Is religion a force for good or a force for bad?
“True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness.”
– Albert Einstein
We could well ask are human beings good or bad? Like many things, religion is what we make of it. We can take religious principles to help us become a better, more peaceful, more compassionate person. At the same time, we can use religion as a self-justification for our own ego, our own pride, and use religion as a false justification to wage war in the name of some religious ideology.
“Common men talk bagfuls of religion but do not practise even a grain of it. The wise man speaks a little, even though his whole life is religion expressed in action.”
– Sri Ramakrishna
Every religion has, to some extent, been misused by its own adherents. But, it is also true, that each religion has provided inspiration for sincere adherents to live a more divine life.
“The essential thing in religion is making the heart pure; the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, but only the pure in heart can see the King.”
– Swami Vivekananda
If we look at different religions, the inner message is to become better people, to cultivate a greater love of God and offer goodwill to our neighbours. If we look at the outer aspect of religion, we will see imperfections and mistakes in all religions. But, at the same time, if we live the inner reality of religion, we only see a common thread of divine oneness.
“The pious sectarian is proud because he is confident of his right of possession in God. The man of devotion is meek because he is conscious of God’s right of love over his life and soul.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
Religion can lead to war when people focus on the outer manifestation and pride of religious affiliation. Quite often, people have come to the conclusion that only their religion is right, and other interpretations are wrong. Not only do people think that their religion alone is right. But, so grievously wrong are different forms of religion that this justifies any means to convert people to their religion.
“All fanaticism is false, because it is a contradiction of the very nature of God and of Truth. Truth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Koran, or in a single religion. The Divine Being is eternal and universal and infinite and cannot be the sole property of the Mussulmans or of the Semitic religions only, “
– Sri Aurobindo
The irony is that often religious confrontation is usually between religions which have many things in common, but, differ on some particular interpretation of a teaching ideology.
The religious disputes between Catholicism and Protestantism are one example. Sharing the same holy book, the same Prophet – Jesus Christ, there was yet a violent disagreement about interpretations of the message of Jesus and the message of the Bible. In the name of religious purity, many were killed, tortured and burnt at the stake – all in a bid to get rid of ‘heresy’ and establish the ‘One true religion’.
Was this the intention of a prophet like Jesus Christ – to have a vicious fight to establish a certain interpretation of his teachings?
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
– Jesus Christ, Matthew 8.
If we don’t get bogged down in dogma, we can easily appreciate the overriding message of Jesus Christ – which was a message of love and forgiveness. – To love your neighbour – even your enemy – to love God, and to forego the pleasures and vanity of the world and instead seek the kingdom of Heaven within.
In bitter religious disputes, we see the failure of its adherents to understand the essential aspect of their own religion. They ignore the Divine consciousness and become obsessed with a meaningless outer dispute over outer forms.
“No religion is absolutely perfect. Yet not only do we fight for religion, but also are we often willing to sacrifice our lives for it. And what we hopelessly fail to do is to live it. A true religion is that which has no caste, no creed, no colour. It is but an all-uniting and all-pervading embrace.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Fortunately, we have examples of religious people who come to embody and manifest the essence of religious experience. These God-intoxicated saints, do not spread a message of hatred, supremacy or need to quibble other theological dogma. They are characterised by their purity, compassion and good-will to all. This shows that religion can be a force for good if we only live it in a divine way.
We could say, there is a human religion which is based on human egoism, human pride and the desire to assert supremacy. This human religion may claim adherence to divine ideas but, actually, the religion is nothing but a smokescreen for their own human foibles.
Another problem with religion is when the religion considers itself perfect, or at least superior to other religions. But, religion itself is not the goal. The spiritual life, the life of compassion is not bound by any religious ideal. Great saints and good people are not the monopoly of any one particular religion. But, often religion enters into a competition, trying to prove it’s own supremacy.
The divine religion quietly offers the experience of oneness, divine love and peace among men. The divine religion has nothing to do with hatred, supremacy or theological dispute. It only seeks to bring the divine consciousness into man – a consciousness that can only uplift the world.
Another analogy is to ask the question is patriotism good or bad? Patriotism/nationalism can be used in many different ways. Through patriotic feeling, people can be moved to selfless actions and seek to create a better country / better world. At the same time, patriotism can become an undivine force – if we feel our country is superior and we need to prove our superiority by force, then we can engage in violent conduct, which creates aggression, turmoil and war. So patriotism, can be a force for good if we use patriotism to make a better country. The problem comes when patriotism comes to justify force and a feeling of superiority.
It is the same with religion – whether it is a force for good or bad – it depends on how people practise it.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Religion Good or Bad?”, Oxford, UK – www.biographyonline.net. Originally published: 4th August 2014. Last updated 13th January 2017
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