#9 – Is Religion Killing Us?

We find it difficult to answer anything but yes to the above question. For almost 2000 years, Christians had been killing Jews until the Pope, late in the last century, said to the Christians: Relax! Stop killing the Jews, they didn’t kill Jesus, the Romans did. Even today Muslims (Shia) are killing Muslims (Sunni) throughout the Middle East. Even the peace loving Buddhists are killing Muslims in Myanmar. If we include Atheism as a kind of religion, Communists under Stalin slaughtered Russian Orthodox Christian monks, priests and nuns. Religion is not a friendly institution in the global village. Never has been.

Tim Crane, the author of The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View, believes that nothing exists beyond the world of everyday experience and scientific explanation. Atheists put all their eggs in the basket of the intellect, an intellect that was not designed to understand transcendent truths which they don’t think exist in any case. The chief shortcoming of atheism is that science can ferret out meaning and solve problems in the world of form but is not qualified to enter the transcendent world which is accessible to our species. More on that in a moment.

The atheist’s worldview, as we shall see, not only excludes religion as a viable institution but reality itself. Atheists often define religion as an archaic cosmology or worldview combined with a moral code. If the atheists are correct religion is outdated and has failed in persuading our species to give up self-destructive behaviors.

A worldview can be defined as a community’s beliefs, attitudes and values which determines the identity of the members of that community. The two central attitudes that religions have according to Crane is a sense of the transcendent or moral order often called God and identification with members of a community that has a story explaining its worldview. In other words, a religious community, unlike the typical community of atheists, does not expect science to have a story that makes sense of the world and the experience of people within that world.

In Religion: What it is, How it Works, and Why it Matters Christian Smith defines religion as a set of “‘culturally prescribed practices’ that aim to help people access ‘superhuman powers’ in the hope of ‘realizing human goods’ [craving] and avoiding situations they cannot control and with problems that they cannot solve [aversion].’”  The problem with using religion for these purposes was discovered some time ago by Buddha who recognized “craving” and “aversion” as the twin sources of all human suffering. Smith has revealed the Achilles heal of religion. “‘If religion could not promise the help of superhuman powers,’ he concludes, ‘then religion would not exist.’”

And finally we have The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe where John F. Haught has a more profound understanding of what religion could be but sadly is not. “Haught describes religion as the ‘anticipation of a rightness that is now mostly out of range.’ This formulation resembles Crane’s, with its transcendent moral order both everywhere present and agonizingly beyond reach.”

It is obvious that religion has failed to guide our species in creating a sustainable human community but that doesn’t mean such a community is beyond reach. Ironically, however, to do that we must abandon religion as it has been practiced up to this point and formulate a new institution based on more profound insights into the nature of human behavior.

Fortunately for us, a surprisingly large number of wise and pragmatic people both past and present, living both in the East and West have drawn a very simple map that can lead us forward in our quest for a peaceable kingdom. Follow this map in the link below.

Insight # 9: When we can get our intellect out of the way, the human heart will step forth and reveal our natural and life-affirming identity which intuitively knows how to create a community driven by the energy of compassion.

Links:

References:

  • Ryerson, James. “Ivory Tower/University Presses.” The New York Times Book Review. October 22, 2017, page 27.

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