Human religion

By Eric Magazu

People tend to follow all kinds of ideas about religion, and others reject it outright. Many rationalize the idea of religion as being superstitious or a holdover from the past. When new students arrive on college campuses each fall, it can often be a time of putting away many of the traditions from home. If we persist in religious expression, we will encounter so many different people and contrasting opinions that it may be impossible to know if what we are following is really true.

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It seems to me that what most people think about religion is heavily intertwined with heritage and culture. Religion has its roots in the many rituals that we perform as part of a larger community. When conflict occurs between different ethnic groups, religion gets brought into the disagreement as a way of maintaining cultural cohesion within each of the opposing groups. I would argue that the many “wars of religion” have actually been wars between different human groups, with religion only being added as justification.

If religion is simply a form of cultural expression, does it have any role in discovering truth? The existence of a universal truth for which we ought to be searching is not a commonly accepted notion today. That is especially true if we assume that only extremists maintain the search. If there is any truth at all, then I think it is best left to scientists to figure it out.

Does the idea of religion as a cultural practice have anything to do with truth, and does truth have any connection to the existence of God? I argue that religion doesn’t have much to do with truth or God, and instead I would place it within the realm of being human. Religion is a cultural practice, and indeed it does possess a lot of value on a human level, but little value in relation to a higher power.

What may make my assertions seem strange is that I’ve come to this view not from consulting the leading philosophers or top scientists of our day, but from looking at the Bible, and especially the New Testament. I don’t think my understanding comes from an esoteric understanding of the text, but from a cursory reading of what to me is relatively obvious.

From what I’ve read of Jesus Christ, it seems he sees only minimal value in the ritualistic aspects of religion. The only people to which Jesus appears to show anger are the ones who are the most religious in society. Instead Jesus offers a radical invitation to salvation to every individual he encounters.

For Christians, Jesus introduces a new way of looking at our relationship with God, a way that didn’t exist prior to his revealing of it, and hasn’t reoccurred since. The concept to which I’m referring is called by the English word ‘grace.’ In English, grace implies a way of handling the stress of the world with poise and dignity. I’ve often seen grace contrasted with strict justice. In this way, grace takes on definition similar to that of mercy, like a judge who releases a criminal early rather than make him serve his full sentence. Both of these examples contain elements of truth in them, but don’t go far enough. They remain in the human world.

As for the ethereal world, I once heard a sermon delivered that extended the definition of grace in a way that was most intriguing. The pastor seemed to challenge a major premise of religion, which is that of reward for good deeds and punishment for bad deeds. The idea of grace replacing the concept of reward and punishment is not new, but she extended it in such a way that she put the entire system on its head.

In a typical understanding of Christianity, we accept that it’s nice to do good things for other people, and we then assume that God sees what we have done and provides us with a reward in heaven. But with this understanding, the heavenly reward goes to the person who received the benefit of the good deed. In this way, they receive a double reward, both an earthly one and a supernal one, and they may have done nothing to merit either.

It seems unfair that the person who is doing the good deeds is not getting the credit for them, but this is part of the understanding of grace that we are given. We are not judged by the merit of our own goodness, but rather on how we react to the goodness we are given.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]