Is God good? Is religion a force for good or does it drive us apart and cause many of the world’s problems? There was a time not long ago when it would have seemed shocking to ask such questions. Now, if you are religious, you may be in the minority, according to the results of a survey released this week.
The survey, conducted by Ipsos Reid, polled over 18,000 people in 23 countries worldwide. Just over 48% agreed that “religion provides the common values and ethical foundations that diverse societies need to thrive in the 21st century.” On the other side, 52% agreed that “religious beliefs promote intolerance, exacerbate ethnic divisions and impede social progress.”
The story caught my eye during my thrice-daily pilgrimage to the CBC News Website, where their article also offered the table below, showing the results in several major countries:
|Is religion a force for good?|
|Country||% who agree|
Being Canadian, I couldn’t help but notice the low percentage of Canada’s respondents — only 36% — who saw religion as positive. Why? Why do so many here and elsewhere feel that we would be better off without religion? And the biggest question of all… are they right?
No, I don’t believe they are. Yes, many people’s frustration and anger toward religion can be understood. Terrible atrocities have been committed in God’s name over the centuries. However, many kind and wonderful things have also been done in God’s name, with religious people often giving their life’s saving and even life itself to help others. Those acts happen every day; they just seldom attract the world’s media. Often, they are kindnesses seen in the eyes of God and God alone.
Sadly, people have done horrific things countless times not only for religion, but in the pursuit of many or all our healthy or noble drives and ambitions. The number of sex crimes committed over the years does not make sex itself evil. The endless line of people robbing, cheating, and murdering for money does not make wealth itself wretched. The same is true of politics, sports, and almost everything else imaginable. Even efforts to protect animals and unborn babies from the cruelty of others have themselves given birth to people who hurt and kill others to pursue those very causes, yet very few would argue that those initial causes are themselves wrong.
Every drive or interest that has ever had any value attached to it has seen its share of fanatics and lunatics. The perversion of those noble ideals does not make the ideals themselves perverse. There is no evil in the desire to help others or be fed or have money or love God. It is in how some choose to pursue those desires that evil is done and people are hurt.
As others have pointed out, Utopian societies have been created to show how perfect life would be without religion. The results, from Stalin’s Russia to Hitler’s Germany to Pol Pot’s Cambodia, were far from Utopia, with many millions of people killed in obscene orgies of terror. Yet, as each of those regimes fell, religion survived and grew stronger still.
Humans have been given a handful of universal drives that cross all societies and generations. Hunger. Thirst. Sex. Security. Survival. And yes, religion. There are also some basic pleasures like music, art, and laughter that are universal and compelling. These drives and pleasures are seen in people in every tribe or society, spanning all history and geography. The motivations stir deep within virtually every single one of us. Granted, some people may be passionate for music but have no real desire for art, while others may thrive on art but have no interest in religion. But the number of people across all cultures who are pulled to these few drives and pleasures make it clear that there are some innate attractions deep with us, and greater than all of us. Religion is one of those, and just as none of the others is inherently evil or harmful, neither is religion.
Of course, those who are deeply religious would argue that the desire to know God and fulfill His will is far more than just another drive; it is the purpose of life itself. Whether that point is right or wrong is beyond what I offer in these few words. For now, my point is simply that religion in and of itself does not, “promote intolerance, exacerbate ethnic divisions and impede social progress.” The way some people pursue it may very well do so, but religion itself does not. Instead, it does indeed, “provide the common values and ethical foundations that diverse societies need to thrive in the 21st century.”
That’s all I say. How about you?