01 May 2009

The Role of Religion

One of the things that is frequently misunderstood in our society is the role of religion in people's lives. There are two opposite errors that people make:

We see in the modern atheist movement--typified by individuals such as Dawkins and Hitchens--a concept that religion basically amounts to superstition, who's role in people's lives is to substitute and fill in the individual's gaps in knowledge. They treat religion as a competitor to Science™.

We see in the modern fundamentalist movement--typified by entirely too many politicians--a theory that their religion is external. Something to be forced on others. It doesn't matter why their god believes that homosexuality was wrong, it is and therefore others should be strongly discouraged from practicing it.

In many of the important respects both of these get confused about what I believe the purpose of religion to be: religion is a tool by which we can gain fulfillment and happiness in our daily lives, it is a tool by which we can bring about health and happiness in others, and shows a grasp of theology reminiscent of "God wants a bigger goat!" They both treat religion as the crudest of superstitions: "If I do/don't do X, the gods will smite me!"

This may be true of some religions, but it is not true of my path, and I do not believe that it is the proper role for religion in our lives. Rather I believe that there are three pillars for the proper role of religion:

  • Similar to Psychology: "To help us become rational, moral human beings." This forms the "mind."
  • Similar to Action: To help us improve the world around us. To help others find their way, by ourselves becoming the change we would see in the world. This forms the "body."
  • Similar to Philosophy: To help us understand ourselves, the mysteries of human existence, and our own inner realities. This forms of the "soul."

These three are not independent: they work together to help us realize Ourselves in service to the Gods. In serving myself I serve others, in serving others I serve the gods. In serving the gods I serve others, in serving others I serve myself. This is one of the fundamental concepts behind the Wounded Healer: Using one's own wounded nature to help others in our service.

In essence, religion is a way of helping us attain clarity of understanding and a better world, not merely as individuals, but as a people. It is not the only way, and we don't all have to be the same in order to realize it, but it is a powerful tool that helps some of us on the road.

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