Religion in the Modern World

Religion is one of the touchiest discussion topics. Not polite conversation at the dinner table, so they say. Yet even if we absolutely reject religion we are still crucially and emotionally involved in the discussion.

The separation of church and state

As Americans, we generally buy into the idea these two institutions should be separated. At the same time we demand our public servants, our judges and our state machinery behave in an ethical manner, upholding standards of behavior.

As politicians are perceived to be increasingly shady, we look to our justices as a moral barometer. Of course, judges should act within an ethical framework, they are after all the bulwark against injustice. But actually, their job is to interpret and uphold the law. The same law the sleazy politicians are putting in place.

You see how things change from black and white to a murky shade of grey very quickly don’t you?

Origin of the moral standard

We all take some moral positions for granted. Not telling lies, not cheating on your exams or your partner and not killing other people are all things we can agree make the world a better place.

Yet, the only place where these principles are documented is in the commandments. There is no law in the USA that says don’t cheat on your partner, but there is a commandment. I think you get the point.

The religion problem

As societies modernize, a societal structure based on religious rules loses relevance. This is referred to as the secularization thesis. In short, the thesis states as societies progress, particularly through modernization and rationalization, religion loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance – even as we try to live a moral life based on rules established by religions. It is no wonder the debate rages.

Is it possible to reject religion yet still believe in God?

The ancient Greeks would have you believe so. Their belief in the need to live a moral life was not based on any concept of religion we would recognize, and their view of ‘the Gods’ was completely different than ours.

Some explain the difference by referring to being spiritual rather than religious. The idea being the individual can reject the structure and rules of organized religion but still retain a belief in some form of higher being, however, the being is construed.

Explaining the world

Religion, or in this sense a better word would be theism, came from a desperate need to understand the world. Now that we have a clue how the world works what use do our gods have?

I think it comes down to a very natural requirement to believe in some small way we matter. Fundamentally we are not like a blade of grass or a grain of sand. Religion and stories of Gods helped to make some sense of the world around us, and when there were no explanations for earthquakes or the plague, what else could you believe? Randomness?