Monday, November 29, 2010

RELIGION AS A SOURCE FOR SOCIAL GOOD?

I was reading the latest version of The Globe and Mail on-line, and got a very significant shock.

There was a poll about the the effect of religion. The question: "Is religion a force for good in the world"?

Of the 7,500-plus respondents, only 230 said, "Yes." That's a whopping three (3) per cent. The rest, 97 per cent, said, "No."

It is, of course, not a statistically significant poll, in terms of involving the proper balance of participants. It is simply a "straw vote" among the participants in the poll — the readers of the newspaper.

Given, however, that The Globe and Mail is a major, national newspaper in Canada, the results important to consider. Simply because of the sheer imbalance in those numbers.

The poll was done in relation to a recent debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchins at the University of Toronto's interdisciplinary Munk Centre for Global Affairs.

Blair, the son of a "militant atheist" (in his owns words), an Anglican turned Roman Catholic, feels religion is a force for good. Hitchins, a "outspoken atheist," is dying of cancer in the throat, but is rediscovering his own Jewish roots, while claiming that religion is a source of social ills.

It would have made a very interesting debate. Not being in Toronto, I didn't get to see it.

For me, three issues stand out. First, the sheer numbers on the poll, which I have already mentioned.

Second, the short-sightedness of our social view of religion, at least in Canada. 

To consider Christianity for example, the "religious" have been the prime promoters of both health care and education. In the earliest centuries of this historic era, Christians were caring for poor, sick, and hungry, regardless of their religious persuasion. (In that time, the primary religion would have been the worship of the Roman gods.) That emphasis went with Christianity, wherever it moved.

Likewise, when Robert Raikes began his "Sunday Schools" in the mid-1700s, the emphasis was on working with children in the slums of England, teaching them to read and write. By the 1830s, about 1.25 million children were involved in such schools — about 25 per cent of the people of Great Britain. Out of that movement the English public school system grew.

Third, Christianity in particular, and other religions in general, have sometimes been co-opted —used — as a source of division, and even war. This s often in direct opposition to their major beliefs. On the other hand, Christians have also led the process of peace-making in the world.

Where this current debate is likely to end is not something I could possibly guess. But the process, including its inherent lack of social and historic understanding, will be both interesting and challenging.

12 comments:

Jacqueline said...

Thought provoking Bear...we do love to demonize (pun intended) don't we.
From your well-stated argument, it looks like both good and bad come from organized religion,(as most things) and perhaps it takes the likes of two socially -regarded giants, such as Hitchens and Blair to open our eyes to the possibilty of same.
Thank you for bringing this to my conscious attention.

The Blog Fodder said...

Well argued and perhaps it goes a distance to counter the deaths, the numbers of lives ruined and the misery caused by religions.
Religions are of man and as such are sources of both good and evil. We know how evil the world is on account of religion. We do not know how evil it would be without religion. Likely just as. Religion may not be the cause, just the excuse.

lakeviewer said...

Religion salvaged the best of cultural traditions, took care of the humblest and poorest, provided hospitals, schools, old-age retreats, serving those who couldn't find help somewhere else.

Governments slowly jumped in schooling everyone, providing safety nets for unemployed and the poor, regulating commerce, providing defense and safety rules and instruments.

Religion continued to maintain cultural norms, and charitable goals. Yet, it also became greedy and self-serving, building cathedrals of ego, ignoring its role as the conscience of the nation(s).

We're in a new phase, questioning evyrything, wanting to belong without giving up our identities.

Relision will re-create its roles and purposes to meet the needs of the generation nobody else is meeting.

The good books, in all religions, still speak to people with good hearts and good intentions.

Rob-bear said...

® Jacqueline: Thanks for coming by and visiting. Once in a while we need a gentle (or not-so-gentle) nudge to re-think our understandings of life.

® BF: Thanks for your thoughts.

® lakeviewer: I appreciate your insights, as always. I have no doubt that people with good hearts and good heads will re-create something wonderful, but it will be very different from what it is now. I'm not strong enough to take the lead, but I can do something, and I will.

Teacher's Pet said...

Rob...I want to read this again...and come back and comment more. My initial reaction is that when "man" puts himself at the center of religion, then man will make a mess of religion. That is my first inclination....right off the top of my head. I will be back....
Warmest hugs to you, Rob.
Jackie

Tattie Weasle said...

I was brought up in the Christian tradition but over the years I don't feel that religion has much to say for me and the reasons are this:
It is hidebound
It dictates what I should not should not beleive
It doesn't apologise
It is man made
It is divisive
More than that its proponents frighten me in general. It's the fervour with which they lead their daily lives and their wish that I do so too. I am quiet about my belief in God and I pray frequently. I just don't like people shouting about it. For me to see a good person is inspiring whatever their religious persuation and that is what will get people back into church. Doing good things quietly.

The Blog Fodder said...

Me again. Someday I want to write a blog entry about attempts to tame the savage beast. Humans have some very nasty characteristics hard wired into them and since the dawn of time, i expect, "religions" have tried to reduce or remove these characteristics or at least control them enough to help us live as a society. The ten commandments being a good example of rules to live by.
by and large all attempts have failed miserable to make any permanent improvement in us. Homo Sovieticus turned out to be the opposite of what was taught and Homo Penticostalus no different from Homo Atheisticus. Does that mean the attempt should not be made or that without the constant ongoing attempts of "religions" we would be totally out of control?

ain't for city gals said...

To me religion is different than faith...to me religion is a business and just like sports and politics it has become a BIG business and I have no interest in it. I like to listen to Hitchens..he is mostly calm in speaking and not demeaning of the other side...he believes what he believes and lets others believe what they believe. He is also very savvy in politics and I agree with him there...

Cait O'Connor said...

Best not get me started on Blair and his lack of morals.

Lori said...

I see religion and faith or belief as two seperate things so when I read things like this or that have to do with God or church, I have to remind myself that they are not the same.

I tend to be of the thought that if the leaders of the "religious" organization are believers or people of faith then, even though you still have the human factor involved, I do think it can do social good. On the flip side, if the leaders are not really believers but just religious, while I do believe that God still can use them to help or do good, I tend to see more coruption and self serving.

Just my 2 cents. :)

Rob-bear said...

It's taken me a while to start replying to this. Mostly because I've been thoughtfully considering what you've been saying. Thanks you all for your comments.

One of the things that has come up several times is the difference between religion and faith, and how the former is man-made and the latter is (I take it) not. I'm not at all comfortable with that easy distinction. Religion, as I see it, is "shared faith," which becomes the basis for human (and humane) action in this world.

® TP: Thank, Jackie. I'll wait for your further notes.

® BF (again): I'll wait expectantly for that post.

Rob-bear said...

® TW: I'm sorry I missed you earlier. I'm also sorry for your negative experiences. They are very different from mine.
I find the longer I live, the more reflective I become. And the more focused on people I he become, bringing something helpful to their pain.

® afcg: I've never though of religion as big business. I know that there is a particularly American (capitalist?) approach to religion which follows that bent, but I simply don't understand it. It doesn't seem "gospel" to me at all.

® Cait: I must confess I don't know much about Mr. Blair, other than that he was a politician. Which perhaps speaks volumes.

® Lori: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is, I suppose, human nature to want to give structure and substance to beliefs, so they can be put into practice. We need to be careful in doing that.