August 26, 2009

Faith, or Justification?

Ah, religion. It seems that many Americans pick it up when they need it-- when baking cookies for the church's charity sale will boost their popularity, when their wives or husbands are sick and suddenly prayer seems like a good option. And when it's not needed? When everything is fine and dandy? ...What happens to religion?

These are the half-hearted believers. They don't really know or even care if they believe, but they follow religious rules (drop a buck in the collection basket, choose to give up carbohydrates for a few specific days) because that's just how life is. These are the people who don't even notice the hints of religion in their daily lives- printed on our currency, included in our Pledge of Allegiance- because they just follow the structure their respective religions have set out for them. And that's fine. If religion can sit on the back burner and these people are happy, that's fine (though a few priests and religious officials might take offense).

But sooner or later these people use religion as a justification...

Why can't she be our daughter-in-law? Well, she's not Catholic. Why can't my cousin marry his true love? Well, he's gay. God wouldn't approve. Why can we start this war? Well, God would appreciate it. How can we get elected this November? Well, God is there for us... as a political tool. As a social tool. As a way to keep out the people we don't want to associate with, to keep down the people who have always seemed below us.

Because they're not like us. They're not the ones who follow the holy words of God (-ahem- the ones we only listen to at Christmas and Easter, the ones we block out so that we can plan ahead to where we'll seat Aunt Esther at the dinner table).

And if religion wasn't the justification, we'd find something else. I'm not knocking religion, and I'm especially not knocking faith. But it just strikes me how very convenient religion is as an excuse, a backup, a solid reason to do whatever we like. No one can say anything against God, of course, and of course God isn't about to let us know what He really thinks... So in the name of religion and the name of God, people kill and speak hatefully and alienate unalienable rights... without retribution.

There's no way to stop this relentless use of religion as rock-solid justification; all I can do is draw our attention to it and hope that we'll realize that perhaps religion has become a way for us to not be entirely accountable to ourselves. Lack of accountability is nice sometimes, I must admit... But using religion as an excuse for our own actions is not. (If we're going to pretend that we do everything because God is watching, can't we at least make it a positive thing? Let's use God as an excuse to do good, not evil... Let's be more accountable to ourselves, not less.)

And so I leave you with this thought: Is your religion about faith, or justification? Solace of the soul, or of the insecure human mind? If your answers are the former, God bless you; but if your answers are the latter, something needs to change.


  1. Anonymous9:26 AM

    Religion is clearly used as a means of justification for many people in the world. And true, it is rampantly used because there is no way to disprove it. It's simply God's word...and until someone can either prove or disprove it, that's all that we are left with.

    Perhaps the more striking question is why we use religion as justification. In a nation where the number of people who strongly believe in Christianity is slowly diminishing, why is it that religion still plays an important role? In a recent article in Newsweek, a journalist brought up the idea that Americans are as a nation, are becoming more like Hindus-- people who really have a "pick and choose" kind of belief system. We take what we want, and we leave what we don't.

    Perhaps we use religion to justify our built-in prejudices... passed on by our parents. Perhaps the upside of using religion is that we feel no need to have to explain ourselves-- each religion has an old tradition... and sometimes it's not clearly separable from our daily lives, our culture (see Hinduism)... and that should be enough of a reason in itself.

  2. Anonymous3:49 PM

    As a former Hindu (and now and agnostic - you'll see why), I found it funny how people (including Hindus themselves) seem to think of it as a 'pick and choose' belief system, which it probaby wasn't supposed to be.
    And here's an (admittedly long) explanation: Hinduism has been around for ~5000 years... and for most of that time, it's been used for... not faith, not justification... but exploitation!
    The language that the scriptures were written in were forgotten in time, and those who claimed to be able to interpret them manipulated the customs and rites for personal benefit - targetting the illiterate masses of lower castes, who obeyed the will of the Gods, as 'read' to them from the scriptures (many Hindu practices involve donating large amounts of money to the 'pandits' who perform them). Several pandits modified it to suit their own needs, resulting in the myriad of rites and customs that Hinduism has come to be characterized by.
    The Hinduism you see today is a mixture of these corrupted practices, and (thanks to reform movements and the dawning of literacy and rationalism in some of the population during the 20th century) a restored form of Hinduism.
    The now largely-literate Hindu population is starting to realise that parts of the religion have little to do with the Gods, and are just tools of exploitation - which is why, sadly, Hinduism is now seen as a 'pick and choose' religion.

    Going back to the topic: organized religions and faiths may have started out as a tool of enormous good: a psychological support system for believers, a social interaction platform, etc. But, with reference to your last paragraph. the percentage of people whose answers would be the former, is miniscule - and dwindling.

    The name of religion is used - like it was mentioned above - as a justification for human insecurity - and at times as an incentive to wreak havoc, like in terrorism. Religion in general, regardless of the original intention and objective, is causing a lot more harm than good to mankind today; most of which can be avoided if we excercise good, old fashioned ethic - being good for the sake of it, and not because some or the other 'God' commands you to do so.