Religion is gradually losing its grip on the societies playing lesser role in defining the values or guiding people’s daily lives and countries’ politics. This process is irreversible though it may take many more years to strip the religion off of all its powers making it nothing more than just an exotic ritual, symbolic Christmas tree, lavish Iftar or just a fairy tale told to the kids before they fall asleep. This is simply due to the fact that the services and products monopolised by the religion in the past are now being offered by many others in more diverse shapes and better qualities – some may call this result of the free-market economy! In my opinion, set of values, morale, ethics and spirituality are the services and products manufactured and offered to the consumers like any other goods and services. To some extent capitalism contributed towards the demise of the monopolies by creating competitive environment including monopoly on manufacturing values and morale.
Contemporary radicalisation on the religious grounds of some parts of societies (both Christian and Muslim), recurrence of fundamentalists in seemingly odd period specifically points to the religion’s crisis – a desperate move before it begins crumbling and collapsing. Ironically, this is best understood by the clergy itself, so this process is going to intensify, in my opinion, during next several decades – survival tactics.
In early and mid stages of human evolution religion played a very progressive role in building communities and societies. Moral, ethical, behavioural and social regulatory norms were first introduced by religion and clergy. Clearly humans collaborated and communicated much better and efficiently having common ground rules. At a later stage religion acquired more political function as it grew larger and its influence expanded to all aspects of human life. As human societies became larger, more complex and more sophisticated so did the clergy and religion forming themselves as a separate entity, at first dominant and later parallel authority to the civilian, military, political and economic “management” of the early societies and states. Religion and clergy positioned themselves strategically by being the only authority defining set of values and daily behavioural norms i.e. mainstream around which social cohesion of smaller groups occurred. Hence, its authority and powers were not or were rarely questioned by either public or its ruling elites.
While religion and clergy played a unifying role it inevitably highlighted the differences with other societies. Faith and religion became one of the discriminatory criteria among various societies often used as a pretext and justification for acquiring political, military, demographic and/or economic gains by one group over another.
In the past religion was an excellent tool for managing societies and states, internal and foreign affairs, regulating relationships with other nations, allies and rivals. As science, communication and human collaboration expanded defying national and geographical boundaries religion became an obstacle rather than a facilitator of human cooperation. It became an outdated tool, forum and reference for those humans and nations aspiring to global contemporary values that primarily means forming open societies, tolerant communities where diversity (racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, etc.) is more celebrated rather thanfeared. Economic interests will increasingly guide and define human cooperationacross the borders undermining significance and importance of the ethical and moral values.
Religion had several components and ingredients in it making it appealing to the societies: 1) Faith – higher philosophical values and conviction; understanding and interpretation of the universe; what is good and what is evil; link with the universe, the God; what is eternity, how we get there i.e. hope and promise of immortality; 2) Social – behavioural norms and morale, ethics and guiding principles for managing daily life, which is largely defined by and is specific to cultural environment offering sense of belonging to a group, to like-minded people – justification for social belonging; 3) Political – foundations of unity against others, shaping the cult of an enemy, mobilising communities to commit violence and to sacrifice themselves for the sake of higher values such as religion, nation, homeland, etc.; 4) Science - “objective” or a third-party answers/explanations of the wonders of this world and unexplainable events. All in all religion covered all aspects of human lives and provided guidance on all questions and dilemmas. It entered its crisis as alternatives to the religion emerged offering choice as well as the means of a broader view and more independent judgment. Each component mentioned above evolved into independent, self-sustainable disciplines distancing itself from the religion.
Societal values evolved and besides religion people have now other reasons and motivators to bond, cooperate and coexist. Politics became more elaborate and more linked to the economy and resources whereby religion is not any more in position to ensure convenient foundation for the political doctrines. Science has developed to the extent that it has challenged religion itself. Importantly faith became more personal, private and independent self-exploration inner process taking into consideration values of many differentcultures, religions, different sets of beliefs, morals and principles – more and more people have “tailor-made” and individual, unique faiths. Humans saw the world beyond a dogmatic and orthodox set of norms, realising that they can choose and design them themselves rather than submitting to the imposed templates and blueprints.
While religion is a communal phenomenon - presumably unity of people with similar faith - the faith itself is rather individual, private and intimate matter to me as I do not think that any two persons can have identical faith. Simply because the faith is formulated, shaped, and defined through personal experiences, information, education, exposure, reflections, analysis and conclusions. Faith is more sincere, honest and self-driven inner process of understanding and subsequent independent conclusions about life and the world around us.
Religion seems to me a public manifestation of just one type of faith, communally agreed upon by self-selected groups of individuals. This is an agreement among these people who believe that they have seen and understood the truth and therefore, it is their duty to enlighten others. In principle, this is a noble mission and I think that “the fathers of religion” meant good for people. However, such groups miss to understand or accept that their faith is one among many others and by portraying them as the only right ones they try to dominate others, depriving others of their own intimate process of unreserved self-exploration. In essence this is a very orthodox (my way is the only right way), patronizing and rather arrogant attitude.
To me faith is so private, intimate and personal – opposite to the religion which is group-based and public - that in broad terms I compare it with sex. Faith, like sex, is about the relationship between the two (could be more than just two, but only by very few): communication and relationship between a person and the God. In that sense religion is like an orgy – it’s a relationship among many through a third-party with the God. Manifestation of one's private and intimate things to the public and telling others that they should share the same - like religion does - is like having sex with your partner publicly and trying convincing others to practice sex exactly in the same way as you do it. This is to say that faith became religion when self-selected individuals i.e. clergy, brought their privacy to the masses rejecting that faith could be diverse and personal.
Religion and faith of a person - in my opinion in the majority of cases – do not necessarily match, or are the same. Unfortunately, many people do not realize this, or they are trying to avoid lengthy and perpetual self-exploration, which could be quite painful. Eventually they submit to a franchise “ready-to-eat” beliefs’ systems i.e. religion.
To me the role and place of a religion in any society is about extent to which individuals are entitled to their private and intimate matters without patronizing and dogmatic interference of the society. Do we call these personal liberties and the right to privacy? Well, I do and I think that in those countries where religion and clergy are strong, personal liberties and respect of privacy is very weak.
I do not think that it is about the existence of the (or a) God. I do not have anything against him or her being around in any form or a shape, or even not being there at all - each person can believe in whatever he/she wants. I do have a problem though when personal beliefs and faith become societal - this is what clergy and religion do.
As also said earlier, religion just lost its role and function, it just became outdated. Simply because there are many other alternative tools these days to stimulate and conduct social bonding and cooperation process among people. Similarly, in the modern politics and the governance there are quite a few andmore effective means of acquiring and maintaining the power. Therefore, religion stopped serving its original purpose (it has exhausted itself): neither societies nor the politicians need it any more… but not necessarily either realizes this.
I think that the contrary is happening to the faith. It has traditionally been based and linked with the religion, but now on the wake of the religion’s weakening and with many more societies questioning it, it had acquired a new meaning: itcould be very unique, individual and it does not have to fall within the framework of a “franchise”. Therefore, many people are in search, or trying to define their faith looking closer into the science, politics … referring to the new sets of moral values such as human rights, environment, globalization, etc.
Eventually individual, personal and intimate outlook on the world (faith) is going to ostracize collective, dogmatic and orthodox one (religion). I will cheer to this, if and when this happens.