Posted 04 August 2004 - 09:47 AM
Thank you. The issue here is not, however, religion taking over countries, but controlling populations by virtue of demanding specific moral standards. These strictures have come under the scrutiny of many, as being inherently bad, as though people should be left to do whatever they want.
On the one hand, I would say, people SHOULD be able to do whatever they want. Because the majority of us want good things, and we learn that the acquisition of good things requires something of us, a degree of responsibility for self, and to others, etc. I think, CH this would be the humanistic point of view. OTOH, we know that sometimes there are conflicting interests, and people do not want to do things in a way that allows for maximum happiness of everyone. Laws are imposed to resolve these conflicts.
Religion always articulates the divine way of resolving the conflicts, and answers questions about the moral rightness of this or that thing that may be perplexing to the populace at any given time, OR, in many cases - especially in the governing of our instincts - puts boundaries around them, because it can be readily shown that people will not easily put those same boundaries around themselves, especially if nothing makes them do it. Many people will eat and sex themselves sick if given the chance. Because the consequences of that are not felt in the short term, it isn't easy to know that there will be consequences, painful, possibly irreversible ones, so religion regulates these things before we get that far. We know that some of the regulations of some of the old religions are dated, and illogical, and so we judge harshly the religions themselves, for imposing on us regulations that are too constricting. It isn't a far stretch to go from judging some religions harshly to judging religion harshly, but I am challenging the leap that has to be made to do so. I do not agree that it is logical to assume that because a religion that was revealed some 2000 years ago in a different social context than the one we live in today has rules that are too constricting for our existence today, that we should now condemn religion in general, particularly since the religion itself has not actually done a whole lot of imposing, but rather, human institutions built on the basis of the religion have done so... (and therefore can undo so).
Lil's point about men speaking on behalf of God is a valid one - there are no religions that I'm aware of today outside of my own that have the structure of the faith specifically revealed, making all the various and sundry permutations of religious organization all human invention. But even then, it doesn't seem terribly logical to me to condemn religion for this, since human beings are very inventive, and very ingenious - there is no good reason why human beings cannot take the rules of a faith and create organized structure that harnesses the human potential without harming the humans inside the structure.
I think what I'm trying to get at that I find religion itself inherently worthwhile. Before I became Baha'i I was Muslim, but my practices were pretty much all over the map. Having grown up in the church, I was not particularly happy to not have an organized base for my spiritual practices. It is easy for (as LoP says) the organization to overshadow the personal spiritual work that each individual must do for themselves, but that doesn't mean that the organization is therefore superfluous. It serves the purpose of making real in the world the spiritual principles for which you live. The danger you speak of, of religions "taking over" and imposing, are real enough, because that's the strength of organization. But, we live in danger of the US simply taking over small countries and annexing them - it is an organized structure with the might, strength, and sense of right... no one feels that the US should not exist, or should become less of an entity just because there is a perceived danger in its strength. Rather, the individuals who make up the United States of America look to the core values of being American citizens, and guide the strength of the nation in a more positive direction. Similarly, the individuals who make up any religious organization have that same task - and I don't agree that we should sacrifice organization in spiritual matters just because some fear the past history of abuse. Religion has a long history of positivity as well - but that's taken for granted as what's SUPPOSED to happen, because of what it is.