The purpose of religion in the 21st Century.

An insight into the question of religion. What good does it bring to an individual or society as a whole?

By Annabelle

11/10/20224 min read

There are three main contradictory perspectives on the basis of whether religion is better or worse for society as it brings both separation and a sense of community. These theoretical perspectives are; the conflict theory, suggesting that religion advocates for social inequality, symbolic interactionism, which indicates that religion is centred around the ways that individuals interpret their previous religious experiences - giving meaning to people’s lives. And finally, functionalism, the standpoint that religion serves multiple functions for society, some including the reinforcement of social stability and motivating people to work for positive social change, overall, making the world a better place. However, some religions shape views on policy issues like same-sex marriage, climate change and stem-cell research, and from some perspectives, helps convince the poor to accept their unfortunate disposition in life. On the most part, religions juxtapose faith, modern science and sometimes ethicality.

Fundamentally, all religions encourage their followers to be the best versions of themselves; meaning to not be morally reprehensible and to be righteous. These sets of beliefs are often enforced by the promise of rewards in the afterlife, or the threat of a punishment; religion can be a powerful social force in inspiring its people and helping its followers to decipher right from wrong, whether it be because they want to ‘ascend into heaven’ or because they don’t want to be looked down upon by their peers and family for their misguided actions. This pressure is contradictory to the basis of religious teachings to not be immoral as most social pressures, like these ones, are unethical and corrupt. Moreover, by promising rewards in another life, religion can also distract people from the problems they face in the life they are living and delude people into doing things society needs each person to do; a theory suggests that rich and powerful leaders created religion as a comfort to their people to deceive them from reality and into doing as they wished. Being wealthy and having power was seen as a gift from God and an indication of God's good favour in most Christian systems ,therefore, it could be interpreted that rulers in many societies had the ‘god given right’ and ‘divine authority’ to make pivotal decisions about society and how it is run, further in benefit to people higher up the social hierarchy and is in favour of helping control people in society. For example, if a family member passed away, the bible would state that ‘God’ made it happen for a reason, thus the grief would become manageable to a certain degree. In addition, the people at the top of the social hierarchy benefit from individuals coming to work everyday and making money for them.

While religion may be a benefit to society in some ways, it tends to also cause separation and tension between different religions, cultures and races. It can also shape toxic views on major issues like same-sex marriage, climate change and stem-cell research, and from some perspectives, religion helps convince the poor to accept their unfortunate disposition in life. On the most part, religions juxtapose faith, modern science and sometimes general ethicality. In addition, Martin Luther King, said to be the founder of Protestantism, demanded for the extermination of the Jewish people because of their religious beliefs and Jewish “prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, [should] be taken from them.” This is a view that has been arguably shared by some religions for centuries. A deep rooted hatred against each other can give evidence as to the cause of today’s discrimination in large parts of the population. Religion itself can be viewed as a contributing factor as to why, in many countries, women are treated as second-class citizens, homosexuals are outcasts and black people are looked down upon. These distinct divides in society have led to some of the most violent crimes in human history. A classifiable illustration of this could be the Crusades, which took place between Christian Europe and the Muslim-controlled Middle East region between the 11th and 15th centuries. This war lasted 30 years with an estimate of 90 million who were killed. Moreover, psychological studies show that people are more likely to justify acts of violence and aggression when they are provided with a religious justification. Instead of bringing society a sense of community, religion can cause disruption and unethical acts in the name of something suggestively ‘holy’.

Contrastingly, a good example of the benefits of religion have been shown through some important leaders like Martin Luther King Jr in which he was empowered by his faith to help those in need and stand up to injustice within society. Because of his actions, over time he managed to change cultural attitudes and put a stop to oppressive governmental policies against black people, which changed the modern world for the better. Furthermore, on a smaller scale, religion timelessly provides solace to ordinary people in society and can help combat the difficulties in life and can help sustain mental health. Moreover, religious rituals can bring people together, allowing a fragmented society a commonality, an identity and opportunity to socialise. Individually, religion can bring a sense of wholeness to being, and can help forget about a person's problems to a certain extent, and make them feel part of something greater than themselves.

Written during my trip to Paris and inspired by the visit to Sacré Coeur