The fact that people did research on this matter, and are arguing about the result, reveals the colossal misunderstanding (and the consequent atrocities, absurdities, and debates) relating to Religion. It is true that in the past, and even now for many practitioners of traditional religions, good behavior was/is inspired by hopes of postmortem goodies and bad behavior was/ is avoided out of fear of being sent of to super-hot regions up there somewhere. But in the twenty-first century it is difficult to persuade too many people of this in the scientifically awakened world. People with moral light in them seldom strive to be truthful, honest, kind, smiling, etc. in order to get a pat on the back by Someone Upstairs. Most godless adults are ethical because it adds much enrichment to their own lives and to others.
“Then what is the purpose of religion for an enlightened heart and mind?” one might ask. In answer, one could say that there is ample frosting on the traditional religious cake that one can still savor: Belonging to a community; periodic gatherings to reflect on life, values, meanings, and on the human condition; participating in projects to serve community and humanity; deriving uplifting joys from chant and music; sharing in collective hopes in moments of grave threats and pains; feeling the impulse to be charitable to the less fortunate, caring and tearful embraces in times of bereavement recognizing our temporal finiteness, etc. These heart-felt enrichments are possible in the framework of traditional religions along with periodic meditation on the unfathomable Mystery of Existence. All this can give meaning to traditionalists.
What matters, or should matter, is not whether religion is good or bad, necessary or not, but what kind of religion offering this fruits would be most appropriate in the world in which we live. Those who find value in traditional religious beliefs and practices should be respected by those who don’t find much use for religions, as long as practitioners don’t enforce their belief-system on others, no matter how fulfilling and meaningful it may be to them.
If one were to conduct other polls and surveys one will surely find that most decent people can and do lead good lives without knowing the basics of physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology. This does not invalidate these sciences, but only prove that scientific knowledge is not essential for leading a worthy life. But those who keep away from the sciences gravely lose dimensions of intellectual fulfillment that Science alone can offer.
Likewise, there is a poetry in religious belief which is unavailable to the skeptical and the faithless. Leaving aside the mindless, the deranged, the bigoted and the hateful, the spiritual poetry of religions does add enormously to the lived life of billions who are affiliated to enlightened religious modes. The glory and appeal of religions lie in these relevant offerings of religion, , and not in their views of cosmogenesis, and less in their threats and promises to control human (and children’s) behavior. This point missed by the pollsters, thus leading to irrelevant conclusions about religion.
February 5, 2005