What Is the Purpose of Religion?
Does religion provide a purpose — or does it even need one? Is requiring a reason to search for the divine missing the point? Does God need a job description? Is “God” (like R. Buckminster Fuller) a verb? (Especially if “God is Love”?) Why do believers believe? Do all religions have the same purpose, and its believers all the same goal? Do they seek to rationally weigh proofs and doubts in the balance, or do they seek the writing on the wall? Is religion “the opium of the masses” or the reason for living? Are ethical values, good character, and social belonging enough purpose for religion — or are these the by-products of a more internal quest than a quest for God? What are we looking for, and what are we looking at?
It’s argued that our moral values derive from religion — The Ten Commandments, the Qur’an, the teachings of Buddha, and other scriptures. But what of their troubling passages that allow the extermination of unbelievers or the devaluation of minorities and women? Does religion become obsolete when secular thinkers appropriate the “good stuff” and discard the rest? Or is the purpose of religion not to have immutable rules but a fundamental belief in progression? How many of religion’s “bad” rules arise from imposing antiquated cultural values on faith, so that when our culture changes faith reflects something better? Can we be moral without faith in something—perhaps faith that human beings will try to do the right thing?
A Queens College, Ontario, study suggested that religion enhances self-control — the religious possessed this quality more than the non-religious. Is that reason enough to go to church, mosque, temple, or ashram? Could self-control be enhanced without having to get up early on Sunday or fasting during Ramadan? What about religious people unwilling to attend church? Could secular values achieve the same goal of self-control? Communism results in self-sacrifice — so is it different from religion, or is it the “last Christian heresy”? Where does one’s good character come from? The “Good Book”? Is religious faith — or faith of any kind — necessary to look beyond immediate gratification? Can the religious be as impulsive and self-centered as anyone else? Do we need God to control ourselves?
Religion creates a community of like-minded individuals. Are tribes superior to Meetup groups, or yet another oppressive historical relic worthy of abandonment? Is there a dark side to “communities” where those unlike us are labeled “the other”? Is religion more than a place to sing in a choir, attend picnics, and see who’s wearing the best clothes? Is there something special in a gathering of worshipers reaching for God together? What of those who seek the divine in solitude and silent meditation? Does religion make us better citizens? What if the government seems to be opposed to one’s beliefs or practices? Should Church (mosque, temple, synagogue) and State be separate, or must a righteous nation follow a creed? Are the religious “of this world” or “seeking a better realm”? Are the non-religious “in the here-and-now” or “seeking to make a better future”? Is the purpose of worshiping God to get to heaven, or to be one with God? (Are they different?) Is the purpose of not worshiping God to create a heaven out of Earth?
Are we arrogant to try to find a purpose for religion? Do we become hopelessly secular by approaching religion this way? If religion is a conduit to God or divinity, why ask for any other purpose? (Could secularism ever become a conduit to divinity?) Does God need us, or do we desperately need God? If we believe there is no God, can we begin to understand what believers are trying to accomplish? If we believe there is a God, can we begin to understand those who do not believe it? If the religious, as fallible as the rest of humanity, sometimes stray into materialism or politics, does that make their religious quest misguided? Or is the subject of religions that which we must judge?
On Monday, August 16 from 7-9 PM by Zoom, Inter-belief Conversation Café will, by reasoning, “pray” for purpose. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will guide our steps in asking if religion has a purpose or is a purpose all by itself. The question has been asked for several thousand years — but we’ll do our best in two hours!
Zoom Link: http://www.zoom.us/j/99973128471