When and Where Religion is Useful

When and Where Religion is Useful

I wrote this for an online discussion for one of my classes. The prompt was about how religion helps maintain stability in societies.

I think in small, non-literate societies, religion is useful for stabilizing the society and perpetuating the culture. Some of its institutions can facilitate education by traumatizing children enough that they remember everything they’re taught. It puts a name on shared beliefs and values and gives people something in common and a reason to gather and work together. It also incorporates myths about how and why the natural world works for people who don’t know or understand the scientific explanations, and addresses the supernatural, which natural science can not explain or prove even exists. It can also placate oppressed, enslaved, or disadvantaged members of the society by providing them with hope of a better afterlife, which keeps them in their place and helps keep the society stable by preventing them from revolting.

In large industrialized Western societies, though, I think it is much less useful, and can cause more discord than unity. In America, for example, education is easily handled without using religion to traumatize students; most Americans share beliefs in freedom and equality even if they don’t believe in the same god; there are enough common interest groups for people to have reasons to get along and work together outside of religion; and modern science has explained most of the occurrences explained by myths. The only thing not addressed is the supernatural, which, based on my observations, seems to be less important in our material society. If everyone is equal, then everyone has the ability and freedom to better his or her life on earth, and so doesn’t need to toil on earth in hopes of a better afterlife. Personally, I don’t believe in the supernatural, and feel little need for it. Also, in the U.S., there is such a variety of religious beliefs that if the government were to endorse any one, it would run the risk of alienating the majority of the population, and it would infringe on the freedoms that the country was founded on.

As far as providing a moral code is concerned, most religions have similar enough basic rules (don’t kill each other, help your neighbor, don’t lie, etc.), that I think morals developed before religion, and religion just incorporated them. You don’t not kill people because some religious text says not to, you don’t kill people because you’ll be ostracized by the group if not killed by someone else. You help your neighbors because if you’re nice to them, they’ll probably reciprocate when you need it. You don’t lie or steal because it damages social relationships.


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