There is both a historical and contemporary influence of religion in the world. The fact of the matter is that much of the effort to explore, to create, to understand has been a result of religious inspiration.
The philosophical musings of some of the most brilliant minds have been motivated by an attempt to understand how and why we exist.
The music of Handel, Bach, and others all were all the more memorable by their performance in the great halls of the church. Who is not touched by the ethereal sounds of a Gregorian, Buddhist, or Islamic chants and songs?
Thus the undeniable influence of religion begs for an analysis of its value to the betterment of mankind.
Whenever a person of faith speaks of their religion, they focus on the mostly good people of similar beliefs and the good done in the name of such faith. I think this does a disservice to the truth.
When it comes to religion, there is a twist on the Shakespearean line about the “good that men do….” The good done in the name of religion conceals the foundational evil. An evil that is more troubling by the willingness of most to ignore it and some to actively promote it.
Religion by its very nature is intolerant. To be a member of the Catholic Church you must embrace the tenets of the religion in its entirety. There is no such thing as doctrinal choice. Ask any priest if it is acceptable to believe in the transubstantiation of the host but not the refusal of the church to recognize same-sex marriage.
The answer is simple, no.
Religion has fought against science for centuries not out of a sense of avoiding truth but out of self-preservation. There is a direct correlation between higher educational levels and lower religiosity. That is not a coincidence, it is a well-known fact that religions have fought against over the millennia.
History is rife with examples of religious extremism. My co-writer points these out in his take on this topic; the Crusades, the Inquisition. Today we have the extremism of radical Islam. This radicalism is the best illustration of the vested interest religion has in keeping its adherents uneducated and dependent on the Imams (or priests) for their understanding of the world.
Science may not have all the answers, but science took us to the moon while religion sent two planes into the World Trade Centers.
I see the contemplative side of religion as beneficial. The power of the human mind to explore the mysteries of life is encouraging.
I see the insistence on including religion in the public square as dangerous. The competition for self-preservation is a powerful motivator. As long as religions seek support, they will seek ways to undermine ideas or societies that threaten them.
The Catholic Bishop of Rhode Island felt the need to interject himself into the Presidential campaign recently by criticizing the political philosophies of the Democratic party. In particular, their stand on abortion.
Perhaps the good Bishop should re-read (or read for the first time) the Johnson Amendment. I have no issue with the Bishop speaking as an American citizen in professing his particular political philosophy. But when he speaks as an official of the Catholic Church, for all intents and purposes he is speaking as the representative of a foreign government. There is no place for such interference in our political process.
Religion has its place in the life of many people. For them, it offers some answers to the question of our existence. It does not offer the only answer, nor does it speak to all of us.
Is religion a force for unity or division? The answer is simple. For those who hold similar beliefs, it offers unity. For those of differing philosophies, it fosters a division. I think it better that religion act as a more private, internal guide and leave the public forum to an informed but secular society.