What is the problem with religion?

Although a lot of literature has been produced highlighting the strengths and benefits of religion, many have associated the following problems with religion: conflict with science, curtailing freedoms, delusion, claims of having the exclusive truth, fear of punishment, feeling guilt, immutability, instilling fear, internal conflicts, irrationality, justification of violence, limitation on the rights of women, outdatedness, perpetuation of division, persecution, prejudice, rebuffing of broader perspective, social constructs, strange customs, strained relationships for partners of different faiths, the structure, the suppression of curiosity, its use as a tool for control, unsophisticatedness, etc.

Some complain that religion is used as a reward for “us,” and a punishment for “others.” Some critics sum up the problem by saying religion is a noun, not a verb — adherents are more interested in the status of their faith, rather than acting on it.

The list of criticisms is long.

I believe the major problem with religions generally is the manner in which most people acquire their religion, viz. acquiring beliefs from early childhood authority figures. Most religious group members hold beliefs because those views are what they were taught as children. If one is a Muslim it is because one was raised a Muslim. If one is a Mormon it is because one’s parents were Mormon. If you were raised in a Catholic, Jewish or Hindu family, you most likely will remain a member of that religion.

This is not universally true, of course. People do sometimes acquire new religious beliefs as adults but when that occurs, it is often the result of the influence of some charismatic individual. It is not the inherent truth or falsity of doctrines that cause beliefs, but rather the personal authority of the influential individuals who raised or educated the child.

From my perspective, the problem with religion lies within its followers and not with the religion itself. All religions call for compassion, respect, equity, generosity and peace. Nevertheless, over the years, the followers of many religions started to deviate from the actual teachings of these religions. Their spirituality, which is linking religious acts to their purpose and meaning in life, started to fade away. For example, nowadays many religiously identified people lie, despite the fact that all religions prohibit lying. Muslim daily prayers became a routine exercise rather than a deterrent from committing any evil.

A compounded problem with Islam is confusing culture with religion. For example, Islam condemns honor killings and banning women from obtaining education or driver’s license. Nevertheless, this was the practice of an Islamic country until recent years. Religion’s problems stem from the behavior of its followers.

While we believe that the foundation of religion flows from God, the structure and practice of religion is made and carried out by human beings. The problem lies in the expectation that, because the religion is about God and holiness and doing the right, all those involved in the religion will always act accordingly.

Human beings are frail and subject to whim, emotion, ego, influence, judgmentalism and sin. We try our best to teach the ways of the Lord, both through words and actions. However, as imperfect beings, religious people can fail to live out those teachings in their lives or get confused in how those teachings are to be applied. The “holier than thou” syndrome all too often can rear its ugly head, bringing with it exclusivity or even condemnation of others. Religion becomes a problem when human beings forget their place and assume the role of God.

Religions imperfectly transmit their message, even if they are supremely truth-filled. This is because of the human teachers who share the message. At each stage of student receiving instruction there is artifact and loss, as well as embellishment and personal bias. Traditions that stress the individual experience are less prone to these degradations, but certainly not immune.

The problem with religion is the people who misinterpret the divine messages contained within the scriptures that they claim as a guide to the way they live their lives. There are those who use their religion as license to create civil unrest and even mayhem. How many innocent people have died in the name of God? This is something that God does not condone through His word to mankind. The fact that there are so many conflicting teachings regarding various tenants of religion is reflective of mankind’s confusion in interpreting God’s word.

Religion’s greatest problem is that it is religion, a form of knowledge based on faith rooted in a prescientific world view. No matter how sensible and sound many of its teachings, no matter how it tries to get with an up-to-date viewpoint, or to what extent it acknowledges uncertainty, religion unavoidably asserts nonsense from a scientific standpoint. As for science, while it has a reputation for hard facts, actually science requires the acceptance of uncertainty, that is of probability. Science never pretends to reach absolute truth.

But you know the maxim — our weaknesses are our strengths, and vice versa. The weakness of science is that it has nothing positive to say beyond the limits of the scientific method. The strength of religion is that it fills that void with faith.

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