October 21, 2009
I often read militant atheists talking about how “religion” is evil and if we could just get rid of it the world would be a better place. (The most recent place I’ve seen sentiments like this was here.) Besides the fact that history doesn’t particularly support this thesis (consider the actions of confirmed atheists Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot) as long as there are humans there will be religion.
I looked up “religion” at dictionary.com, and this is the first definition:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
Note the qualifiers “esp.”, “usually”, and “often”: neither superhuman agencies, devotion and ritual, or even a moral code are required for a set of beliefs to constitute a religion.
Everybody has a religion of some sort, because of our nature and condition as humans:
- What we actually know about the universe is just an infinitesimal fraction of the total truth. This applies to the human race as a whole and particularly to each of us as individuals.
- We are compelled by our nature to seek meaning in our situation and in what happens to us. We constantly order our experiences and feelings into narratives to create meaning. We have to have some kind of belief system to function.
- We are social animals, so many of the narratives we create and beliefs we hold are shared by a community.
If I were to give my own definition of religion, I would call it a collection of narratives, beliefs, and practices shared by a community to give meaning and purpose to its members’ lives. It’s quite clear that modern secular atheism fits this definition. Basing your belief system in whatever seems to have been proved by science today is really no more rational than basing it on anything else.
My personal belief is that God has given us enough evidence of his existence that it is reasonable to believe in him, but not so much that we are compelled to do so. In the end we are free to choose for ourselves what we will believe, and by that choice we reveal what kind of person we are.
…be not faithless, but believing. (John 20:27)