Do we really need religion?



Religion, as an ethical approach to solving life’s unending pains, offers joy and peace to most people. It helps us discover our true selves, the meaning of humanity, and how we fit in this world – even in the next life. The statement that “atheists don’t exist in foxholes” holds great meaning when describing the true value of religion.

In the words of Og Mandino, “Who is of so little faith that in a moment of great disaster, or heartbreak, or misery beyond his comprehension has not called to his god?”

Reading Og Mandigo’s Greatest Salesman in the World, one would erroneously think religion is all about faith in God. But it is common for people, even the very unbelieving fellows among us, to implicitly incline themselves toward religious belief in the face death.

Prof. Jonathan Jong, a psychologist at the Oxford University, concluded after an inquiry that death reminders “motivates agnostics to increase their religiosity, belief in a higher power and their faith in God or Jesus, Buddha and Allah.”

“…Are not our outcries a form of prayer? Is it not incomprehensible in a world governed by nature’s laws to give a lamb, or a mule, or a bird, or a man the instinct to cry for help; lest some great mind is also provided the cry should be heard by some superior power having the ability to answer our cry?”

While Jong implied that people are more open to deities that promise immortality of some sort – not necessarily for earthly comfort or gains, Og Mandino argued against the existence of God.

In a post-World War II study conducted by Brian Wansink, a behavioral economist at Cornell University, a total of 949 soldiers who took part in the post-combat surveys revealed that fighters’ dependency on prayers rose from 32% to 74% as battle intensified.

If religion was all about “experiencing a peaceful death” or obtaining help/favors from a superior being, wouldn’t the world be a paradise of some sort for all humans? Bad things wouldn’t happen to good people, I believe.

However, trust in an ever-powerful God has offered emotional tranquility to the broken-hearted, hope to the down-trodden, freedom to captives, food for the poor, and healing for the sick. Yet, as Karl Marx would have it, “religion” is believed by many to be “an opium of the masses.” People have battered, manipulated, and used it in spreading white lies for selfish, ungodly interests. Even the custodians of this alleged utopia that has thrived for hundreds of thousands of years are “guilty of intentional use of religion to brainwash, exploit and eventually mislead.”

What then do we believe? Do we really need religion? Aren’t atheists happier, more self-assertive, focused, and less disappointed with the realities of life?

“Religion is the worst enemy of mankind,” Bill Murray argued. “No single war in the history of humanity has killed as many people as religion has.”

A report from Christian Today confirms 70% of British adults admit religion was the root cause of most wars while 47% agreed the world would be more peaceful without religion. Another 81% argued that religious extremists should take the blame instead of religions themselves.

True, as the analysis appears, Nick Spencer (a research director at Theos) wrote in his foreword to the report: “This is a confusing picture, but it still poses a real challenge to all religious people to denounce all forms of religious violence and to handle their sacred texts with care.”

James Pearson advised that what we need is a way to reconcile ourselves with the deep uncertainty of living, having been born into a universe utterly out of our control.

His advice, “As we grow, we come across – within ourselves – a similarly complex and chaotic world of emotion and intellect, desire and revulsion, love and fear.

“Spirituality, I think, arose as a set of understandings and tools that helped people deal with this predicament. And religions combined effective baskets of these tools with the power of longevity of organization.”

Pearson believes we may not need religion but says, “we still have to deal with challenges that religion aspires to deal with.”

Every religion needs people to survive. Without us, they would be nothing. And without them we would merely be something else, Chat Tom Chatfield added in the debate.