You can be religious, just keep it to yourself. I’m sure that this is the immediate reaction of most non-religious people when faced with a Jehovah’s witness at their doorstep – or any other zealous believer ready to spread the message of their faith for that matter. Indeed we are often instinctively dismissive of or hostile towards the idea of religion and anyone who wants to sell us the message, probably because history and reality have eroded almost every believing bone that was left in our bodies. However, what we should take issue with perhaps, is not religion in itself, but ourselves. Maybe the time has come for us to rethink and reshape the traditional narrative on religion as we know it.
Some argue that there is a fine line between spreading a message of faith and downright fanaticism, the type of fanaticism that rivals the screaming over-zealousness of rabid teenage girls at a Justin Beiber concert. They say that there is a fine line between spreading a message and encroaching on the freedom(s) of others and a frighteningly finer line between blind religious faith i.e. adhering to the doctrines of a religion to the letter, and full-on fanaticism – something that the alleged terrorist group, Islamic State of Israel and Syria (ISIS) has become to more or less embody. That argument is obviously infallible.
Much like race, religion can be viewed as a social construct, a man-made institution that is therefore inherently imperfect and by that same token, somewhat dangerous. Religion is a concept born out of the intrinsic human need for order in the face of chaos, for a meaning to life. However, as much as religion purportedly exists to help man find peace, it has had, ironically, quite the opposite effect – history has shown us that it not only breeds chaos but is also an instrument of hate and discrimination. I need hardly allude to the countless crusades of the Middle Ages and the wars of religion that rocked the very foundation of the Western world, before reaching a bloody climax at the dawn of the Renaissance era, etc. to make that point clear. Man has constantly – and will continue to – use religion for his own ends. It is manipulable and malleable. He has and probably will continue to kill for religion, or the idea of religion that he has created in his mind.
So given its disreputable track record, why do we even need religion? Why be a believer? Why listen to anything a Jehovah’s witness or any ‘preachy’ churchgoer has to say? Why not slam the door in their faces and therefore in the face of religion altogether? Well that is the obvious solution for the disillusioned many – atheism. To them, the followers of any religion, whether it be Islam or Christianity are, at best, closed-minded and at worst, utterly foolish for abandoning their free will at the doors of a church that has been, for centuries, a bastion of power, privilege and, unfortunately, a standard for condemnation and oppression. They find it unfathomable that any rational human being can believe in something that he cannot see, far less die for an idea. Their only deity is themselves and the only worthwhile aspiration in life is knowledge, because it is only through knowledge that one can obtain true enlightenment, and that, at any rate, is better than blind faith.
It’s very easy to be an atheist. It’s very easy to believe that man is at the centre of the universe and that science can, in time, effectively explain everything that is beyond our mortal comprehension. Anyone can be an atheist. Faith is harder. It is difficult to believe in an elusive ‘higher power’, to believe that there is something more beyond the world that our senses perceive and that there is a supernatural explanation for it all. We live in an age of great technological advancements and human progress: the age of science; and though science has made our lives so much easier, it has also had the opposite effect. Everyday a new study is published, there is an unquenchable thirst for scientific knowledge, a persistent desire to reduce life and everything about it to a simple equation. We are so caught up in figuring out the science of life that we forget that not everything has to be scientific, not everything has to be reduced to the brute rationality of a scientific study. This, I believe, is the fundamental danger in abandoning what religion is actually supposed to stand for.
Religion is not to blame for our downfall. We are. We made religion into what it is today. We added persecution, intolerance and prejudice to the original blueprint. We must keep in mind that a few ‘bad seeds’ do not represent an entire religion. After all, didn’t Protestantism, for example, emerge as the very antithesis of the persecution and intolerance that the Catholic church originally embodied? Still, some might argue that there are more than just ‘a few bad seeds.’ Against that, there is probably no effective counter argument because, I must admit, traditional religion obviously seems to have failed us. But maybe our mistake is believing that traditional, institutionalised religion is what we need when there is, arguably, a better alternative: spirituality. In other words, a personal relationship with the divine. This is, I believe, what religion has sought to teach us – albeit through questionable methods and with mixed results – all along. Of course, such a simplistic alternative is bound to ruffle more than just a few religious feathers, but better that than another war of religion.