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Why Does Religion Exist?

May 13, 2010

Why Does Religion Exist?


Without specifically advocating one or the other I hope to explain why people have decided to join a religion or pay head to an afterlife.

If you speak to some (not all) philosophical Buddhists they will construct an argument that Buddhism is in fact an atheist religion. God does not actually exist and the purpose of existence is to eventually a cessation of all existence. Now whilst this may seem like a radically new concept to some it is not the view shared by all Buddhist and so the scope for differing opinions does exist. Expecting everyone to agree on what precepts a perfect religion should have is like expecting everyone to agree upon the perfect flavour of ice-cream. The choice is so tainted by subjectivity and perception that no two people would agree.


Yet in a broader sense we have since the first recordings of history a record of religious devotion and practice. When humanity had been constructing buildings and machines for generation with expressed purpose of make a life on earth why have they looked elsewhere for answers?


In one sense it is the answers that cannot be provided by the invention of a new comfort or measurement of en element of nature that has never satisfied people. Why do we exist?


I heard someone say that from the first time that a person buried another in the ground man has been looking for answers as to what happens next. Does the body just rot away and return to ash and each generation passes even memory of that person vanishes? Do we stand around the grave to click out tongue with regret as another human shaped machine ceases to function? The machine is switched off and another is manufactured in a somewhere else. The circle of existence rolls on endlessly but to what purpose? As we consider a body lying motionless in the grave other thoughts come to mind. Is this all that there is? Did everything about this person die when their body ceased to respond to stimuli or is there something more eternal?


We can decide the answer ourselves and then carve the answer in stone. We can take measurements and declare the findings. We can contemplate our muse then use it to build a philosophy. We can even consult learned people and agree with their wisdom. Yet the answer to what occurs after death cannot be proven one way or the other without actually being dead. Since that appears to be a one way trip we do not have a way of verifying it. The gap of knowledge exists and door is opened to contemplate a new realm. Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.


The other problem that exists for all people and societies is one of co-existence. Some people consider that humans are little more than beasts in a layer of clothing. Such naturalists would have us believe that strength of will and body are all that matter and that fighting for domination is all that we have. Regardless of how this view is dressed up in superlatives it is still a cruel and ruthless world that leaves no place for kindness and mercy. Even the most primitive tribe on the planet construct rules in the form of customs to prevent their society from being torn apart. Anarchy may seem attractive until you are on it receiving end. Unlike the animals of the jungle humans have always created moral structures to ensure its own survival. Morality comes from ethics and ethics comes from the contemplation of what is consistently correct. Philosophy and practical compromise often build the customs and taboos of any society. What is mercy? How do we live to together in peace? Why should we even try? In many philosophical battles one begins to dominate because it attracts more people. In many cases these philosophies are religious. Without popular support all ideologies die even religious ones.


Faith is a funny word that seems to be more abused than used. I have faith that my car will start in the morning. I need to have faith in numbers or my career would cease to exist. People have faith that friends will not betray them or give up on them. Many people have faith in that other unprovable concept called love. People also have faith in schools of thought. One school of thought may oppose another and so forth but to use one disprove another is a very dubious method. If I ask my butcher to explain the quality of mercy he may try to tell me how to weigh it slice and fillet it. Thus by the end of the conversation I am no clearer on the subject because we are using two different measuring sticks. Religions exist because schools of thought exist. Too often when people try to discredit a religion they use their own school of thought as the measuring stick to compare it with. Often all they manage to do in such a process is to prove their own blind faith in a school of thought.


There are big questions that cannot be answered in the bottom of a test tube or in the bubble chamber of an accelerometer. Why are we here? Why do we suffer? Where are we going? Does my life matter? What is love? What is compassion? What is mercy? These are contemplative questions that have troubled humanity from the dawn of time. Yet the one reality that all people face and must deal with is the reality of their own death.


I remember seeing in a Buddhist Temple where monks are trained to walk a short path in front of a human skeleton. All day for about 8 hours the monk would have to walk back and forth to be confronted with death. It was a meditation exercise designed to have the monk contemplate death so that they can understand it in all its reality. To many this may seem like madness but to others these are the people who will be asked to provide answers when someone dies. As such they needed to fully understand the answer. Why did this person die? What happens after death?


Not all religions are the same any more than all atheisms are the same. Yet to pretend that they have been dreamed up at the spur of the moment is intellectually myopic to say the least. Deeper thoughts abound where real answers cannot be found. Religions are not going to disappear because of one book and a few angry intellectuals. Intellect belongs to all people regardless of race colour, or creed.




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