Westerners have much respect for eastern religions, we don’t laugh about reincarnation, vegetarianism and we recognize the power of meditation. But as far as our religion, we often split into two camps: those who take religions seriously and those who discount it completely. However even if there are evil people who are religious, it doesn’t mean that it is bad just like we won’t stop using cars just because there are evil people who use cars. In fact, if we think about it, it has been those against religion that have perpetrated the biggest crimes of the past 100 years. Crimes in the name of religion pale in comparison with the crimes by Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao Tze-Tung, Pol Pot and so on, all of whom have persecuted and killed millions of people for ideas including their religion.
But let’s take a look at religion and what it provides.
Yes, we can say that it separates people but not because it tends to separate but because there is not one people and therefore there is not one religion for all people. Islam is not for me and Christianity is not for Arabs. There is a reason why Christianity fits those in Europe and was in fact created by Europeans and why Islam fits Arabs and Buddhism Asians. If we look the differences are not in the moralities they teach, those are the same, it is the rituals that are different from each other and are most similar to the culture where it comes from that makes people separate, not religion. In reality, religion itself makes people come together. It creates schools and community centers, it acts as psychologist and a place for donations and charity. It is the spiritual guide of a community and a community is a group of people and having others is one of the biggest things we need. I would argue that it is the lack of community and alienation from each other that is the biggest reason for so many social illnesses today such as depression and anxiety.
The other part of religion is ritual. In the world today, we crave routine and at the same time we hate it. Religion is a type of routine that gives routine to everything above it. A Jewish man that must make time for morning and night prayers at the temple must plan for that and there fore he has a structure that gives his day purpose and predictability which then gives him ability to plan and feel a sense of control. This works for Mormons as well and we see that these two groups of people, when attending diligently services do seem to outperform their non-religious peers.
Finally, lets look at prayer. We know that if you create goals and write them down and remind yourself of them then we are likely to accomplish them. How is that different to prayers? If we pray for something we devote our entire being to that goal and we remind our selves and whether god is there or not it doesn’t matter, our prayers help us accomplish that which we want.
At the same time, if you have ever read a prayer, you will notice that it is just like a Buddhist mantra, it is a meditation; calming the mind, easing anxiety and it clearing thoughts.
Additionally, saying certain prayers like those at night and over dinner are way to be thankful. People who are thankful for what they have, who appreciate that which they have are those who are happiest and those who are able to cope best with emotional stress that comes with everyday life. Prayers are designed to keep us thankful for all aspects of life because as every person who has at one time been hungry or constipated know, we can be as thankful for the food on the table as we are to get rid of it afterwards and so it is a good idea to be thankful every day for ability to have both.
So think about, is religion really that bad? Is it really that useless? Maybe it is to you but maybe someone you know needs it’s help and doesn’t need your discounting of that which gives them that help.