Religious Influence on Myself and the World
By Theodor Kim.
There is no doubt in my mind that religion has had a huge impact on all of our lives in one form or another. Boundaries, political and social, have been pushed and pulled by religious movements. Families quarrel and unite over doctrines. It sure had an effect on mine. I was raised with deep Christian values for the majority of my life. My parents, while they were raised in religious families, did not practice until I was born. My experiences were very unorthodox. We were Christian, yet we searched for a church with a doctrine my parents could agree with. We tried different denominations and churches. At the core, we were non-denominational Christians, but we eventually turned away from traditional churches all-together. We finally settled for a congregation who was led by a man who was led to believe that the world was coming to an end as Christ’s second coming was near. We put a halt to much of our daily lives to commit to this. I realized later on that this was a cult, led by one man, as virtually every member would move on to extreme advancements on his teachings and most without question or criticism. Using various forms of word-play and numerology, he came up with a “rapture date” (a date for the return of Jesus) along with a date for the end of the world’s existence. He taught us everything including the whole complex method of coming up with the dates. We were well versed in the King James version of the Bible. So, time went by and nothing happened on those dates. The congregation broke up and different fragments of the group still continued to look for the end time dates. I moved on and continued school.
Needless to say, there were many people affected by this cult. People sold their cars, homes, and valuables and used the money to invest in spreading an idea that they believed in with all certainty. What was their personal gain if their hope of the return of Jesus turned out to be true? To be raptured. To live in a new world with Jesus in heaven was important to them, and to some, more important than their personal life here on Earth. But alas that was not so and now they work to recuperate their losses and move on with their lives, or for some, continue to search for the end date. Fortunately, I left and went to college and took science classes which sparked my already great interest in biology. As Christians, we were taught the creation story of God creating the universe in 6 days. We believed the universe was roughly 10,000 years old. When we went out on field trips or read science articles, we were told to ignore any geologist claiming that the Earth is billions of years old, or any biologist claiming that we evolved from a common ancestor as the rest of the animals. My science classes at first made me angry and uncomfortable listening to contradictory ideas to my beliefs, but soon I felt like I had no choice but to accept the overwhelming facts as stated by the scientific consensus. It only took a few years before I realized that the entire foundation of my fundamentalist Christian faith was completely shattered and I declared myself an atheist, and I learned to be skeptical to all doctrines.
I don’t think religion is as significant today as it was in the past. Sure, there is still outrage from the religious community when progressive political topics like gay marriage or abortion gets brought up, but as a whole, the world is learning to put aside religious rules for the sake of focusing on social issues like equal rights. I do think globalization has a lot to do with it. Before, people used religious rituals in hope of better crop or the ridding of disease, today we live in more populated cities where we need not focus about food and disease and instead we focus on living in harmony with our fellow man. In this aspect, religious rituals may get in the way, and having rules to judge a person by may get tiring. Europe and the United States is seeing a huge increase in non-religious people. Religion just means a lot less today than what it did in the past.
Our textbook speaks of three perspectives of religion: Materialist, functional, and faith. Materialist is the idea that religion was invented by man. And as an atheist, I obviously would greatly agree with this perspective. I believe religion today is just an evolution of ancient superstition, used to control the social ladder of the time, and explain things that were unknown. Where in the past they worshipped rocks sculptures and wooden structures, today the religious worship carved ideas. I believe religion is an ever-evolving artificial set of rules to press a certain agenda and press people to control the majority and it is often oppressive to certain minorities.
The functional perspective is the idea where religion is useful and can serve as a tool for social structure. Although I think religion is losing its usefulness, I do believe this perspective had an important effect throughout history. Religion had a huge role to play in the social stability of nations and empires in the past. Religion had an explanation for how things worked in nature. It served as a rule guideline to keep the masses in check. Nations kept their populace satisfied because of religion. When people had a sense of purpose, practicing their rituals in a place of worship and got “enlightened” with explanations of fearful mysteries, then relative peace can be kept. As for today, especially with religious apologetics and “liberal” religions, religion is a useful tool to keeping the peace and creating morals.
The perspective I have always had an issue since my Christian upbringing was that of faith. The faith perspective claims that there is a higher place or alternate reality where we can tap into and find truth, enlightenment, or the spiritual realm. As someone who was raised very logically, I did not understand my peers when they claimed they “felt” God or “knew” God saved their soul. Did they really “feel” anything? If they did, did not that mean it had to have had a physical explanation to that feeling? Did God’s children have a sixth sense or a receptor that I did not have? I never understood this as a Christian and never had this specific perspective. I held the possibility of the spiritual being on another dimension level, but if we could not perceive it on this world, then we cannot claim it exists. I was doomed to atheism!
I believe studying religion can help one understand the mindset of the people within that social group. I believe it is important to understand mindsets of people in different social groups so productive interactions can exist between different groups. In a world with so many diverse peoples it is important we get to know and understand each other. Religion is an inescapable factor of our world’s history that must be faced and understood.