A main function and attraction of religion is how it serves to develop community. It binds people together and makes them feel safe as they are able to trust and work with each other within a common, well-delineated culture.
I have found the arguments for and against purism in religion very murky water indeed to tread. If I were to believe in something, I believe that most of us do have an inner guide that can be developed to foster positive relationships with ourselves and with others. Many people have noted the existence of this inner guide. The monotheists tend to believe that it is the voice of God talking to them, whilst the animalists/spiritualists tend to structure such around a notion of give-and-take/ecosystem perspective of our role on earth.
There is a statement I once heard, which has yet to be proven, but may serve as something worth considering: “Those who are drawn to the study of psychiatry often feel that they have something wrong with themselves that they wish to understand.”
I would say that a similar situation holds true for religion. There are some very kind, thoughtful religious leaders who truly do their best to foster health, peace and love within their communities. And then, there are those who are drawn to it because they feel themselves lacking a moral compass, and perhaps by studying religion this thing called ‘a conscience’ should become clear to them.
The problem is that most of us, at one point or another, feel unsure or inadequate in understanding the scripture. We require leaders to set the pace, inspire our continued sense of shared purpose and feed this vein. This has made authority necessary in religion.
And this has made groups of people vulnerable to leaders who are perhaps not as well formed as they profess to be.
The problem with religion is that, because it is inherently a group activity, majority rules. This applies to various scenarios where group-think (or lack of judgement) prevails: You are in a meeting and someone says something erroneous. You look around, no one is voicing dissent. You leave the meeting and whisper to a friend : “By the way, when X said Y, I think there was something wrong with that statement?” and your friend says “Oh! I thought so too! But I thought everyone agreed…” but the decision has been made.
Often-times, this conversation never happens, because questioning is written into the unspoken creed as possibly blasphemous. And for the average believer, unless authority is gleaned through a life-long study of the holy writ, one does not have the right of consulting one’s own conscience.
And when it behooves the faithful to be true to the scripture, even the objects within the text that go against our basic, innate conscience MUST be incorporated – often at the cost of our humanity.
I feel (at great offense to some friends), that in communities where the sectarian social mores are less secure, a higher percentage of people look to religion as the moral guide. In places where you feel no recourse to being leered at, from being touched without permission, from being spoken to disrespectfully and having the right to call out people on it… I am also talking about places where authority is abused regularly and is not called abuse – by policemen, by insurance companies, by teachers, by parents. This acceptance of authority poisons our ability to truly respect individuals, nor can we treat each other kindly. For if we cannot hold that everyone can be flawed, then how can we treat each other with charity? It is by suspending belief in the frailty, and strength, that each of us is capable of, are we able to elevate certain individuals over others.
And if we attribute our own failings constantly to an outside source: “the devil made me do it.”, then we are never responsible for necessary acts of restitution.
You know what makes me happy? Remembering, each day, that I have only one life. You know what pushes me to treat others carefully? Knowing that they, too, only have one life. There are transgressions beyond which I cannot pass, because I would be destroying the opportunities for others to experience their living with as much of the privilege I myself feel in the facts of being human and alive. So mine is not a state of insecurity, staring into the abyss. My understanding of life makes me treasure the very fact of it. My situation in life allows me to be generous and wish happiness for others. This for me is adequate. I do not like to complicate it by attributing acts and intentions to a separate entity, and feel so insecure of my understanding of His/Her intentions that I must seek a middle-man to elucidate what should be spoken directly to my heart. Nor spend my days spreading the message that is spoken to me which I ought rightfully to attribute to my own inner voice, and not mislead people by giving it the authority of a higher power.
And as much as we may all be hypocrites and fail to recycle. We may be able to strive within our limits to keep the sanctity of living intact.