Is there still a chance of religiousness?

By Klaus Döring

One of the most important parts in my life is the belief in supernatural power which governs the universe. It doesn’t matter which religion we belong to or believe in: the recognition of God as object of worship, the form of worship should be our primary need.

Religion can be a source of comfort and guidance. It can provide a basis for moral beliefs and behaviors. It can also provide a sense of community and connection to tradition. Some research even suggests that it may affect health.

Harking back to Sigmund Freud, some psychologists have characterized religious beliefs as pathological, seeing religion as a malignant social force that encourages irrational thoughts and ritualistic behaviors.

Of course, psychologists’ doubts — and those of countless others throughout history — haven’t curtailed religion’s powerful hold on humans. Religion has survived and thrived for more than 100,000 years. It exists in every culture, with more than 85 percent of the world’s population embracing some sort of religious belief.

Researchers who study the psychology and neuroscience of religion are helping to explain why such beliefs are so enduring. They’re finding that religion may, in fact, be a byproduct of the way our brains work, growing from cognitive tendencies to seek order from chaos, to anthropomorphize our environment and to believe the world around us was created for our use.

Religion has survived, they surmise, because it helped us form increasingly larger social groups, held together by common beliefs.

During my stay in some Western countries, I experienced icy and conceited comments such as religiousness isn’t popular any more. Religiousness makes people unwilling and morose because of exaggeration and sometimes even hypocrisy. Increasing negative headlines about the “institutional church” nowadays and also in the past, and embarrassing comparisons lead only to discord.

How come? We want to see the religiosity of our fellow creatures. We want to understand their ideology.

But we are also poking our nose into other people’s business too much. Let’s look behind the scenes and let’s find out what religious behavior promotes: humility in actual life. Maybe. It’s hard for us to do without affecting others. We even forget the real meaning of religiousness. St. John Crysostom subscribed to the topic “Pagans and Christians” very well: “There would be no pagans if we were good Christians. But the pagans see us manifesting the same desires, pursuing the same objects – power and honor – as themselves, how can they admire Christianity?

They see our lives open to reproach and our souls worldly. We admire wealth equally with them and even more. How, then, can they believe? From miracles? But these are no longer wrought. From our conversion? It has become corrupt. From charity? Not a trace of it is anywhere seen. (Quotation “Winnowing Fan”, Vol. XX, June 2003, S of G Foundation, Makati).

I am proud to have people in my surroundings who taught me how to be on the right track – unconcerned and unnoticed. Natural and uninhibited, they showed me how to put real religiousness into action besides praying and going regularly to church. I call such people religious. I mean it as praise because they don’t like to blow their trumpets while acting as Christians in our daily life. Having such people around us makes it easier to practice forgiveness.

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