In recent years it has become fashionable to disparage religion and a certain school of militant atheism, spearheaded by Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and A.C. Grayling among others, appears to have become the prevailing philosophy of modern secular 21st century society. However, despite our society becoming increasingly liberal and tolerant towards people with opinions that differ from the mainstream or from our own, religion seems to be treated with an unmistakable whiff of haughty sanctimony and I take umbrage with this trend.
Religion is nowadays routinely pilloried for being backward, dogmatic and based on an antiquated and unchanging set of beliefs violently at odds with
rational scientific thought, the paradigms and parameters of which are perpetually open to change and new ideas. Saying that though, religion is not
without its positives.
We all search for meaning in our lives, whether through music or literature or charity work and for many, religion fills that spiritual vacuum. Some of the biggest problems we have in society are depression, loneliness, anxiety and marked problems of inequality. Religion alone is not going to solve all these problems but whenever people are asked why they subscribe to religion a common answer is that it helps bring people together. I’m an atheist myself but I can see the value of this. If religion helps people find happiness and meaning in their life, why should we begrudge them this?
Religion is not without its flaws and the particularly militant atheists reading this will be pointing out the many ills religion is responsible for in society and history. Religion has been a motivating factor behind terrorism, the persecution of homosexuals, child abuse within the Catholic Church and propounding outdated ideas about women, among other reprehensible actions. However, in certain respects, it does appear that certain steps are being made in the right direction. Pope Francis has been moving in a more liberal and progressive direction, denouncing capitalist greed for society’s ills and adopting something close to tolerance towards the gay community, stating that if people are gay and seek God and have good will, who is to judge them?
Watching footage from the Phillipino typhoon forcefully demonstrates the power of religion. The majority of Philipino residents are Catholic and in many of the TV images and interviews you can see and hear them resolutely clinging to their faith as a sanctuary for their current ills and as a beacon for hope. Religion can bring out the best in the human spirit and this is something to be encouraged. Even secular and humanist types can take lessons from this.
Religion may be flawed and able to provoke dangerous emotions or regressive attitudes in people but we should treat people with religious leanings with
respect. In pursuing modern liberal and progressive agendas we should not become complacent and condescending. If we’re truly trying to be liberal and
progressive we should avoid close-minded intolerance towards religion otherwise we become hypocrites and as bad as the worst religious extremists.