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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Religion: friend or foe

Published: January 20, 2012
Section: Opinions

In modern times, we are bombarded by subtle reminders of the dominance of religion in our world. For example, our pledge of allegiance states: “and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

It is somewhat eerie to witness the mass of monotheistic beliefs in the global perspective. Especially in the upcoming 2012 presidential election, the morality of abortion and same-sex marriage has been publicly debated. While this candidate debate is not necessarily novel, the common thread of the opponents of these specific arguments, is religion is a fundamental platform for the disagreements in ideology and—by extension—policy. My concern with this phenomenon stems from a question of whether religion is really what is says it is and whether this tendency of controversial policy being influenced by theology is helpful or harmful in the long run.

Before organized monotheism—think Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologies—dominated the global religious scene, much of the world celebrated polytheism. Most people believed that gods and deities were responsible for the creation and functions of every object in our universe. So, instead of praying to one god for forgiveness, someone could give offerings to the god of water, the god of the sun or even the god of the trees to keep them safe. People based their beliefs on things observable around them in nature and other people.

In contrast to this rooting in the concrete, modern theologies have placed themselves in a position where participants are forced to base beliefs upon “faith” in the unobservable. Personally, I believe faith is a beautiful thing to acquire. However, it is not necessarily a force that motivates individuals towards the impartial and universal decisions on which our national policy prides itself.

The human mind is beautiful, in that it allows us to think and exercise logic in the effort to gain a pragmatic conclusion. Romans 1:27 states “the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

This biblical passage is a source that is commonly cited by those who oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. The fact that it is commonplace for politicians and lobbyists to base their public opinion and their proposed policy on a religious text speaks to the unsettling prevalence of church-state interaction, even in our world. This debate stirs a controversy in the American political approach. In this decade—especially when looked at in comparison to the 1970s—it seems that civil rights have been stalled and progression in human rights movements have lost momentum.

Today, fewer than 10 states in the United States allow same-sex marriage, including Massachusetts, California, New York and Iowa. It seems that the rejection of same-sex relations on religious grounds influences legislatures in more than 35. If we continue to allow policy based on theology—particularly in a country that is firm in its separation of church and state—without skepticism or question, we are not fostering a government that is in-line with our own values as Americans, or making sure that this government is doing the best that it can for all, and not just religious, Americans.

As human beings in times of struggle, we instinctively turn to the easiest place for comfort and hope. In most cases, religion is that immediate source of consolation that much of the world turns to during difficult situations.

It is crucial that in these situations, we avoid the temptation to act like sheep and follow the majority. Instead of just doing what we’re told, we must at least sometimes open our eyes and question the reality of the situation.