Anyone who knows me knows that I love religion. I came inches away from having a religious studies minor in university, and am happy to lug around a hundred kilos of religious studies books where ever my wife and I move. I love learning about religions, I love writing about religions, and above all else I love arguing in the defense of religions. I’m pretty sure I am one of the very few people outside of the Scientology community who goes around defending the right for Scientology to call itself a religion. Most people call them cultists or lunatics, I call them in tune with the Force.
There is a very clear reason why I am a fan of, and supporter of, religion. In my opinion as society has become increasingly consumer and secular we have lost a lot of the cultural, ethical, and moral history that used to guide us. I see this as an incredibly dangerous thing that leads to horrific things like industrial pig farms, science without ethics, and culture without depth. These are all things growing out of an increasingly secular and industrial consumer society, and religions with their traditional values and morals provide important fiber to society.
This is not to say that I condone the horrific acts done by people in the name of religion, far from it. Nor is this to say that religion is a cure or provides a solution to the horrific lows human behaviour can reach. When I defend religion I am defending the power and importance of traditions and culture along with the beneficial impacts that religion has on a society. Human beings do horrific things whether they are religious or not. Human beings do honourable things whether they are religious or not. What religion provides us is a context for understanding and dealing with the highs and lows of the human being, while providing a method of instilling traditional moral and ethical behaviour. And this is important.
Without something firm and solid adding much needed cultural fibre to our world we find ourselves in a moral and ethical wasteland, where semiotic debate and self serving hedonism serve as a focal point for life. This leads to people who act in the most hypocritical ways, screaming about tolerance and justice while at the same time oppressing anything that gets in the way of their pleasure instincts. It leads to huge acts of ignorance that are in many ways worse then the ignorance that is increasingly associated with religion in contemporary society. People, cut adrift from traditions and cultural heritage are left to pursue base desires, all the while acting superior to those who follow more ‘archaic and less scientific’ paths. Yet at the same time these people often hold up science, and the scientist, as the key source for guidance in society, as the new religion, believing in science with a blind faith. Question not the scientific process, for it is the be-all-and-end-all. Empiricism as religion.
But the role of science is not to grapple with matters of ethics, morals, social structures, faith, life, or death. You can not measure ethics. You can not put together an equation to measure what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’. There are no devices sensitive enough to measure honour, or honesty, or tolerance. These are all elements that are normally defined and guided by religion and traditions within a culture. Without guidance on these huge components of the human social being we as a species are in trouble. The purely rational mind can rationalize anything.
Now with all things I believe there is a balance that must be struck. When it comes to fundamentalism, and fundamentalist religions, I am incredibly wary and distrustful of their motives and actions. I do still support their right to exist, I support their right to faith and the traditions they hold true. But fundamentalism easily leads to the sort of closed minded thinking that breeds suicide bombers. What is most interesting about the force of fundamentalism is that it is a force that cuts across society. There are fundamentalist atheists who go around trying to end all religion out of dogmatic desire. There are fundamentalist Christians who go around trying to bring about the end times. There are fundamentalist Buddhists who go around abusing the peasant class to support lavish monastic organizations.
Fundamentalism, not religion, is the real danger. When one closes the mind off to other opinions, excluding all other potential ideas and concepts completely to the point of not even seeing them… that is trouble for the world, society, and the individual. It is a good thing that fundamentalism is so very easily dealt with, all one needs to do is educate.
In the end, without a balance between the social, scientific, secular, and religious components of the human being we as individuals and a species run the risk of falling into dangerous modes of operation that lead to very sad, dark places. Without traditions we become lost in the now, at the whims of others looking to manipulate us. External forces have an easy time buffeting around someone without an anchor in something with legacy, with tradition. It is easy for someone lacking religion to fall into complacency, anger, and cynicism. It is easy to succumb to despair, sorrow, and antipathy.
In terms of what I define as religion, I include theistic and non-theistic religions, as well as animistic and humanistic faith systems. I define religion based on guidelines set down by Irving Hexham, whos lectures and writings have played a key role in how I view and understand religion. And for the record, I am what I like to call a Christian who doubts like Thomas and rants like Job. I typically introduce myself as Presbyterian.