Epistles of Thomas

December 4, 2017

What effect does religion have?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 17:59

Firefox introduced me to Mustafa Akyol’s article Does Religion Make People Moral? which was in the NY Times on November 28. He is a Turkish author bemoaning the path his country is currently taking. He believes that the religious leadership in Turkey is not providing the people with a proper moral compass, although theologically they are supposed to. A couple of days ago Slashdot‘s quip of the day was “I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. – Joe Mullally, computer salesman”

Both of these assume that the author has some kind of view from nowhere which provides him with the ability to judge the morality of religion. What basis should we use to judge a religion’s morality? Akyol says that “Religion can work in two fundamentally different ways: It can be a source of self-education, or it can be a source of self-glorification. Self-education can make people more moral, while self-glorification can make them considerably less moral.” Religion can certainly educate people but many religions throughout history have educated people do to inherently evil things in the name of god and those within that sphere of religion considered it moral. In other words, there can be horrendous evil done by religious people without any desire for self-glorification. Moreover, seeking self-glorification through religion can create something which Akyol would probably consider to be beneficial. Call this the Oprahfication of religion.

What effect does religion have? I think that all religions reinforce group dynamics, power structures, ethics and morality. This is true even in cases where religious adherents act in ways completely contrary to the founders’ intentions. Akyol brings in Jesus Christ, introducing him as a Jewish Rabbi:

An exceptional Jewish rabbi who lived two millenniums ago, Jesus of Nazareth, spotted this problem. Those practicing Pharisees who are “confident of their own righteousness and look down on everybody else,” he declared, are not really righteous. Sinners who regret their failures, he said, are more moral than the pious who boast.

The Bible also says that the people were amazed at the teaching of Jesus because he spoke as one who has authority and not as their own teachers of the law (Mark 1:22; Matthew 7:29). When Jesus was about to leave the Earth to be taken up to heaven he met with his 11 disciples and gave them this message: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

C.S. Lewis made the statement some years ago that either this is true or Jesus was insane. Can he really be viewed as a great moral teacher if he believed these things? Some Christians says that they don’t have a religion but rather a relationship because in contrast to other belief systems that rely on rules, codified laws, prophets, chemical stimulants, etc., Christianity is solely about being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Of course Muslims reject the idea that Jesus is the sole way for humanity to be in relationship with God. Unfortunately, this neuters Christianity’s power to change people and truly make them moral not just in principle according to the latest ideas of humanity, but truly as Creations created in the Image of God. Devoid of this power, as provided by His Holy Spirit, Christianity would indeed just be another religion susceptible to the whims of those seeking power and self-glorification. This has been the case, particularly at certain times in history but this is against the teachings of Jesus, rather than in accord with them. It is for this reason that the Reformation was so important at the time and continues to be important today. It is essential that everyone have access to Jesus and his teachings that they may be truly moral and not just moral according to popular opinion as it was in his day.

Conscientious people of every religious background should examine their religion in the light of the teachings of Jesus and the general revelation that God has provided in this world. Only in this way will they reject the desires of humanity to turn away from our Creator and impose toxic power structures on his beloved Creations. Jesus said that if you knock you will receive and that the Father always gives good gifts to his children. Let us seek those gifts and in so doing reap the Fruit of the Spirit rather than the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5). In this way religion can show us how far we are from the Perfect God and our great need for the Salvation that comes through Jesus alone.

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