Order, Chaos And God
Why does religion work? Why are religious values so hard to eliminate?
To be clear, religion, such as it is, cannot be easily defined. Many who do not attend religious services refer to themselves as religious or spiritual. Argue that they are not really religious or spiritually connected because they don't mind orthodox religious P's and Q's and your likely to end up in an even bigger argument.
To understand the why of religion, one needs to understand what religion accomplishes. (To be clear, we are not discussing faith. That is an entirely different topic). Simply stated, religion provides two necessary ingredients (though by no means exclusively) that feed and nourish the human condition. Religion provides order- and it provides chaos.
In a world where everything is questioned, day in and day out, religion provides a sense of order and purpose. Like the traffic lights and speed limits, religion- and for that matter, all moral behavior- provide 'rules of the road' keep the system from imploding on itself.
Religion also provides chaos. Like art and literature, religion today asks those things that challenge the status quo and demand we respond. It is in those responses that we often see new horizons- John Paul II, JB Soloveitchik, Kierkegaard and host of lesser known current religious thinkers have forced a kind of 'chaos' upon us- the status quo was not good enough. Like the School of Paris painters at the beginning of the 20th century that forced us to look at the world in a way that wasn't necessarily representational, religious thinkers provide the chaos we need to grow. God may be Mozart and Rembrandt, but He is no less Picasso and Coltrane.
We have noted that when Nietzsche declared that 'God is dead,' he was to a large degree correct. The God that Nietzsche referred to was indeed passing. The Church, once repressive and oppressive, was undergoing a transformation. It was understood that God no longer demanded uniformity or wanted to obliterate self expression. In fact, God celebrated the very things that were foundational to the Age of Enlightenment. As it turned out, God was perfectly able to look out for his own interests, without agendized human interventions. That is a truth rarely referred to- and it is an important truth. The founders of this country were fleeing religious persecution and in fact, the principles and guarantors of freedom in this country were deemed to be religious rights and not just secular rights. God made room for all kinds of believers and non believers. Free will no longer had any fine print attached to it.
Still, secularism, and all it's derivatives, were understandable reactions to being held underfoot by a Church and faith that remained behind the curve in accepting change and challenge science was to provide. When a slave broke the chains of his bondage, he didn't stay long enough to have tea and say good bye to his master. He ran, as far and fast as he could, never to look back.
Secularism hasn't been able to eliminate God because secularism no longer offers a viable alternative to God. Ideas, art, philosophy and even God, can now be challenged by believers, too.
What is different is that many secularists are bound and determined to kill God. They are not satisfied coexisting with believers. The reasons are many and varied, but one thing is clear. Unlike many secularists, Christians, Jews and Buddhists do not lose sleep because they pray differently. God as described by secularists very rarely, if ever, resembles the God of the believers.
In fact, religion is like DNA. It gets passed on, generation to generation and while there are the inevitable losses, by and large, religious belief perseveres because religious people obviously benefit from their beliefs. If they didn't, religion would have disappeared long ago. What secularists do not realize is that their cause is not helped when in the attempt to demystify God, they dehumanize religion, those beliefs that provide both the chaos and order in their lives. Dehumanize and attempt to demystify religion and you dehumanize the believer.
Obviously, while religion is not for everyone, it is clearly a part of the DNA of many, no matter what secularists argue.
Religion and secularism address man's understanding of self. As we noted, secularism has been unable to get rid of religion because secularism does not offer an understanding of the self that is to superior to that offered by faith.
Why dadaism came about is as much as mystery as how the Sistine Chapel's ceiling ended up the way it did. Religious inspiration differs little than secularly inspired expression.
The horsehair bow that coaxes music out of a violin is as much mystery as it is science, and nothing can change that.
Notwithstanding premature announcements of the death of religion, it would appear that religion- or religious values- are alive and well.
Secularism- and to a lesser extent, moral Humanism, have gotten a bad rap because a hard core of secularists have had a harder time in making their case and as a result, they have resorted to less than honest arguments, reinforced with immoral behavior as being representative of secularism.
The strands of religious DNA have are in no danger of extinction.
This post was originally published on April 3, 2006.