Lifeways

20090915tu-flower-400-DSC09582Summary. Our social problems (such as war, poverty, crime, drugs, vandalism, and exploitation) are to society what illness is to the body. Like illnesses, the majority of them are preventable and caused by human choices and actions rather than some phenomenon of nature.

Blame. The blame for our societal problems is often placed on religion, politics, or economics, with one group claiming that their model(s) will bring peace. The economic model of Capitalism is under attack by those who claim that Socialism is the answer. Political parties claim that the problems are caused by the other party and if everyone would just join their party, all social problems would go away. Religion is often blamed as the cause for most wars, although security or economic interests are often at the heart of military conflict.

Causes. It seems that whatever political, economic, and religious models are in place; corruption, greed, selfishness, ego, power, and other influences remain. The answer isn’t as simple as changing an economic model, political regime, or religion. We need a transcendent change that would result in equity and fairness for all people regardless of the models involved (political/economic/religious). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights may hold a key to solving this problem.

Seeking Good. There has always been a community of sometimes widely dispersed yet mysteriously cohesive people seeking to do good. These people are found in all religions, nationalities, political parties, ethnicities, and in various times of history. There have also always been people who are self seeking, ego driven, selfish, sectarian, insensitive, and inhumane. These people also are found in all religions, nationalities, political parties, ethnicities, and in various times of history.

About Villains. American physicist Steven Weinberg, apparently understood the physics of human nature when he stated, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.” Of course, a world-view that sees only good and evil is overly simplistic. Yet, for purposes of this article, these labels will be used.

Failed Religious Leaders and Institutions. It’s true that religious institutions, indeed any institution, can potentially establish a mechanism that pressures good people to think and/or do evil. Villains depicted in plays or movies often seem to be aware of their evil deeds, yet callously unconcerned. These villains are sometimes examples of real-life villains. The most interesting fiction and real-life villains are those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. The failings or hypocrisy of some religious people, particularly leaders, is a favored topic among those who would like to criticize religions. It’s true that bad people sometimes are drawn to religious practice and institutions for the purpose of:

  • Hiding behind religion and posing as pious in an effort to whitewash their villainy and true character.
  • Twisting religious teachings to support their own agenda, and justify their evil teachings and behavior.
  • Using positions of power to manipulate large numbers of people and thus creating a following.
  • Using the celebrity status of religious leadership to boost their ego, fame, power, and influence.
  • Using religious observance as a means to balance the scales and feel okay about other things in their life know are wrong — such as the pastor or religious leader engaged in infidelity, drug use, alcohol abuse, gambling, or some other self-destructive behavior.

Religion’s Potential for Good. Those who desire to do good in this world, and make the world a more peaceful and livable place for all, are comprised of religious and non-religious people. Some people see and embrace religion as an effective personal tool for more efficiently serving others and working toward a better world. Such religious people  find that religious practice and study can help strengthen character and develop insights into the human condition. So, religion is simply a tool, intended (hopefully) for the good of the individual and society, yet unfortunately misused at times.

The Matter of Salvation. No single religion “is the answer” to the world’s problems. Increasing the number of people (religious and non-religious) who desire to individually and cooperatively do good and help heal the planet — this is the answer to the world’s problems. Most devout believers in any religion will tell you that their religion, in itself, is not going to eliminate all problems from a person’s life or the world. Religion can help people endure life’s hardship and grapple with life’s challenges, but not eliminate them. The primary point of disagreement between religions is with regard to salvation. Some sectarian religions preach that theirs is the only faith and practice that will ultimately lead to salvation and eternity in heaven. Yet even these religions would acknowledge that it’s not enough to simply put on a badge of membership to a group. According to the devout, you must truly, ultimately, have a one-to-one relationship with God. Teachings such as those found in the Christian scriptures of Matthew 7:21, Matthew 21:28-32, and Romans 2:13-15, suggest that it isn’t those who are self-proclaimed religious zealots (of any religion) that will be saved, but instead those who do right and good. In this, the humanists and people of religious faith are in agreement. This writing does not intend to define which religion, or denomination, has a corner on salvation and truth, but instead the point of this writing is to inspire people toward obedience to their inner conscience and impulse to do good, regardless of their religion or lack of religion (see Paul’s plea of Romans 2:13-15).

God’s Existence Proven in Nature. The argument is made that God’s existence is proven simply through observation of the order, beauty, and complexity of nature. The Christian scripture frequently sited is Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” While this is a persuasive argument, it leaves out the question of nature’s brutality, either in the animal world where lions ruthlessly tear apart their prey, or seen the the indiscriminate devastation of an earthquake, tsunami, or hurricane. These characteristics of nature don’t support the notion of a “loving and caring” God, but instead a chaotic and irrational universe. So, the relationship between the nature of God and the nature of nature remains an incongruous mystery (unless it reveals that God is harsh and randomly destructive).

Good Will Triumph Over Evil. The idea that good will triumph over evil is a common theme found in many stories, plays, and movies. At the outset of this brief article, it was established, or at least the premise was set forth, that a universal community of inherently good people have existed throughout all time, in (and out) of every religion, and among all nationalities and ethnicities. It has been said that a positive future is possible, and inevitable, if we believe it to be so. If we don’t believe it is so, then it isn’t (or won’t be). Our actions are our shared future are simply the fruit of a tree that we call faith, hope, and belief. Our thoughts are the sap of that tree — for nourishment, or a withering demise.

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