Some random thoughts on religion that have been knocking around in my brain:
Start with the grip (i.e. the foundation): what is religion? Why do we have it? Whats its goal? Here’s a guess: we live in a society of literally billions of people. But even if the society was much smaller, like it was thousands of years ago, in order to make it function optimally (i.e. survive and thrive), the individual members of the society need to interact peacefully with one another. To do that, they need to have a set of generally acceptable guidelines for said interaction (both good and bad). And that’s the goal of religion (from a 50k foot level). To create that framework.
So, what is that optimal manner of behavior that the religious framework intends to create? Here’s where it gets interesting. If you think about the people who we admire in the world, the people we admire as societies, they have one trait in common: the ability to positively influence other people’s lives.
Whether it is Mother Theresa, or George Washington, or Jonas Salk or even the small town doctor – the common thread among these folks is that they have an ability to touch other peoples lives and positively affect them. They might accumulate wealth or fame or glory on there own as well, but that is not what we hold dear about them. It is the impact they have on others we cherish, not the impact they had on themselves.
So, perhaps the more specific goal of religion is to set each of us up so we are individually likely to positively impact those around us. It’s a set of guidelines designed to maximize the probability that the largest possible number of people among will become people that have positive impact on those around them.
So what are these guidelines then? There are of course negative guidelines: shit you shouldn’t do. These are obvious. The clearest of these are encapsulated in the 10 commandments (not suggestions mind you, commandments – do NOT do these things): i.e. dont kill, steal, sleep with your buddies’ wife, etc. You want to create an army of people who have positive impact on those around them? Making sure they dont do ANY of this stuff seems like a good idea. Pretty simple. The same could be said for the 7 deadly sins (don’t be a gluttonous sloth!).
Having a framework for defining what not to do is relatively easy. What’s trickier is having a framework that guides people on what they should do. Unlike the negative (the 10 commandments), there’s no specific set of rules here. There’s no one authority that says: you be a doctor, you invent something, etc. Plus, everyone is different, has different capacities, interests, etc. So rather than a specific mandate for each individual, how about a set of positive guidelines for people to live there lives by? These guidelines, if abided by, will maximize the probability that any one individual will choose to do something that has a positive impact?
That’s where religion presses us to live our lives by such concepts as kindness (do unto others), forgiveness, hard work, family, and, of course, faith in the overall system. No matter what you choose to do in this world with your life, if these positive ideals are the foundation for your decision-making, you’re more likely than not going to have a positive impact on those around you.
Of course, as these ideals become interpreted and enacted into specific action, they get muddy. One man’s kindness is another man’s weakness, etc. And of course there’s no guarantee that for any one individual the guidelines will drive the intended output. But again, the goal here is to maximize probability – nothing is 100%.
But, from an overall perspective, these concepts seem like the proper foundation for individuals to achieve the overall goal of a growing and positive society. And that’s regardless of what God or God’s you may choose to worship. And that’s what I think why a bit of religion in each of our lives is generally a good idea.