Religion’s Purpose

I am beginning to think that a great number of people have completely missed the point of religion. I have read numerous articles on the purpose of religion, some scholarly and some not as scholarly, and I have to say that I believe they miss the point that our contemporary culture needs to have addressed most. It’s great to say that religion “binds us back” to this and that, but that is about as relevant as a glass of water is to a drowning man.

The real question that screams to be answered is: “Is the purpose of religion to blindly carry on antiquated world views, understandings, and values; or is the purpose of religion to determine what the message is for today underneath language and worldviews that as contemporary people we can no longer accept?”

For example, an honest study of the Ten Commandments from the Christian tradition reveals some pretty big problems from a contemporary perspective, not the least of which is that the applied primarily to Jewish males. The Commandment, “Do no murder” applied only to Jews – you could kill as many foreigners as you could lay your hands on. Despite the fact that American Foreign Policy seems at times to believe that American lives are somehow worth more than foreign lives, our laws are quite clear that murder is murder. There’s no free pass for knocking off a European tourist, even though it might be tempting at times.

The Commandment to not commit adultery applied only to women. Men were free to sleep with as many women as they could afford. Clearly that’s not a moral stance that makes much sense to us today, although some men act like it might. We haven’t had much problem updating that concept. We have also pretty much done away with biblical dietary laws, the practice of the ritual bath for women after their period, and a host of other provisions from the ritual and purity codes. We do start getting a bit selective here, however, as it is from this list of mostly rejected codes that the passages homophobic Christians like to say prohibit homosexuality are derived. It would seem that the practice is that if the code prohibits something I do, I throw it out – but if it prohibits something I don’t do, we need to enforce it. It’s profoundly inconsistent, which means it is profoundly muddle-headed though that sits behind these selective practices.

Religion, regardless of which religion we speak about, gets into a pile of foolishness when it selectively insists that contemporary believers so compartmentalize their intellect that when it comes to religious and moral thought we should adopt a two to six thousand-year old world view, but in every other way we should live in the real world. It’s from this place that untold foolishness and bad behavior springs forth, behavior that hardly qualities as either healthy, moral, or religious. It’s also this unwise practice that has done a lot to contribute to the implosion of institutional religion.

Healthy religious thought looks at the teachings from the history of the tradition with an eye toward determining what issue or problem they were trying to address and then does the hard work of translating that teaching into contemporary times. We now understand there is nothing about having a period that makes a woman “unclean,” so we don’t carry all her bedding outside the camp and burn it. Clearly, the antiquated beliefs we choose to hold on to in our traditions are products of our own ignorance, biases, and hatred and have no place in a healthy religion or a healthy spirituality.

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