Religion often gets a bad press nowadays. It's fashionable to speak of it as a thing of the past, or even a Bad Thing altogether, as you read yet another report of religious fanatics blowing people up, sometimes along with themselves. Look at the history of most faiths, and it's not hard to find all kinds of atrocities committed in the name of God - conquest, torture, child sacrifice, you name it, it probably happened somewhere, some when.
Not great, but it's not the whole story, not remotely. Religion has also been a hugely important force for the civilisation of mankind. Without the pervasive idea that each person is judged and held accountable for their actions over the course of their lives, the world would be a much nastier place. This concept is in all the mainstream religions and all of our cultures, even amongst people who claim not to believe a word of it. Everyone has a sense of right and wrong, even if they don't always follow it, and that comes mostly from religion. Without it, the birth of civilisation would have been impossible, and we'd probably still be living in caves and bashing each other over the head with rocks.
So next time you hear about some loony blowing himself up for God and taking scores of innocents with him, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, he's a loony, but it isn't God's fault. You don't really think he's right about it all being God's idea, do you? Of course not. He's just gullible, conned by evil men for their own purposes : politics, when you get right down to it. But against the handful of insane fanatics murdering "for God", you have to set the millions doing good for no other reason than it's the right thing to do - most of us, really, in our own small ways. Not many people like to think of themselves as the bad guy, and religion did that. Even if you don't believe in God, that surely has to be a good thing.
A question that is often asked by sceptics is "if there is a God, why doesn't he save the dying, end suffering etc"? But God must have a very different view of us than we do of ourselves. Most of the world's religions believe that when we die, some part of us goes to God. Would you "save" a caterpillar from turning into a butterfly?
Copyright © Jon Storm 2005