3.b.8 – Religion is a threat or a good to be protected?

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March 24, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Religion is a threat or a good to be protected?

From what has been afore said, we might think that religions are a constant danger for freedom because by their nature are traditionalists, carriers of authoritarian and dogmatic doctrines, hostile to any form of freedom, starting from freedom of professing religions different from the official one, and able to take away the capacity to freely think since we are children; we might therefore believe that religions should be eliminated in the name of freedom and progress.
Let us deeply consider what is the true nature of religions: are they truly traditionalists? This is perhaps their main feature because they are a tool to pass the cornerstones of a people culture to the following generations, in particular the values, the behavior, rituals and philosophy (considered as a collective mental map). Are religions by nature carriers of authoritarian and dogmatic doctrines? Only if they have to transmit a culture as authoritarian and dogmatic, like that of Europe derived from that of the Roman Empire and of barbarian peoples. The comparison with other cultures can help us to understand this concept: in Asia, for example, it is possible for an individual to be both Buddhist and Taoist, following two different religions at the same time, something unthinkable in the west also for the laics; yet we still talk of religions, their rituals and the devout attitude of their followers leave no doubts. Many of the features normally assigned to all religions are actually only peculiar of our particular religion and of our culture;  if we came from centuries of tolerance, freedom and culturen also our religious doctrine would have these features.
As we have said, in every culture there is both a traditionalist and an innovative side and generally the first one is dominant; the same goes for religions which, having the task of preserving traditions, leave even less room for innovation; but it has been observed that they also evolve along with the cultural heritage that hands down them.
All religious faiths have two basic components, a very intimate, called personal belief or path of faith, and a collective one formed by the official doctrine, from the system of collective beliefs and traditions in general; the second part is clearly entrusted to tradition, but to the first is given a minimum of interpretation and adaptation to the context in which we live; it is known that each person tends to adjust the religious precepts in his own way. When new values are inserted in personal belief and spread in the population, they end up being accepted by the official doctrine even though this can be contradictory with the earlier values; sometimes this process can take centuries, but sometimes just one generation, depends by the innovation drive existing in this population.
We can therefore say that religions do not produce intolerance, violence and obscurantism but transmit them, like every other cultural characteristics, either positive or negative. To eliminate religions is not necessary; once inserted into the individual belief the new values of tolerance, pluralism, freedom, adaptation, innovation etc.. these values, spreading, will sooner or later enter in the collective tradition and then in the religious doctrine. In our rapidly changing world, even religions for surviving must move their point of equilibrium as much towards innovation as possible and this means giving more room to personal belief, which is already happening in the West, even going against the opinion of religious leaders; these are in fact diminishing their influence on the population which is developing a new religious tradition. If therefore the ancient European religions fail to keep pace with time, they will disappear and be replaced by new forms of worship.
We have explained why there is no need to try to eliminate religions, but we can also say that it is absurd to try: for centuries in Europe religion has condemned sexual pleasure and has tried to repress human sexuality in all ways, as if it was a bad habit, a fashion to erase, but without success: why? Because it is impossible, is decidedly against nature, sexuality is deeply rooted in our biological nature, cannot be separated by humans, is like fighting against windmills, you cannot win this battle.
Paradoxically, the same goes for religions; man is religious by nature, is a cultural animal that has to transmit his system of beliefs, and the instrument nature gave him to do so is the religion. Religions can be changed, replaced, but not eliminated: some during the big innovative push had at the beginning of the industrial age, have tried to do it, but soon they themselves have begun to take religious attitudes towards their system of beliefs, especially in political and philosophical matters.
A man without religion thus will spontaneously produces another one, tailored for him, and try to spread it: it is clearly a psychological exigency deeply rooted in our nature, which explains why after centuries of rationalism, atheism, secular and scientific culture, not only the old religions have not disappeared, but new ones appeared, with considerable success.
Like cultural evolution, religions may in time take a positive or negative direction, it is up to us to guide them entering in them our new values and forgetting the old oppressive attitudes, the rest will come by itself.
We must therefore live with religions, and in the increasingly globalized world we must learn to do so with those of others; in this new context, freedom of religion assumes a new significance: in the past, it was not possible to choose which faith joining and this was one of the most obvious offenses to freedom of thought; considering that a freedom of thought implies the freedom of belief, freedom of religion is a natural consequence of the freedom of thought and freedom of expression which, as we know, cannot be separated; accordingly, freedom of religion also includes freely professing our own faith.
It is important now to note that freedom of expression can not imply freedom of outrage and this because every freedom of action must always remain within the limits of mutual respect; consistently the practice of religion must remain free within limits set by law, it cannot justify illegal actions made by invoking the freedom of worship, and the repression of that action is not religious discrimination.
In today’s world, where people with different faiths and once distant now live side by side, freedom of religion has also become a necessity for cohabitation and offers new opportunities to choose between new ideas, new models of behavior, new values and traditions, therefore greater freedom in general and new prospects for progress.
We can then conclude by saying that today religious freedom is a very important value and that the religions of the future, if enriched with the above mentioned values, may be an instrument in the service of tolerance, freedom and progress, but once again, this will only depend on us.

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