ABSTRACT LIGHT IN A DARK WORLD
In a world where uncertainty is rife, for many people religion provides a fixed point from which they can begin to ‘make sense of it all’. Religion gives hope for life after death, a sense of understanding the world or just the comfort that there might be something else; it is a powerful force. Indeed the etymological root of the word ‘religion’ gives connotations of that which binds one’s life together but can religion continue to be a guiding light in a world that seems to have lost faith?
When debating religion, many people fail to consider its original purpose as a wholly human construction. In his TV series, ‘Fear and Faith’, Derren Brown tackles this idea with a scientific approach; in the ever-growing communities of early humans, it became harder to ensure the moral integrity of the society with advances in language allowing gossip to develop, among other things. The idea of an all-seeing divine presence that would be able to moderate our actions protected societies from collapsing and thus was an evolutionary necessity. Brown even says that this can “most likely [explain] why even atheists often betray a tendency to give purpose and meaning to events in their life that…they shouldn’t given they don’t believe there’s a supernatural force or agency at work.”
Nowadays, however, it is clearly possible to be moral without being religious. Indeed, as Christopher Hitchens philosophises, religion in its entirety is immoral, through the dissemination of “the doctrine of vicarious redemption” and “admonishing the concept of personal responsibility,” which goes against his criteria for the principles of morality and ethics. While it is not necessary to subscribe to the whole of Hitchens’ view of religious morality, religious
fundamentalism and bigotry can undermine the illuminating possibilities of religion, with reports of terrible attacks being carried out in the name of religion dominating the media. Similarly the failure of some world religions to adapt to changes in society and human behaviour has led many to question the relevance of religion to modern life. Is it possible that religion has lost its place in a world where it is no longer a social necessity? Although this may seem the case, religion or at least religious sentiment, appears in some of the most unlikely places. While science and religion may seem to be polar opposites, “God talk” is often used to describe scientific advances; the Large Hadron Collider searched for the ‘God particle’, the genome has been called the Bible. Dorothy Nelkin suggests in her paper ‘God Talk: Confusions between religion and science’ that some scientists “believe they are engaged in a profoundly religious pursuit.” This link between religion and science not only shows its continued presence in everyday language but also the associations made between religion, knowledge and understanding.
While religion may have more or less lost its original purpose to bind society together through moral conformity, it can still provide individuals with a personal purpose to do and be good, to carry on in times of hardship and provide them with a certain amount of comfort in a world that can so often make us feel lost. In this way, we can see that humans still have an innate need to have faith in something, whether that is a religion, science or indeed chaos. Whichever of these we choose, humans may always search for a way to find light in a world of black; it may just be that religion no longer satisfies this need.