Nowadays, religious ideas seem rather old-fashioned in the Western world. Religion -and particularly religious rites and ceremonies– are seen as a cultural legacy that lingers on from the past. Although it is not in the same category as such patently mediaeval practices as astrology and alchemy, religion forms part of our history, and is of little use in the turbulent times in which we live.
I consider this view to be mistaken, as the basic issues for which religion seeks to find answers are always current, and are never conclusively resolved. These issues are the existence of God, the existence of the soul (as a differentiating factor that sets us apart from animals), and the survival of the spirit beyond the material life. Religion – and I’m thinking specifically of Christianity – has a response to these questions, a response which of course cannot be demonstrated, but nor does it appear as inappropriate. In any case, it can bring meaning and inspiration to some people’s lives.
Christianity and other advanced religions all preach some form of universal solidarity. Christian religion and morality, correctly understood, can thus be seen not as medieval and obsolete ideas, but as a crucial formula for the future. When over 2000 years ago it taught us solidarity and love for our neighbors, we were being shown a way to live and achieve salvation, even in the material world. The opposite road can lead to our own extinction. By the opposite road I mean violence, fanaticism, and the extreme selfishness that seems to be the order of the day in the modern world. They have always been around, but they currently exist in conditions that have never been seen before, and the result could be lethal.
Violence, fanaticism and war are as old as humankind itself, but today we have nuclear energy which could destroy the planet in an instant. The proliferation of nuclear weapons and the risk that they could fall into irresponsible hands are dangers which cannot be overlooked or underestimated. War today can be apocalyptic and definitive. But we are also seeing the presence of that supreme amorality -terrorism- whose aim is simply to destroy, to kill and to cause the greatest possible harm in the name of irrational and fanatical ideas. Terrorism and nuclear weapons are an extraordinarily hazardous cocktail.
Rampant selfishness follows hot on its heels, since the frenetic and pointless development seen in half the world -while the other half scrapes by or dies of hunger- is not a situation that can be sustained. The desire for prosperity is a positive force that drives a modern economy. But today this same profit motive has become an endless compulsion to have and to hoard. This affects in equal measures capitalists, the business community, and executives, as well as consumers who are never satisfied with what they have. When our basic needs are covered, other new and ever more absurd needs are invented, promoted through advertising and -if necessary- financed thanks to credit. The important thing is that the productive machine must never stop and that it should go on increasing in size for ever. This process is naturally aggravated by the population boom. This can lead to a depletion of natural resources, an increasingly polluted environment and an underlying imbalance in Nature. And all this takes place merely to guarantee the satiation of half the world. When the ostentation effect triggers the appetites and the development of the other half -which is only natural- the Earth’s resources will come under unsustainable pressure. The scenario will then be either a suffocated environment or an open war between nations for ever diminishing resources.
It is surprising to consider that 2000 years ago we were shown the way to avoid these evils: solidarity and brotherly love. It seems even more surprising that this message should not be given an enthusiastic welcome in a rational world. But it hasn’t, and -paradoxically- in my opinion it even seems to be losing ground. Given the rightness of the message and the apparently constant advance in the human intellect, it is difficult to account for this regression.
It is true that religious moral teaching is often swathed in a multitude of baroque formalisms which make it neither stimulating nor “useful” in the philosophical sense of the word. Its reluctance to move with the times and its failure to adapt to the modern world may partly explain this phenomenon.
Economist, Madrid (Spain)
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