“While… he did not know whether the gods existed, he was sure they ought to be worshipped” – Bertrand Russell on Protagoras (The History Of Western Philosophy).
For the longest time, I’ve been focused on the problems that religions have caused. The wars, the genocides, and the backing of mass inequality. It is only recently that I’ve started looking at religion as a form of technology on its own. When we look at Technology we don’t see it as a force for good nor a force for evil but rather a tool; for the good, the bad, or the indifferent.
Religion is sometimes the only reason people get through what they do. The belief that a supreme being is looking out for you like an omnipotent parent is very comforting. This belief also compels a lot of us to behave better. An experiment was conducted where two groups of children were asked to perform a difficult task but they were left unattended. The first group was left to their own devices; the second group was told that they were being watched by an invisible being that had their best interests at heart, then they were left to their own devices. In the first group, there was a high number of children that decided to cheat. In the second group, the number dropped significantly. The good doctor tells us that he gets consistent results every time.
Now it could be argued that the more modern concept of spirituality sans religion could produce similar effects. Those children weren’t told how to communicate with the invisible being, they weren’t told when and where to worship it, they were just aware of its presence and that was enough. Being aware of such things falls under spirituality but doesn’t necessarily constitute as a stand-in for religion. This is true.
To that, I say that religion facilitates said beliefs and provides a community. With that in mind then it is quite easy to say that religion probably helps keep those beliefs alive. It also provides a sort of spiritual family that you can fall back on that is bound by their shared beliefs. The reason it took me so long to come to this conclusion is because religion is often paraded as the ultimate good. But, like Technology, when it is used incorrectly we blame the people and not the tool. We are a divided world because of our beliefs but we are a world for the very same reason. I can’t say for sure whether or not we’d be in the same world had religion not made its way to us. This epiphany gives me a new found respect for the different religions and their denominations. I’d always respected religion because I grew up in a religious home but lately I had stopped seeing a reason for its existence.