Is Religion Necessary?

Philosophy reflection paper:

January 19. 2010

Is Religion Necessary?

John Piper once said, “Words don’t mean things…definitions mean things.” In order to answer the question, “Is religion necessary?” we must first define “religion”. Some definitions say that “religion” is “the service and worship of God or the supernatural” (Merriam-Webster) or “the belief in a god or gods and the activities that are connected with this belief” (google dictionary).  Others define “religion” as "a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence” (Robert Bellah, professor at the University of California, Berkley).

Huston Smith noted that the oldest artifacts found by archaeologists have religious significance.  In ages past, before more recent scientific advances, the world around us must have seemed far beyond human comprehension…and yet creation got here somehow…and so did we.

All (or nearly all) cultures around the world, past and present, have had some sense of “religion”. Even today, many cultures do not have a mandated religion, yet most people have access to at least one belief system called “religion”. Whether the worshippers wanted salvation from the physical world around them or whether they wanted access to an afterlife, it seems that human beings are programmed to seek something (or someone) larger than themselves.

Within that search we also find a search for the meaning of one’s own existence. Why am I here? Who put me here? What comes after this? In our service to this “god” or “god” we find a quest to discover where we fit in this world.

Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church, Seattle) said that (in his opinion) everybody worships something, whether a god, gods, sports heroes, musicians or politicians…we all look to something more than ourselves to either save us from our “hell” or give us our “heaven”.  If our “hell” is boredom, we will look to entertainment to save us from that. If our “heaven” is marriage, we will look to our spouse to fill that desire. It appears that if we do not have a “god” to worship, we will invent one. On February 7, thousands of people will gather together to praise a group of men called “football players”…and millions will remain glued to their televisions for the service called the “Super Bowl” – saving them from an afternoon of boredom and saving them to the hopes of a big win…or a little cash.

We do find some “religions” (loosely defined) that do not claim a deity.  Buddhism, for example, does not have a deity, but under Bellah’s definition, Buddhists share a common set of rituals that qualify Buddhism as a religion.

Atheists also claim no god, but generally look to something larger than themselves, whether science, or conservationism, or politics to save mankind from themselves.

It does seem, whether a “god” or “gods” are worshipped, human beings are wired to look outside of themselves for the purpose of their existence, and have a cultural need to create a set of rules (whether religious or civic laws) to maintain the society in which they live.

So my answer ends up:  yes, religion (in one of many definitions) is necessary for human beings instinctively seeking to discover the purpose of their existence.

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