Is religion still relavent in today's society
For vast numbers of people in the world today religion is irrelevant. However, despite decline in some world religions the majority of humanity are religious beings and hold religious beliefs and explanations for life.
Christians predominantly practice the belief, held by many other religions, that humanity was created by an omnipotent creator. From accounts in the bible it is believed we were formed by God as he ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ and we were created in his own ‘image’ (Genesis 1.27). This belief is still relevant for many people in society and this ultimately brings a sense of value and meaning into people’s lives as they believe their life to be a sacred ‘gift’. Christians hold the view of the sanctity of life in that there is something special and holy about life. For Christians, human life is different because we share something of the nature of God. According to the Christian view we are dualist beings and our soul will live on after death. Many religious believers would argue the absence religion in society would leave the idea of our lives being a temporal existence of physical matter, which would suggest life is essentially meaningless. However this argument could be opposed by many non-believers as many hold the belief of ‘personhood’ which suggests regardless of whether there is a God our lives are have intrinsic value as we have characteristics which are distinct and superior to other animals. The argument that without religion we have no purpose could also be disregarded as many believe we can play a vital role in society separate from religious motivations, for example one may find purpose and meaning from improving a person's quality of life e.g doctors.
Buddhists would disagree with the Christian ideology that our lives in society are meaningless without a belief in God as the Buddha stated ‘I do not care for your various beliefs about God’. The also stated that beliefs in God were ‘wishful thinking’, which relates to psychologist Freud’s idea that religious believes of this type only exist because they ‘ fall in with our instinctual desires’ and they are a hindrance to society. Buddhist beliefs tend to follow more scientific, rational explanations for the creation of humanity. This coincides with the secular argument that scientific knowledge on what humanity was once blind to is growing rapidly and due to this dominating religious beliefs. Some beliefs held by conservative Christians in the bible such as the world being created in ‘seven days’ (genesis), seems absurd to many contemporary challenges of religious beliefs. Philosopher Charles Taylor noted that society has transgressed “from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.” This argument however is somewhat weakened as a large majority of liberal Christians have moved with the times and accept such scientific developments on evolution. Many people agree that, in contemporary society, religious beliefs and scientific developments are compatible to work together. Einstein explained that ‘science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind’.
One argument supporting religious beliefs on life, is that they often prompt moral living in a society. The ten commandments consisting of orders including to not ‘steal’, ‘kill’, and ‘commit adultery’, are engulfed in morality and forbid actions we see as detrimental to society. Similarly to this, the five precepts coincides with the ten commandments, in which the Buddha counsels us to avoid ‘taking the life of human beings’, “taken things not given’, ‘false speech’, ‘sexual misconduct’ and ‘ intoxication’. Both the commandments and the five precepts are religious beliefs highly beneficial to society, which, if everyone followed, society would be free from wrong doings. The examples Jesus taught, many suggest have positive implications in a moral society. He counseled us to ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’, which are derived through compassion. Compassion is a virtue which individuals of a community can benefit from whether it be in previous or contemporary society. Many Christian groups today still follow the beliefs Jesus taught including to ‘give to the poor’. ‘Christian Aid’ is an ongoing charity which provides donations to people in need which has huge life saving impacts on society. If these religion based charities were to be eradicated many disadvantaged people would not have the opportunity to improve their quality of life through donations. The Buddha was also a great ambassador for compassion and equality which he believed could improve society a great deal and this for many is still hugely relevant today. The Buddha counseled us to have ‘compassion for all beings; rich and poor alike’. Although there is evidence to support the idea that there is moral betterment in society through religion, many still ponder on the question is religion essential in a moral society?
There are arguments to suggest that religion is irrelevant in a moral society. These arguments state that although religious beliefs on morals give us guidance, we do not need these as human beings are naturally moral and can achieve moral betterment without religious beliefs. It could be suggested that moral behaviour motivated by religious beliefs are essentially immoral as they seek a reward in afterlife and therefore use moral actions in society as a means to an end, Philosopher Kant would agree. With his idea of the hypothetical imperative we can use the example of charity to support this view. If a Christian were to follow Jesus’ example and ‘give to the poor’ this is a moral act, however if the motivation for doing this was for spiritual betterment Kant would argue this is not moral as the action was driven by one’s own desire. The same view applies when looking at the Buddhist motivation to act morally, as the purpose for their moral behaviour could be argued to attain a more pleasant rebirth. However, this is not necessarily true for the achievement of nirvana, as enlightenment requires a person to be completely free of any desires, or inclinations that may prompt a moral act. Concerning the question whether humanity needs religion to be moral in today’s society, scholar Wisneski and a group of researchers monitored a group of religious and nonreligious people to assess their moral behaviour. Results showed that on both ends of the spectrum these people committed a similar number of moral acts regardless of their religious attributes. Furthermore, supporting the view against the necessity to be religious in a moral society, some modern day wars have been the subject of religion. The holy war derived from islamic conflicts ongoing in Syria has been the cause of numerous inhumane acts due to the religious beliefs of the group ‘Isis’. However, this is only in some cases and religions generally forbid such behaviour.
There is a strong argument that religious beliefs regarding societal issues are developing and becoming more in line with the values in society, rather than solely sacred texts. Many believe society’s values can coincide with religious beliefs and as Christian Pastor Rick Warren points out “A truly free society protects all faiths, and true faith protects a free society.” The Christian church in the western world used to be the dominating authority, which was predominantly governed by Roman Catholic beliefs and their absolute rules. For example, in the past issues such as abortion were governed by these beliefs. Abortion was illegal and the Roman Catholic precept of ‘protect the innocent’ was one of the reasons it was not ethically acceptable. There has been a growth in more liberal Christianity since then and abortion is now legal and considered by many liberal Christian groups ‘the lesser of two evils’. Attention in modern society is now paid more to ethical beliefs rather than religious, however religions do still have a voice in the ethical world. In 2014 homosexual marriage was legalised and this was accepted by the orthodox and other Liberal Christian churches. Although many Christians accept this decision, Roman Catholic’s conservative views are still against the decision which the majority of society agrees upon. It could be argued that conservative and outdated Catholic beliefs have no place in society today as they conflict with the values and beliefs of the majority.
Overall As long as we continue to seek meaning, purpose and community, religion will remain not only relevant but an essential part of what it means to be human. Religious beliefs are still fundamental part of human nature and play a big role in society although It is not essential to rely religion in terms of all our ethical values. Religion in contemporary times is more of a personal attribute than a societal contribution in terms of our values and beliefs.