Religion – good or bad?

An article in the Times (Samuel, 31.8.23) laments the sad decline of Christianity: that this should be mourned. Few of us would disagree with the basic premise. The writer is right to suggest that churches of all faiths have helped to structure and support community activities for many centuries – and still do. Society is built upon the foundations of religious belief, much of it as Christianity. Regardless of whether we call ourselves Christian or not, or whether we believe in any God, there is little doubt that religion has long established a sense of ‘good’ across many societies: that must not be allowed to die. 

This writer quotes the 2021 census: showing a 13% drop in people calling themselves Christian – down to 46.2%, with a 12% rise, to 37.2% , for those of us who have no religion. I am one of the non-religious, yet have nothing against religion per se. On the contrary, I admire the faith that true religious belief can inspire. Church was a place where people with like minds gathered together, not only to say prayers and sing hymns, but to ask about each other. Well-being abounded in church-based communities. There are now fewer places left where people gather on the basis of geographical proximity. Neighbourly contact has diminished. 

Does part of the problem stem from our growing obsession with phones and tablets, as well as spending much of our time in ‘non-places’ – such as hotel lobbies, shopping centres and on motorways, where humans are alone and anonymous: where there is little in the way of spiritual, social or cultural life? Is this sense of lost Christianity part of a broader loss – more to do with the way humanity is moving? Have we lost a sense of belonging? 

However, one statement in this article invites debate: that ‘the common factor for evil and exploitation is not religion but humanity.’ Yet, is not the inhumanity of some shaped by their deeply embedded religious views? We only need to look back in history – at the persecutions and torturous murders that have taken  place, in an attempt to impose religious belief upon others. Henry the Eighth and his daughters had much to answer for as blood on their hands, and ongoing religious tensions in N. Ireland are testimony to the evil, performed by humans from across the world, in the name of religion. 

Why? Religion itself cannot be held responsible for anything – being merely a belief – without reason. Only humans reason, and act on their beliefs. How then, does religious conflict grow? Most beliefs are instilled in us from childhood, from having attended church from when we were little, and performed certain rituals with our parents. Religion, firmly instilled in minds and hearts, has often become a way of life from constant practice. 

That’s fine. I have no argument with ways of life that portray religious beliefs as ‘good’. Where it goes wrong is when beliefs become other than personal – when they are imposed upon others who do not share that same belief: the Taliban’s treatment of women being one example from many across our cruel world. Religion has always had the potential to be dangerous in the hands of certain humans who use that potential to wield power. 

So, while I too lament the decline of that community spirit that religion can still provide, might we also need to invent new prayers and hymns that lean into the future, focus more on the sad state of our present world, and invite all humanity to come together and improve? Christianity still has a key part to play – but it needs to move forward.

Sylvia Edwards has written numerous books, mainly on education (Routledge), focused on improving outcomes for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: her third edition of ‘The SENCO Survival Guide’ was published in 2022. She has also self-published ‘Time of the Virus’ (2021), a reflective, thought-provoking book about humanity. Her first novel ‘A Lie Never Dies’ was self-published in 2023. 

« Back to Blog