perhaps the most robust finding is that fear and negative perspectives on death and dying are mitigated by belief in a benevolent afterlife, a feature common in many religious traditions.

At the primitive level of religion, salvation both “from” and “to” are achieved mainly in the realm of physical dangers and goods. The primitive seeks by his rituals to save himself from starvation, from death by storm, from disease, from wild animals, and from enemies and to sufficiency of food and shelter, to freedom from danger and disease, and to human fertility.

The development of environing cultures implies a change and expansion in the nature of religious salvation. Group values come to play a larger and more conscious role. The group whether tribal kinship-clans or nation-state becomes a sacred entity in its own right, perhaps the preeminent one in some cases.

5.) It reinforces traditional values and morals.
It is generally accepted that morality and religion, however intertwined, are at least conceptually distinct phenomena. Morality is thought of pertaining to the conduct of human affairs and relations between people while religion primarily involves the relationship between human beings and a transcendent reality.

So what is the connection between morality and religion?

God is the role model in which believers aspire to convey a moral point of view: God is believed the creator and king of the entire world, the righteous ruler in whom there is neither partiality nor injustice. He is also a parent who loves his creatures with tender mercy and concern. Modeling their behavior to that of Gods, Jews, Christians, and Muslims are thus called to distance themselves from selfish interests and to adopt an omnipartial point of view.

There is also the link between moral conduct and moral reward. Traditions tend to prevent its adherent on newer values by moral retribution. For example, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam homosexuality is still in its strictest sense is an abomination. That’s why gay marriage here in the Philippines is not allowed compare to California or France. Well, that’s because the Philippines is predominantly Catholic. There are also issues about abortion, stem-cell research and family planning, things which Christianity or Catholicism to be specific, find abhorrent and immoral by their standards.

6.) It encourages or discourages radical changes.
Conservatives always rely on religion to discourage rapid changes. A good example is traditional beliefs that are still held by Filipinos living in the South. Islam is very strict when it comes to change. But majority of religion accept rapid change. Just look at the way Catholics pray and compare those 20 years ago. Charismatic groups are good examples on the rapid changes. It is really Catholic’s answer to try to be like the more modern born-again Christians worship services.

Most theistic communities recognize the legitimacy of what they call “progressive revelation.” In secular language, that amounts to the notion that each stage of human social and moral development makes us ready for a further one. The effect of this is openness to change and concern for growth. This has been called the “prophetic” tradition.

7.) It regulates important materials or natural resources.
How does religion regulate our natural resources? Simple…When a certain religion worships Nature, its adherents will protect it at all cost. One good example here in the Philippines is that Christian cult in Davao which protects monkeys because they think that protecting these creatures will give them a place in heaven. Naturally, the monkey population in Mt. Apo is higher to compare to those in other parts of the Philippines.

Just imagine if there are cults that will protect the sea, especially the coral reefs in their area?

8.) It gives a sense of justice to those who feel that they will never get it in this world.
Life is unfair, isn’t it? So when a person seems to feel that there is no justice in this world, he will automatically ask God to do it for him.

Here in the Philippines, political scandals have affected Filipinos’ confidence in our justice system. So where Juan dela Cruz will looks for justice? Well, if you cannot get your justice here, there is always the afterlife.

So I hope this article can give us a little idea what religion is, minus the cussing and bashing.

I urge Filipino atheists and free thinkers to study religion and find the real reason why people all over the planet still cling to it. Why is this phenomenon or set of phenomena means so much to so many people, and why—and how—does it command allegiance and shape so many lives so strongly? Remember what Daniel Dennett say, “Religions are among the most powerful natural phenomena on the planet, and we need to understand them better if we are to make informed and just political decisions.”

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.