The relevance of religion in the 21st century

In this modern era, religion has been a very controversial issue around the world. Religion and the idea of believing God may seem ridiculous as there are more people who lose their faith and prefer to become atheist. People are now questioning whether religion is relevant in today’s world, and for some people, the idea of God’s existence seems doubtful and improbable. This is because people may feel that this life is just a normal existence. There is no all powerful being or entity that is controlling human life. Humans live their life every day, doing their jobs, eating, drinking, sleeping, etc, and there seems to be nothing special or exclusive affecting the normal cause of life.

This essay will examine the relevance of religion in today’s world. First of all, the term religion will be defined; along with as to what extent the current religion is different from what it was thought in the past. This paper will also discuss the controversial issue between religion (Creation Theory) and scientific researches (Evolution Theory). This also explains how religion can help people to develop personal and group identities, particularly as to what extent the religion plays in its role in stabilizing human lives.

In the first place, religion is basically identical to the notion of believing in the existence of an Almighty God or something that is higher than a person or thing. Many people argued that believing things that are considered unusual and supernatural in this life can potentially be said religious. However, some authors have proposed that the term religion is a hard topic to be defined for it appears as an ‘intractable problem’ and there is no way to prevent controversy (George, 2006, p. 12; Teehan, 2010, p. 45). George argues that the definition of religion was too specific. McGrath (2001, cited in George, 2006, p. 13) points out the two different types of approaches in defining the term religion. The ‘detached’ approach, examines the idea of religion in terms of philosophical and social science, and it does not suggest a monotheistic or moral system as what Christianity does; the ‘committed’ theory, on the other hand, see the religion from the notion of Christian theory of creation.  In addition, McGrath mentions the definition of religion and its role in society. Firstly, religion is an object of human feeling; God is the central projection of fears and a hope, meaning that the only one that people should fear of and hope in is God alone. Secondly, religion is ‘a wish fulfillment; ritual within society’ to show our expression of fear, and religion is a ‘human invention or idolatry’, because it is the human attempting to make God as an idol in the centre of their life. From this point of view, Erickson (1998, cited in George, 2006, p. 14) concludes that religion is ‘a belief in something higher than the individual human person’, or it can be ‘a personal god or a whole collection of supernatural beings’. Griffith and Griggs (2001, cited in Balkin, Schlosser, & Levitt, 2009, p. 420) state that when there is a process where we obligate and explore a kind of religious beliefs and practices, we are showing our religious identity.

In the past, the religions were the main centre of knowledge and learning process. The priests would educate their followers to do certain things and follow in some particular paths. For example, in Catholic Churches, there was a doctrine that whoever made sins, had to pay some amount of money to the Church so that their sins would be cleaned. This idea no longer exists in today’s world, because people are now more educated and knowledgeable. The information highway has caused an explosion in ideas and thoughts. This has carried the world over into a diverse and variety of religions and religious beliefs. Traditional beliefs also have a vast array of specialized and fundamental splinter groups that practice variations on a theme.

In this modern world, religion and science are considered to be in opposition against one another. Both of them are sometimes fundamentally thought as ‘stereotypes’, because they ‘misrepresent their real nature’ (Schilling, 2009, p.3). There have been a variety of different thoughts regarding the notion of religious beliefs and scientific researches on as to what extent human should believe in. Pinker (1997, cited in McAdams 2006, p. 34) states that the life on earth began when there was a replicator. This replicator started to multiply its copies and continue to produce more ‘grand copies’ by using materials and chemical substance. Pinker also believes that the theory of human evolution as concluded by Charles Darwin (1859) seems to bring people’s perspective into the idea that living creatures, including humans during their period of evolution have experienced and evolved some particular changes to their posture and physical appearance due to the reason that they needed to adjust themselves to their environments and nature in order to survive both individually and as a species. McAdams (2006, p. 34) argues that even though we come from different place or what we have in common with others, we are still the ‘products of evolution’.

However, creation theory argues that there is an Almighty God who created the earth within six days and the God himself had also created human on the sixth day. In Genesis 1 versus 1, it is said that ‘in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (English Standard Version, p. 1). God also created a woman form the man’s rib and asked them to keep all the things that God has made. Meanwhile the bible says that humans fell into the sins and have to work hard for forgiveness and survive in order to reproduce more of their descendents. This notion seems to have some kind of similarities to the scientific theory of ‘natural selection’ where the smartest organism that can produce survival and reproduction of their next generation will succeed (McAdams, 2006, p. 35). In this case, we, human can survive because we are not the fastest or the strongest animal, but we are the smartest animal on earth. The concept of humans as animals is wrong from theological perspective, as God says in the bible ‘let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Genesis 1:26, ESV, p. 1). Therefore Christians believe that we are not animals because we were created in the same image as our creator which is God. We are wiser and smarter than animals, but we are not animals.

From this point of view, we can say that both religion and science are rational and irrational. Religion is rational because we can simply imagine how people have their time with God and experience something in their lives as a real proof that God exists. Unfortunately, religion is sometimes irrational by the way we treat people better that only belong to our religion than those who do not, as God says that we should love others as the way we love ourselves (Mathew 22:39, ESV, p. 582). Additionally, religion believes in something that is invisible, as Dawkins (2006) believes that religion is evil because it teaches us to behave irrationally and believe irrational things. Science is also considered irrational, because through science, people make bombs and nuclear weapons. After all, scientists are just human, so that they can also make mistakes and be irrational.

Religion is also considered to be helpful in developing individual and collective identities.  Religion teaches someone to respect others and not to do bad things. However, we cannot simply say that whoever does good things and those who do not harm others are religious people. Meanwhile, there are in fact, people who are religious and educated, but try to harm others with their knowledge and influence in the society as what happen in terrorism all in the name of their god. The effects of this would be that people are taught to see Islam as a terrorist religion that we should be aware of. It is because there are some Islamic groups who fight for their freedom and to show their identity in forceful manner and behavior. They terrorize other people and bomb other countries as what happened on September 11. In this modern world, we can still see people having responsibilities and good attitudes towards other people, even though they do not follow any particular kind of religion or religious beliefs. Furthermore, being involved in a particular religion or religious beliefs will give people a sense of ‘social belongingness’, because they can get love, feel safe and have their fellow’s attention (Berl, Williamson, & Powell, 1984, p. 33). It can also create stronger ties with their ‘neighbors’ who can provide help without having to consider the issue of ‘ethnicity’ (Teehan, 2010, p. 117). On the contrary, being in the same group of religion does not always have a positive impact. There may be different ideas and opinions within the group that can potentially create problems and controversy. For instance, Christian Protestants believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and he has already come to save the world. However, the other Christian group such as Jewish believes that The Messiah is still yet to come, so that they are still waiting. Another example would be the marriage issue. Mormons believe that people, particularly its followers can marry more than once, but mainstream Christian religions believe that people should only have one spouse at a time. These are the reasons why similar group of religions do not always have similar thoughts and doctrines.

In a social group, religion is used to distinguish one particular social group with the other groups. For example, we can simply define people who go to church every Sunday as Christians and those who are wearing burqa as Muslims.  Ysseldyk, Matheson & Anisman, (2010, p. 60) argue that religious beliefs can be seen from someone’s behavior that they present to the society. Therefore, people can identify which kind of religious beliefs they belong to. Furthermore, Lichterman (2008, p. 83) argues that people use religious beliefs to define their group identities. They use ‘religious language’ for example, to build up their group identities and ‘relationships’, to understand who they are, and to show how they should interact with those who are in the same group and those who are considered ‘outsiders’. From this idea, ‘People also can use religious language to construct civic identities and relationships—that is, defined insiders and outsiders’ (p. 85). This brings us to the idea of in group love and out group hate, where people in the same group of religion live in the situation where they can help and benefit others. However, people will often consider those who have different religion as their enemies because of not believing the same god, or people may undervalue other religions and think that the religion they belong to is superior and the others are inferior. This concept is very different from what Jesus said about enemies. In Luke 4:27, it is said that we have to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Jesus also says that we even have to bless those who curse us and pray for those who abuse us (ESV, p. 607). Even though this sounds ridiculous, there is no doubt that we, in fact, need to have enemies in our life so that we can improve our selves and perform much better.

Religion values and teaching can also affect government policies and practices over its citizens. In Australia for instance, even though the government seems not to follow any kind of religious beliefs, there have been very positive programs that they run and can benefit people such as social justice programs and unemployment training benefits. There are also pensions for older and sick citizens. Above all, the core values of religion that the governments promote and offer are to respect individual rights, so that everyone has the equal opportunity to develop their life and improve their self through education, training and other social activities that can benefit the citizens.

In conclusion, the debate of the relevance of religion is so complicated because scientific research explores things that are contradictive to what people are taught in their religion and their religious practices. No matter what people think of religion, it is undeniable that religion plays a very important role in stabilizing human lives, especially in developing identities. People who are religious will see that their lives and this world from the beginning until the end are controlled by God and no one can avoid it. However, others may consider that this life is just what it is and the only thing that they should be doing is to live this life and to enjoy things that have already existed. There is no right or wrong idea on this theme, as long as people hold on to what they believe in and not to force their ideas onto others as the only way to live. It is better to combine and utilize the idea of religion and knowledge to make the world a better place to live in for everyone, so that people and the coming future generations can still enjoy and experience that the world has to offer.

Reference list

Balkin, RS, Schlosser, LZ, & Levitt, DH, 2009, Religious identity and cultural diversity: Exploring the relationships between religious identity, sexism, homophobia, and multicultural competence, in Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 87, pp. 420-427.

Dawkins, R. 2006, The God delusion, pp. 31-50, Black Swan, London.

George, S. 2006, Religion and technology in the 21st century: Faith in the E-world, Information Science Publishing & Idea Group, Inc., London.

Lichterman, P. 2008, Religion and the construction of civic identity, American Sociological               Review, vol. 73, no. 1, pp. 83-104.

McAdams, D. 2006, Evolution and human nature, in The Person: A New Introduction to Personality Psychology, 4th edn, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, pp. 33-70.

Schilling, HK. 2009, Science and religion: An interpretation of two communities, vol. 27, London, Routledge.

Teehan, J. 2010, In the name of god: The evolutionary origins of religious ethics and violence, Wiley-Blacwell & Sons Ltd, London.

The Holy Bible, English standard version. 2005, Crossway, Illinois.

Ysseldyk, R, Matheson, K, & Anisman, H. 2010, Religiosity as identity: Toward an understanding of religion from a social identity perspective, in Personality and Social Psychology Review, vol. 14. no. 1, pp. 60-71.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s