Religion is a movement centred round the life and teachings of a personality who in a number of cases gave his name, willingly or not, to it. In the course of history, certain personalities were made into the centre of religions, others were not. There is a basic concept which would appear to be common to the most widely spread religions : human beings are held to meet one another with respect, if nothing else.
Religion thus becomes closely associated with Society. In fact Society provides a religion for those who want it. Religion meets certain needs experienced by humans : It goes beyond death. It offers life after death. It proposes to save man from annihilation and incorporate him into a different world. It is true that man is expected to work hard in his earthly life, and the kind of place he will achieve in the other world will depend on the efforts displayed in this. Which makes sense.
Religion provides guidance for man’s earthly life in the form of rules or commandments which have to be obeyed. In one religion in particular there are ten basic commandments, the observation of which should guarantee a smooth functioning of Society and peaceful coexistence of all men. These have been handed down in writing. There is an eleventh commandment based on oral tradition : You must not be found out.
Apart from solving the problem of death, religion has the advantage of offering an interlocutor, a third party, a kind of referee to whom one can turn when at one’s wits’ end. It is comforting to know that this third party is almighty and is able to bring about things humans can’t , a power stronger than one’s worst enemy. There is a special form of address to this power, called prayer. Some people say prayer is a conversation. However, it seems as if the human being is doing all the talking. The conversation would therefore appear to be one-sided. It is true, there is a saying to the effect that in prayer the most important thing is not what humans have to say, but the other party… The presumed existence of a super-power has the advantage that man has something to refer to and lean upon. Throughout his life he can hang on to something stronger than he himself whenever he feels like it. This saves him the trouble of standing on his own feet, a tedious, tiring and hazardous undertaking, using up energy which might be more profitably spent.
When the problems of mankind become very great, all the resources of religion are made use of. People are threatened by punishment, if they do or do not certain things. People are reminded that they are all brothers and sisters and should behave accordingly. (Perhaps the metaphor is not too well chosen.) People are called upon to unite their efforts in prayer, preferably worldwide for real impact. Days of worldwide prayer are introduced, representatives of all denominations assembling in colourful and televized gatherings, praying for peace, for example. A day of prayer for peace, an urgent appeal to a super-power to help us out of our mess. The question ‘Who is responsible for the problems?’ is rarely asked, and the idea that those who are responsible should be called to task, if they fail to remedy the situation, has never been voiced.
It is curious to see the effect of religion whose basic teaching is that humans should respect one another and this worldwide : the effect seems to be the very opposite ! History shows that whatever religion teaches, people do not respect one another and this is universal. There is even evidence that for all the time religion has been existing mankind has gone from bad to worse, possibly not hesitating to destroy itself. Of course, once this is achieved, there is no point in religion any more.