Religion is a set of cultural and belief system and practices that relate humanity to spirituality and are relative to sacred things (Heilman 25). It is a common term used to elect all concepts regarding the belief in the so called the god(s) or goddess as well as other divine beings concerns.
Religion has everything to do with the faith. Tony Blair speaking at a faith foundation said “It is impossible to understand the modern world unless you understand the importance of the religious faith. That faith motivates, galvanizes, organizes and integrates millions upon millions of people”
There are so many religions in the world and here we discuss only but a few who have the most following which include but not limited to Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Judaism (Heilman 30). Each of these religions has a set of practices and beliefs which their faith is based, most of the beliefs are aimed to answer fundamental questions about the nature of a supernatural power and how it relates to the humanity.
The Relevance of Religion in the Modern World
In ancient times, most religions served to answer mysteries of the universe, such as the question of creation, existence of the sun and the moon, meaning of life, and myriad other phenomena that could not be explained. There has been prolonged conflict between science and religion, in which science has come out strongly to oppose the authority of the various kinds of religions in the world.
It has opposed the sanctity of the creeds and the authority of the religious institutions. This was recognized after the industrial revolution and the publication of the Darwin’s Theory of evolution. The creeds and the religious dogmas were greatly challanged. People today have a feeling that the old religion would die and the only religion of science would dominate their life.
The simplistic view of religion is that it is no longer needed in the modern world because science now explains all these mysteries. For this reason, it has become very easy for us to dismiss most religions of the past as mere myths that served a purpose for the ancient days (Harris 40). “There were monumental losses in science. The Christians in some churches went ahead to burn books. “This led to a repression in the intellectual pursuit. This had set humanity to become outdated for over two millennia in the study of understanding scientific works”. This was said by Helen Ellerbe.
“Science is a discipline that is always ready to abandoning a given thought for a better one, this is its essence. On the other hand, the essence of theology is in the fact that it holds its truths in eternal and immutable manner” as said by H. L. Mencken. He also added that “For one to be sure, theology is unique in the sense that it will always yield a little to the development of knowledge.
One of the most striking ideas he gave on religion was on preaching part. He said that “The only preaching that would be captivating is of the Holy Roller on the mountains of Tennessee”. He related the preaching to popes thirteen century preaching’s
Yet a few religions have dominated the globe, and they are still revered as the ultimate truth for possibly the majority of the world population (Harris 45).
Why is religion still relevant in the lives of modern people when there are far more logical and provable explanation for the mysteries of the universe? In fact, a scholar of religion understands that the role of religion in society involves far more than just belief in a deity or sacred texts. Those religions that have endured provide social and psychological benefits that people find indispensable even in a civilized society.
One rather cynical explanation for the popularity of religion is that the great majority of human population simply does not understand science and refuses to learn it. It is far easier for the average person to attribute all difficult issues to a deity rather than to try to learn the subtleties of evolution, genetics, or laws of physics. In the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial of the 90’s, for example, a jury of twelve average citizens needed a rudimentary biology lecture on DNA and genetics just to understand the validity of forensic DNA evidence.
In the United States, fundamentalist Christian groups are still trying to include the theory of Intelligent Design in science classes as a legitimate alternative to the theory of evolution. It is simply easier for these people to assign an ultimate creator by default than to pursue intellectual evidence. In effect, these people are intellectually as primitive as the people of Biblical times or the many “uncivilized” populations who worshipped the sun, moon, the trees, or the moons.
Yet, as abhorrent as it may seem intellectually, we must also recognize that such irrational and unfounded faith still serves an important social value. When we consider the History of Yacub, for example, the notion of an evil scientist’s breeding a wicked race of light-skinned humans over many centuries sounds as far-fetched and fantastic as Athena springing to life from Zeus’s head. Yet thousands of modern Americans took faith in the story because it relieved their psychological yearning for answers to their condition.
Humans simply need to fill this emotional void in their lives even if it means to lend legitimacy to unfounded beliefs. Black Elk’s faith in his childhood vision reveals how this type of faith can guide a person’s life at the personal level (Neihardt 207-210). These visions or narratives are not explicit directives; more often they serve as additional sources for psychologically legitimizing the existing social concerns of the interpreter.
There are other, more legitimate, reasons for the perpetual dependence on religion. One is the sense of community and identity that is created by sharing a faith. For example, in the anatomy of the sacred the phenomenological issue of a supernatural existence is discussed, the writer Livingston puts across a phenomenon that creates questionable actions like he says the question people should ask themselves is “How is God present in human consciousness” rather than “Is God really existing?”
In addition he say people should also ask themselves the following question as I quote “What form of characteristics does God exhibit?” This would help them learn more about the supernatural existence (200). Through ritualistic behavior, such at church attendance, ceremonies, and prayer, the people of the same faith feel a psychological connection to others.
It is a bond of loyalty and commitment to each other that may be just a bit weaker than the bond of a family, but still stronger than the typical loyalties to country or local community (Neihardt 215). The Hasidic Jews reveal their commitment to God and their community by creating an anachronistic microcosm. Their appearance and lifestyle announces to the world that they are one unique group, to be distinguished from all others no matter where they reside.
On a bigger scale, the Christians and Muslims have extended their membership globally by uniting people under the same ritual behavior (Livingstone 295-300). When a Christian drinks the wine at communion service, or when a Muslim prays toward Mecca at the designated time, they each feel a psychological and emotional connection to all others who are sharing the same experience. There is emotional comfort in knowing that a community exist that shares one’s same values.
Also common to many of the popular religion is the promise of an afterlife. For millions of people around the world, this promise of a better afterlife makes the present conditions more bearable. Historically, Europeans have used the Bible to convince the conquered natives that their enslavement was justified in the eyes of God. Those who accepted the new faith took comfort in believing that God still favors them as He did the Jews enslaved in Egypt during the time of Moses (Livingstone 300-312).
Black Elk also believed in supernatural power on earth, this is depicted when he said that “Great spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice” This shows that he believed in some spirits that took care of him on earth. The dominant religions of the world now preach to the common people, and offer them hope of a better life after death.
For the economically disadvantaged commoners of capitalistic nations or third world countries, the promise of the better future is more realistic in the afterlife than in the current one. This is a source of psychological coping mechanism that probably cannot be found in other sources.
The better future, however, is only rewarded for living an exemplary life in this world. This is the crucial incentive for conformity that political leaders seemed to have appreciated. For the political conservatives in power, conformity of the people means stability of the status quo. This is made possible because people believe that religion is necessary to serve as a source of moral guidance.
God has set a guideline for people to follow, and this guideline becomes the moral code by which the followers must live their lives. Most Americans believe firmly that the society would crumble if they stopped adhering to the Ten Commandments. Atheism is thought of as living without any moral codes. Just like children, adults also need simple guiding principles to behave properly. Religion provides the ultimate principles since they are the mandates of their God.
“In the mid-1800’s there were reports that indicated that about 225,000 slaves that were owned by Baptists, about 80,000 slaves owned by Presbyterians and about 250,000 by Methodists. At the outbreak of the civil war it was noted that Anglican church owned the greatest number of slaves. This was about 4 million slaves who were majorly blacks that were held in the United States.” Anne Gaylor
While we can appreciate all these significant social impact that religions have on the modern world, the need for religion is still debatable because so much of the benefits are counterbalanced by evils committed in the name of religion (Haley 50). Religion has been the root of countless atrocities in history in the form of wars, genocides, and terrorism. As much as religion unifies a group, it is also a divisive force in the bigger community.
Even in current news, we see stability being hampered by religious differences and intolerance in transitional governments like Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. Yet it is impossible to dismiss religion simply as an evil because of the subtle and unnoticed benefits it bestows on humanity.
Religion clearly is relevant in the modern society as it has been throughout history, and it is unlikely that people will abandon religion unless modern philosophy and science invents suitable substitutes for all the social, psychological, and emotional benefits of religion (Haley 58).
Religious principles have been relevant in the various areas that concern human today, and includes the elimination of discrimination for example, Black Elk said “And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being”.
Perception towards Religion and Modernity
We find that modernity has been built with factors that that encompass rationalism. Some people have defined it to be “The people’s opium”. There are opinions on the reality of God existing which is very complicated. Some philosophers have settled on the fact that the world does not exist and the only thing that is real is in the issue of inverted illusion that “The heaven and the god’s are real”. Faith is the most important aspect to go by.
There has been series of revolution day by day. This can be depicted in the different forms of translation of the key book, the bible. Some of the translations are Good News, King James, New King James and so many more. One can be right if he argues that the essence of the “Word” which is God’s word has been distorted. The ancient written bible was very categorical on the words used. Although these words can be found to mean the same in grammar, they should not be changed at any given instance.
The words in many religious literatures has very significant and should be retained as they are. For instance, the Muslim brethren argue that Christians will not enter heaven due to the fact that their Christian literature which is the bible has undergone tremendous changes since time immemorial. This could be both true and not true. One will find out that at times translations have been embraced due to versatility in dialects.
At times no one should be blamed because in the event of translating a book back to the most common universal language, English, there occurs nullification and addition of different wordings. This can be described by use of Syntax in grammar. As a Christian there are fundamental issues that are agreed on universally.
Protestants who are a very radical group of people believe in God and His son Jesus Christ. Other groups do not believe in this. By default when one is born in a particular belief he or she will defend that belief because that is what he or she knows. As one grows old, a little bit of soul searching can help shed more light on the issue of belief.
Modernity gives various hues on the definition of religion from different perspectives. The issue of truth is always nullified in the event of discussing modernity. Due to changes over time, people have come to invent new way some groups emerging as cults and occults. A very interesting observation is in the issue of how different regions observe other religion and perspective. Every group believes that there is the best and the other groups are cults or occults.
It is okay to do this but one evident thing is that any bad thing is identified by its fruits. When the fruits are negative then, it is not right. Psychologically we can affect what we believe in. Therefore it is very important to be sober in understanding what path we take. One thing I know is that faith is great and seeking divine power from the highest power, that is God’s power.
This can give answers to all questions that we have. One should always remain sound in the search of truth. This is very important as it act as a guide. We can hear all things but there is that specific part for us which are very uplifting.
In summary it is evident that religion is still found the most relevant in the modern world today. Religion is relevantly important to different people in the world. That is the reason why as much as religion faces so much criticism from disciplines like science and theories as evolution it will stand the test of time. Religion deals with the bigger criticism but some people have proved to stand the tests.
Haley, Alex. Malcolm X Autobiography. Secaucus: Chartwell Books Inc., 1992.
Harris, Lis. Holy Days: World Hasidic Family. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Heilman, Samuel. Defenders of Faith: In Ultraorthodox Jewry. London: University of California Press, 2000.
Livingstone, James. Anatomy of the Sacred: Introduction to Religion. New York: Prentice Hall, 2004.
Neihardt, John. Black Elk Speaks: The Life Story of a Holy Man of the Ogola Sioux. University of Nebraska Press, 2000.