Religion Ain't All Bad: 4 Reasons to Like Your Religion


I've been beating up on religions a lot because I'm pretty disappointed. That's what I like to write about because that's what I feel, and other people my age (and all ages) seem to share my dissatisfaction. Lately religious organizations have been accentuating the negative and eliminating the positive.

I do like some aspects of religion, and there are four aspects of religion that keep me coming back. In the eventuality that we give up on religions, I think we should take these four practices with us.

1) Rituals.

Papa Legba?

Religions are chock full of rituals, or so they say, but do we even know what a ritual is, or why it's there, or what it's supposed to do? Some rituals are rumored to turn common foodstuffs into meat and blood, others gird us for an iron-age road trip, and some even turn normal Haitian folks into hyper-hipsters. 

A ritual is an action that carries a secondary meaning; which is to say that the action connects us through space and time. SPACE AND TIME!

For example, setting off fireworks on July 4 is an American ritual. We do it together all over the country, and have for decades; in fact, it marks an event that occurred over 200 years ago. So when I set off roman candles in the driveway, I'm not just irritating neighborhood dogs by myself; I'm connecting with a big group of people, that is connected over a continent's worth of space, and about 200 years of time (and into the future, too). SPACE AND TIME!

Religions have rituals that are usually connected to some moral or historical lesson, but they aren't meant to be lessons or teaching aids. Rituals are meant to be experienced. It's the act of experiencing something out of routine in connection with the whole community worldwide and through history that's supposed to move us. 

In the future I hope that, if we aren't doing ritual things at altars inside of churches, we remember to connect ourselves to each other through these funny actions. Even if it's just carving a turkey every year, setting off fireworks, lighting a candle, or wearing a Trayvon hoodie. 

2) Prayers

Proper form for the Salah.

That's right - in a world without religion, I would still want to pray. A lot. At the core, any kind of prayer is about communicating with another: "The Other". Communicating with God means crossing the barrier between the ordinary and the extraordinary, between the me and the other.We are two for two on things all religions agree are important, because prayers, like rituals, are found across the spectrum. All religions want to promote us communicating with the gods, or God. 

Like rituals, prayers are about connecting us. In this case, prayers can help us pull out of our everyday concerns and think about the big picture - think about ourselves from the point of view of "The Other". That's great to practice, and I recommend practicing it before meals, when first waking up, five times daily with everyone around you, or even without ceasing.

Whether you believe in God or not (and statistics show that most people leaving religions do believe) this is great practice for communicating period. Any communication is with "An Other" - another person, people, or with our environment. 

In the future I hope that we keep placing central importance on communication. 

3) Guidance and Community

Nearly 4 million entries in English.

Religions are chock full of tools to guide us: texts, leaders, sages, doctrines, histories, etc. But this is a key place where religions have fallen down. Today we get guidance from all sorts of sources, and even opensource projects like Wikipedia have proven themselves as mostly reliable, not the pit of vipers that naysayers thought they would be. Meanwhile, religious sources of guidance have failed to keep up in terms of content or delivery. Not many people going to traditional Bible studies in the church basement anymore. The attempts to modernize might be too little, too late. 

But we should continue to call 'Bullshit' when we see it. I think that the internet has made us better judges of content, not worse. Sources of inspiration and guidance are better now - and more available, and more specialized - than they were before. 

Also, with our new self confidence and networking, we aren't in need of local communities like we were before. Religions in American boomed in the Eisenhower years, and the number one reason to become a member seems to have been the community (not rituals or doctrines or histories). Where do the Jones' go? Religious organizations still rely on this, but our generation doesn't seem to be needing this from them anymore. We like guidance, and we like community, and we like being guided together. We just don't like church basements, or bleachers.

'where two or three thousand gather in my name...'

In the future, I hope we continue to be guided by experts who we trust, together. 

4) Wonder and Awe

St. Peter's makes you feel so tiny!

This one is my favorite. Basically, when you are in a religion, you are constantly humbled. Religious architecture is built to humble you, and so are the sweeping thoughts of God's omniscience. The end result of all this grand Gothic architecture is that we take a stance that the world is a pretty marvelous place, and that we are really small. 

This is actually true, it turns out. The world is friggin' massive, and we are not very big. Stone Age people thought this when they looked at the night sky, and their/our religions remember it.

But without a religion throwing God at us, we can fall into a people-centered mindset, that blinds us to our actual place in the cosmos. Or else we forget that we are a full, card-carrying member of the cosmos and fall into nihilism.  

I think that modern science is doing a good job humbling us, with projects like the Hubble telescope and the Hadron Collider. Modern science makes good television, too, and we seem to be pretty into it. I hope that in the future we keep a sense of wonder and awe about the universe.