By Fr George Adimike
Nowadays, it feels romantic to think of the banishment of religion. However, without religion, morality has no firm foundation, no supernatural content and context and can most likely produce mischief-making egomaniacs. Therefore, perhaps the most fundamental question for every living person is: what is the meaning of life? Answers to this question place God and religion in their proper context. Is the world from a Creator or by chance? If there is no Creator to whom we account, then anything is possible. Without an adequate understanding of the human person, the race to reach the pinnacle of possibilities could lead societies to self-destruction. As a result of a mistaken understanding of the human person, parameters for the measurement of human success fall short of reality. In particular, life stripped of the right purpose becomes vagabond, thus turning an existential journey into aimless and fatalistic wandering. As it advances, it breeds ethos without logos, and ultimately it misplaces priorities, leading to over-pricing of material progress as the sole measure of meaningful existence. This crisis gradually becomes the God-crisis whereby humans practically pretend to have outgrown God and bash religion as a scam.
The accusations that religious people have been engaging in atrocities inform this disposition. Unfortunately, wars, injustice, marginalization, exploitation, witch-hunting, exclusion and corruption all have happened in the name of religion. These atrocities are revelatory of human nature, and they affirm Thomas Hobbes’ position that human life in the state of nature is short, brutish and nasty. With his mistaken ideas, Ludwig Feuerbach influenced Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud in adopting their inadequate positions. They held that religion is opium and wish fulfilment project of the unconscious mind in which man is both the subject and ultimate object of religious worship respectively. Despite all the imperfections in the practice of religion, its absence will undoubtedly spell doom. Napoleon recognized that it is the religion that stops the poor from killing off the rich. In their focus on the evils committed in the name of religion, people generally ignore its significant contributions. As it were, since sinners are harsher on fellow sinners (cf. John 8: 5-9), people bereft of perfection are the majority of the activists that criticize imperfect situations. There is no gain denying that from the beginning of human’s existence, there is never a time the praxis of religion has been perfect. Yet, any society that abandons the path to the supernatural is bargaining for destruction.
As human existence meanders through mediations of understanding and vision, faith in God becomes the motor of a purpose-driven life. And similarly, religion supplies the right values to the end-tailored existence. By so doing, faith in God and practice of religion become coefficient factors in life equation. Arguably, nothing harms countries and cultures as moral disarray in which ineffective, destructive or unreliable compasses compete at an equal plane. Without fear of exaggeration, Godless world would be a hell and a world without religion would be a jungle of beasts. Religious precepts help put in check the free-flowing instincts that can destroy us.
Religion is a structure of a relationship through which people are bound by a collective search for meaning that gives an enduring orientation to life. It binds them together relative to the object of their search and journey. Religion informs and influences the pattern of behaviour of self and society, precisely because no one is religious alone. For Emile Durkheim, it is a social reality. Religion prepares persons to conquer themselves, develop their potentials and ameliorate their conditions by offering them a canvas to paint their life. Unfortunately, mass illiteracy and fundamentalist bigotry against other religious families have contributed to creating a wrong narrative about religion. Many intellectual descendants of Feuerbach that control social and intellectual megaphones lead the chorus of religion-denouncing choirs. Yet godless ideologies, materialistic atheism and anti-theistic politics have inflicted far worse menace to humanity that makes the ills of religious men pale in magnitude. On account of her “Adamic” nature, humanity continues to demonstrate a libidinous crave for evil. The world of human affairs is messy and would be even more brutish and nasty without faith. In the absence of a transcendental moral compass―objective standard―that transcends time and space, taste and caste, might becomes right and laws serve the overlords.
It is easy to make a binary comparison between the so-called knowledge and religious economies, giving the impression that the so-called religious economies are underdeveloped while knowledge-based economies are super developed. Nothing is more deceptive than that. This kind of claim misunderstands religion and therefore misses the whole picture. Without exonerating the nuisance of religious charlatans, nations are generally poor because of multiple factors, including but not limited to bio-geography, bad policies, policy somersaults, lack of access to capital, corruption and poor policy implementation. It often escapes attention that the whole of Western nations without exception developed on the foundation of Judeo-Christian faith. Japan is founded on Shintoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, which are thoroughly pervasive in their culture and grounded their race to progress. Imprecise knowledge of the Asiatic religions of the Asian tigers warrants the claim that Asian nations are of no religion. China is often cited as an example of a non-religious country that excels. Frankly, this position is as wrong as it is ignorant of the real situation. China has both conventional religions and state religion. Chairman Mao (Mao Tse-tung or Zedong), recognizing that without religion no nation can make progress, offered China Maoism. The difference is the object of their religious allegiance. Similar to the pre-Christian Roman Empire, the object of Chinese religious worship is the state. China practices the religion of the state called communism. Moreover, the USA is a typical Western nation that is both very religious and highly developed.
Perhaps in a bid to rescue humanity from frying pan, unconscionable secularists are pushing humanity into a lake of fire. In actuality, nowhere is headache cured by cutting off the head, and so, we cannot solve the algebra of religion by burning the algebra book. The situation in the anti-theistic and secular nations is a necessary caveat for the religion-bashing choirs. For instance, the secularised developed countries have alarming incidences of suicide not prevalent in developing religious nations. Religion offers a powerful coping mechanism; it sells hope, which drives people into and sustains them in active engagement with the world. The value of this hope becomes very manifest at the moment of personal crisis when all the frivolous arguments against religion at the night of one’s experience disappear. Through faith, one rightly feels enraptured by the divine grace and finds no justifiable need to police mystery, which one knows by experience.
A world without religion is a world that either claims to have outgrown God or reduces divine relationship to private affairs, which contradicts the interconnected, interdependent and corporate nature of human existence. Without God, the world surrenders to dangerous fatalism where everything follows the rubric of chance. The absence of supernatural context to life empties it of richness and significance and institutes arbitrariness as its norm. In other words, a world without religion would be full of despair, depression, frustration and suicides. It is a world in which humans become wolves to others without qualms of conscience, and nothing prevents the poor from killing off the rich. It is not that these evils do not exist in a religious context, but the scale will be tremendous. In such a world of might-as-right, the powerful can dispossess one of the valuable possessions at the whims. Due to the lack of supernatural reference point, there will be no fundamental basis for rights, liberty and possession.
Without religion, charity and social action would be at the whims of the practitioners. Moreover, religion has become the whipping boy for the woes in many African nations, and wrongly this system dysfunction becomes the warrant for animus against religion. Granted, many religionists have grossly abused religion. There is no gain mentioning the havoc some religious fundamentalists wreck in the name of God. One has to think of the exploitation of religion for pleasure, power and wealth, and to achieve that, the perpetrators turn it to the opium of its adherents. Yet, the negligence of religion by some of the so-called developed societies spells doom and signals self-destruction in the name of freedom and pursuit of happiness. A demographic doom that threatens the existence of many of these societies, causing a few young people to sustain the elderly, is a bracing illustration of this fact. Thanks to migration, many of these societies survive and thrive. Without migration, their economies would crumble, and they will be overwhelmed by melancholy and death. Finally, religion with all the imperfections of its practitioners is still a force for good, while the consequence of its absence is unimaginable. No matter how the present-day disciples of Auguste Comte try to argue, humanity can neither outgrow God nor religion.
*Fr. Adimike is of Onitsha and writes from Rome