One of the most popular social groups of the last three thousand years is religion. Although it has existed from seemingly the beginning of man, it is not yet clear why this organized practice has continued. Religion, as it seems, began to explain several different phenomenon. However, with updates in technology to explain these phenomenon, why do numbers of religious followers seem to be increasing? It can be said that hardly anyone currently believes that god or a series of gods are the cause of rain, fire, and other sorts of everyday occurrences. However, the following of a god or gods is still very much at large, and actually appears to be increasing.
This begs the question why. Why has religion continued to be so popular throughout the entire history of mankind? Many people are defining themselves by religious attributes rather than the conventional ethnic or social attributes (Jacobson 239). These views stray from ideals of nationality and toward identification by religious grouping. Are these ideas healthy for the people themselves, and furthermore are these ideals healthy for society as a whole? To understand why religion has prospered so well, one has to understand how religion has developed. The earlier forms of religion can, for the most part, be characterized by the lack of understanding of the people who existed in those times.
However sometime around the sixteenth century, when the world was becoming increasingly understandable, religion seemed to take on a new role, it is that role that is in question here. Why, if the workings of the world are coming into light, do we need religion anymore? It appears that religion in the sixteenth century began to form around ethics (Heilke 493). While most of Europe was under the conventional political system of religion, some European followers lived under systems of ethics (Heilke 493). The seventeenth century saw a dramatic change in the way religion was practiced. The political system of religion declined, and many rulers, including King Charles of England, used desperate measures, attempting to insure its future (Barbour 771). His efforts to build a “New Jerusalem” failed and like most other systems this political dictatorship died (Barbour 771).
This change in religious belief can be described by a “toggle switch” where one small input can translate into an enormous output (Blau 1160). This new wave of religious practice gave birth to the modern wave of religion. Modern religions are seemingly based on ethical codes, and identity to a specific church. Is this the lure of religion for most people? The question of why religion is popular can be mostly answered by describing the benefits of becoming involved in a religious institution. Actually religion still serves the purpose of explaining the things we do not understand. Most modern religions provide for some sort of explanation of the beginning of the universe, life, the earth, and other incomprehensible circumstances.
There is also the obvious benefit of having a close circle of friends who share similar beliefs as you. Religion gives its subscribers a sense of identity, but it also creates social boundaries from those who do not subscribe to these beliefs (Weber 607-610). In an article about religion in Great Britain Jessica Jacobson asked a Muslim the distinction between religion and culture (242). The response was, “Culture is a way of living in a society. Religion is living on your own ..
“(Jacobson 242). The benefits that are not directly realized, however, are the ones, which may be of the greatest help. Religion through its subjectivism provides an escape from the very disenchantment that rationalization and science produces (Weber 607-610). This sort of an escape from the harsh reality of life, is one of the most accepted views of religion’s prosperity. Perhaps one of the most widely recognized quotations of this century comes from Karl Marx who said, “Religion is opiate for the masses.” In the book On Religion Marx and Engels describe religion as a tool for society to alleviate the harsh reality, and burdens that are commonly dealt with on a day to day basis (1-30). Billions of people currently subscribe to some form of organized religion, but is it helpful to these people? Does religion serve a meaningful purpose in the everyday lives of the people it effects? Although the “good” religions may be worthwhile, what about the bad ones (i.e. David Koresh, Satanism, etc.) that continually hurt people? Religion helps individuals realize their own social identity, and become part of a group of their fellow peers.
The question of whether or not this is good for the individuals must be broken into two parts: Are the boundaries created by religious differences harmful to common subscribers? How strong and influential are the benefits received, and do they outweigh the boundaries that religion creates? Addressing the first question, the boundaries for religion appear to be much sharper than normal ethnic boundaries (Jacobson 242). In example, when Muslims practice vis–vis by fasting and praying for five days it is noticed by all non-Muslims with whom they have social contact (Jacobson 249-250). The boundaries created help to give the individual his sense of individuality and being different from those whom he is not affiliated with. This is a very good thing for most people. So, in essence these boundaries are good for the individual, however, are they good for society as a whole? The benefits of religion are seemingly indefinable as each different religion will hold different beliefs and henceforth have different benefits.
The benefits that are for the most part common to all religions are a sense of identity, a sense of hope, a sense of self-worth, and a way of lessening pain during dramatic and painful events. These benefits by far outweigh any boundaries created by such practices for each individual of that group. Despite religions that do nothing but hurt there are so many more that can do so much good. Religions that hurt are not often subscribed to and are most often short-lived or minute in number of followers. David Koresh and his band could only muster enough strength to last a mere three years, which in the greater scheme of things is a very short time.
So is religion good? For an individual, yes, but how good something is cannot be measured b …