Tag Archive: virtues


Why Do We Need Religion?

“So,” a friend wondered, “why do we need religion?” Great question! Really, that’s a great question, especially considering that she believes that she doesn’t need it. She’s not religious. She doesn’t believe in God, either, but does say that there are things out that defy explanation. That’s my paraphrase, and I may be misrepresenting her views somewhat. Don’t quote me! I know I’m not quoting her!

Anyway, it’s a great question. We’d been talking about all kinds of things – politics, religion, counseling, abuse, life, death – and she popped that one into the mix. For her, she wasn’t raised with much religion, and I’d guess that plays a part in shaping her opinion. She also mentioned religion has sometimes very negative effects. That’s true. Even if a religion claims to be good and beneficial, it’s not always angelic, saintlike, and completely positive. The Spanish Inquisition, Catholic priests molesting children left in their care, and the Salem witch trials spring immediately to mind. History is awash with examples of religions that, either thanks to core beliefs, misbeliefs, or being warped to serve dark lusts, cause harm to those in its vicinity.

The harm caused by religion need not even be that dramatic. Harm can be something as simple as burdensome guilt.

What good does religion do? Why do we need it? I think religion, particularly Christianity, because that’s the one I know best, can be very good for people. Let me share a few thoughts.

  • It has helped keep people healthy. I could be wrong about this, but I’d guess religion has been around longer than science has. In the Old Testament, lots of religious laws were given to the people of Israel. Those poor, overworked Jews weren’t allowed to do things like poop in their camps. They had to go outside and make sure it was buried because God thought it “indecent.” Any more, most people would call that sanitation and be completely grossed out by a pile of human excrement collecting flies within a campsite (“ew! ew! bad smell! disease! WTB toilet!”), but humanity hasn’t always had flush toilets and knowledge of disease vectors. Jews weren’t allowed to eat pork or shellfish, meat that sometimes came with illness causing friends. I could talk about it more, but I don’t want to take that much space. This article, Bible Health Laws, from Tomorrow’s World, focuses on the health benefits of ancient Judaism. Knock yourself out!
  • Religion ought to be helping to meet social need. James tells us that worthwhile religion involves activities like taking care of distressed widows and orphans.
  • For myself, I learned a lot about how to become the kind of person I wanted to be. My dad wasn’t exactly the greatest example of virtue, integrity, or how to treat others. No father is. They’re all heroes, I think, to their children and are emulated by their children. Then the children get a little older, realize that Dad does have some flaws, and must grow beyond that childhood ambition of being just like Dad. There are all sorts of ways a kid can go. I picked the Bible, God, and Christianity, and I learned a lot about how to treat myself and others better. Take a look at Matthew 18. It promotes humility, advocates good treatment of children, gives advice about how to handle conflict or sin, and advises mercy and forgiveness. I Corinthians 13 talks about the necessity of love and explains what love is actually supposed to be. Proverbs is chock full of pithy nuggets promoting wisdom, illustrating folly, and other valuable insights. Reading through Psalms and even some of the OT prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah helped me to reach my heart and feel the emotions I was packing around with me.

In some ways, religion has been great for me. I’m sure there are lots of other reasons why it can be beneficial, but I’m out of time and brainpower today. How about you? Got any ideas?

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99%

Don’t be looking for any of Occupy Wall Street’s mantras here. Occupy Portland reportedly cost the city $130,000 in park damages and another $1.29 million for police overtime. To be fair, the movement claims that these figures are inflated. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Nonetheless, even a reduced amount seems like stealing from the taxpayers, as I very much doubt Occupy Portland consulted with those taxpayers and gained their consent before causing damage and expenditure. Not really a fan, am I.

No, the 99% to which I refer came from a conversation with a friend. After a long term relationship, this person and their spouse separated. My friend told me that the spouse has trouble with anger, and that most of the time it’s not a problem, but when it is, things are bad. The spouse can’t understand why it’s such a problem for my friend. The conversation we had went something like this: “99% of the time, life is fine for my spouse,” my friend said. “It’s only 1% of the time that the rage causes problems for my spouse. But for me? I never know when it’s going to show up. Years of marriage and observation, and I still can’t predict what will trigger an episode. It only affects my spouse’s life during that 1% of the time, but for me? It’s 100%. I live with the burden of uncertainty and trying to be right, perfect, and inoffensive all of the time.”

That has certainly given me plenty to ponder.

For one thing, while I knew what my friend meant and could identify the feeling, I’d never put it so clearly or been able to isolate and express it so well. That’s been one of those things I’ve never really been able to explain to somebody who has not experienced it.

Besides that, it’s been a long time since my dad left, and sometimes my memory gets a little fuzzy. I can’t always remember what made it so miserable. Dramatic moments (like having to pull things off the table so that Dad wouldn’t throw them at my brother) stand out, but not the everyday happenings. The drama is what I tend to tell people, probably because it was incontrovertibly bad. People, in my experience, are a lot less likely to argue that bruises and holes in the wall and other concrete proofs of violence are acceptable and seem to have more trouble accepting that the less physically scarring aspects of abuse are also unacceptable. Those parts, invisible like the wind, are just harder to pinpoint and explain.

My friend did a good job of it. See, maybe the aggressive/unpredictable person really is okay most of the time. Something happens – who knows what? – their internal switch flips, and suddenly they’re irrational, menacing, and dangerous to those around them. The storm passes, their steam is released, they feel better, and everything is all right again.

For them.

Until the next time whatever it is causing the aggressor’s internal, personal pressure to build demands release.

For those around them, it may not be okay. If dangerous can’t be predicted, if there is a disconnect between what happens in the aggressor’s environment and their reactions, okay can’t be trusted. Threat of danger still exists, and the people around the aggressor start demonstrating wariness and fear of that threat. The aggressor’s behavior effectively teaches the victims that they should not trust the aggressor. How the heck do you trust somebody who is sometimes just fine and sometimes, with no warning, not?

It makes for a real mess. My friend’s 99% fine spouse can’t understand why that’s not good enough. I don’t think my dad ever understood how much his unpredictable, unreasonable rages affected any of us, how we rewrote ourselves trying to survive.

I suspect, too, that poorly managed, inappropriately expressed, out of control anger isn’t the only unpredictable behavior that causes serious troubles for others. I bet lying would invoke some of the same problems. So might an inability to make and keep schedules and one’s word. It’s also a decent example of how sin in general ruins things for us. So what if I’m awesome 99% of the time? What harm could that 1% of degenerate behavior do?

What harm indeed? Ask my friend. One person’s 1% changed 100% of my friend’s life.

On the flip side, maybe there is also the potential for what is good, pure, and noble in us to have a similar effect, for our moments of good to shine out and touch another.

It’s certainly something to consider and use to evaluate my own life. How am I living? How is it affecting those closest to me? What’s having a greater effect on them – my flaws or my virtues?

May God bless your day.