Religious affiliations account for just about 88% of our global population, while only 16.3% are unaffiliated to any religion. That is about 9…hold on midnight mental math at work here “6 and 8 is 4…9, 10?” According to a published 2012 Pew Research on the global religious population, the vast majority affiliate to a religion largely identified or not. In contrast, a minority identify as ‘nones’. I skimmed past an article once that used the word ‘nones’ to describe atheist, agnostics, anti-theist, etc. people that were too shy for labels. Anyway, to what I am to convey in anticipated long-winded paragraphs. It fascinates me, still, that we have human beings- in the existence of a modern world- that still believe in a higher power and the second coming of a rewarding death [or new life]. They still believe that the answers to human suffering is a clasped hand in prayer, a hymn, a meditation, a song, etc. Humans still build these great small, yet significant, buildings for collaborative prayer and community involvement. I am in awe here, just how influential these religions are to many others, whether they accepted as a child or grew to become devout. In fascination, in awe, since this is a modern world where unanswerable questions have been answered. A modern world where we can actively prove, scientifically, the truthiness of an extraordinary claim. And yet people still believe.
I will have to limit this essay to those most likely to have access to education beyond traditional means. That means most likely to have access to information to educate oneself or to be educated about religions, their history and impact on the world and of other scientific pursuits and ideas. Specifically I will refer to a nation and religious majority that I am most familiar with-that being the United States of America. A nation where the vast majority are Christian at 70% and are aging. A comparative study conducted by the Pew Research Center has found that while affiliation to religion, Christianity specifically, remains high the numbers are in slow decline. We are witnessing more so now a population of people, growing, and while still young, either unsure or sure about the religious claims by the Christian faith. We are slowly witnessing a population of youth questioning the existence and the purpose of a higher being. I find that too fascinating, since I am part of the young sure and labeled as an atheist. Here I am not concerned by those who challenge religion on it’s grounds. Instead I am here to write about what keeps a modern population religiously devoted to what we now know, regardless if it is acknowledged, to be human-created and constructed. What I have summarized is despite the wide access to information and education about religion, there are some inalienable uses for it still.
I have found that religion is useful for comfort and is familiarly useful for comfort. There is a quote posted and shared somewhere on social media that essentially stated that as an atheist we have no traditional means for comfort. That is, when confronted with the idea of existential crisis and of life existence we are left to understand then to accept alone. As an atheist I have been faced with the idea of our exact purpose based on the history and scientific understanding of our development. We are simply the product of a star born in space. Along with that we are one of many genetically similar DNA copies of one another, or we are no more special than another. Expand this scope to our solar system. Our planet is one of many planets.
Our solar system is one out of 100 billion or so within our galaxy. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is one out of 200 billion galaxies multiplied by 10, within our observable universe. And how many universes are there? This has yet to have been discovered, so we play with the idea through science fiction. My personal favorite to date being Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), an anticipated future essay. As my astronomy professor demonstrated-on the free activity field on campus, we are truly insignificant. And I remember feeling truly insignificant as a child as I became more sure of being a ‘nones’, an atheist rather. How did I cope with this profound discovery? In regards to our insignificance: I am glad to be a part of the age and time where technology, technological advancement, scientific research and more scientific questions are being asked about our existence and beyond that we can only imagine. I do not think we serve a greater purpose on Earth, as I think we are just as other animals and creatures, though more advanced or better able to be curious and to be aware. This greatly differs from the religious as they are told to believe that their existence is significant, and more importantly, significant to some higher being that exceeds the basic human form.
In conversation with my family, they often tell me in some variation that ‘I know that for whatever obstacles are thrown at me, God is there with me and I know it’. In their minds their purpose lies within their belief of significance. They believe that they are significant, and of course able to adapt to the Sun being the center and that there are other planets. They believe that their God created them, and placed them on Earth that is bountiful with resources. And in return they give their devotion and obedience to their creator, their father and God as a form of appreciation of this gift. Therefore, whenever they have issues with existence itself, or ‘is this all there is to life and living’. They were taught to believe that Earth is simply a test for his people. Or that the reward for their living a sin-free life is to meet Jesus Christ, God’s son, in heaven by death. Then ultimately, those who have the chance to witness such an extraordinary event, the rapture then will allow God’s believers to ascend into heaven. By this belief they live their life relatively without anxiety of greater questions. Religion proves as a greater sense of comfort in dealing with mundane details of human life as well. That being dealing with emotions of love or in dealing with a crisis. Their belief still proves as a safety net for whenever life for presents itself.
As I have felt some devastations, disappointments in life, my family thinks to comfort me with their religious thought. They tell me, ‘in this world you have to believe in something and that don’t have to be what believe, but something’. They tell me this because I will face obstacles in occupations, lifestyles, living arrangements, relationships and the like. They tell me that they are able to endure all of this because they know that ‘God is always looking out for me’. The message does not offend me, instead I subtract the religious dogma and take the already understood lesson for what it is exactly. Religion does help, in a way to provide an ease of comfort whenever life becomes overbearing. What is harmful in believing that if you had to skip a bill payment on a necessary utility that the landlord became forgiving because of God? Well you have just disregarded the kindness of an individual as being dictated by a higher power. Therefore, meaning that an individual is no more responsible for their self and actions than you are for a skipped payment. However, this is comforting to you that God is watching you and that he loves and cares for you. And despite all else you have God. Praise Him, Praise Him, Praise Him!
Religion as a form of coping mechanism for the greater anxieties of existence, and of mundane details of human made obstacles and emotions is also out of familiarity. How do we learn how to comfort ourself or to comfort one another? Well we saw or grandmother praying once, perhaps asked ‘why does she pray?’ We see our parents in church singing and dancing about. We see a congregation of perceived happiness in the church, house of God and prayer. And others may ask how does one go through life knowing of the anxieties and obstacles that came with it? There is a song titled It’s the God In Me to illustrate that response. People use religion as means of comfort because it is familiar. It is what they were taught indirectly or not in how to cope with life. It is what they were told when they ask another person seeming to have their life in order, or not so much, or at all. So they continue to believe, and to believe for comfort.
For a Moral Ground
Atheist are often criticized as those being without a moral foundation. We may be asked often, if we so reveal ourselves, how do we determine right from wrong? Albert Einstein stated best:
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”
Basically, I know to treat my fellow human with kindness. Or that if I see you are either able-bodied or not, young or old, gender being unimportant I will still hold the door for you. If I see that you are homeless, or not even, we all struggle with money trouble from time to time, I will give you cash if I have it. I will give you a car ride from and to your destination free of charge. I will volunteer my time by picking up and beautifying the community. I will donate food, donate clothes and choose for those in need. I will thank you when you are kind whether in silence or not. I’m that driver that allows other cars through and in front, if I can, when turning into a lane or turning out of a drive way. I’m that restaurant manager that will give a free meal. I made my point well and clear in that aspect. As well, I know not to kill and that war is senseless, wasteful and destructive. I understand, too that suffering is not kindness; or that brain death should not be sustained. I have morals and I know right from wrong based on how I would wish to be treated and simply, it’s humanely right. I do not require a religion to tell me so, but others, many others do.
We may disagree on what is considered moral and what is not, as some tenets of faith are the product of previous archaic human biases and ignorance [i.e. homosexuality deemed as amoral]. However in some acts of kindness and views on violence there are some commonality or agreement that this concept or that action is either wrong or right. There are examples of kindness that Christians may live by example. Of course, as I stated, I will do good for those in need too. Though I do not require a verse within a book to tell me so, I understand that a Christian may so require that guidance. This is assuming that all Christians in fact read their holy text, as I find many within my own circle of influence do not and have not. So I then ask in return, how do you know what is moral and what is not when you do not ever read your holy text that tells you so. Their answer lies within their name. They are Christian and they were taught vaguely that Christian means kindness, forgiveness, minimalism, and friendship to likeminded good Christians. So they are good to others because they were taught that is where morals are founded.
Because it is Tradition
Based on the number of Christians there are in the United States- just as the numbers there are for Islam in middle eastern countries-we know they believe based on circumstances of birth. This means that you are more likely to claim a religion that is familiar, or that you were raised to affiliate with, based entirely on where you were born. If your community is Christian and Baptist, then your parents are the product of that community, therefore your faith was already predetermined before birth. This includes those adults that find religion without exposure while young, or with limited exposure; I’m sure many of you still chose Christianity. Of course there are outliers, or those that believe in a different religion entirely as adults. This is why I indicated ‘many’, as I am too an outlier, however, chose not to believe in all of the above. The same aforementioned Pew Research studies are finding that many Christians are simply Christian in name only. As in they identify as Christians because their parents were, and then their parents were before then. You see they may vaguely claim to believe in the Christian god in the face of others, but there is no strength to their testament. They cannot tell you a Bible verse, or know that there are many versions of the Bible. They may very well spout something that is not stated within their faith if their politics and comforts are challenged. I’m referring to the people that retorted ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’ fervently during the debates of allowing same-sex marriage, or marriage equality legally and nationally. They are Christian because that is what their community has identified as for decades. In a way they are still believers because they have not challenged what they do not know or care to know. Instead they are the type of apathetic believers in a sense that they will believe for paradise.
If you are one those that believe because it is tradition, you do intrigue me as well. Because the stepping point of you becoming either devoutly religious or ‘nones’ is a simple interest in all that I have typed here. It is with these interests that we are finding a steady, yet slow decline in believers. Only one Google search away, only a page within a chapter to read-whichever you may choose.