Without principles, we lack possession of ‘our’ lives. Inside every human being, lies a quiet desperation, which aches and longs for acceptance and the essential amenities such things accompany. Religion with its doctrines, scriptures, and rituals constitutes a reality that communities can hold in common. It satisfies our need for meaning, reinforces shared values, provides rites of passage, and is something to hold onto in times of loss and grief. Religion is an intersubjective reality, which draws a community together and enables it to work cooperatively with a common purpose.
Most importantly, it causes us to see life from different perspectives. However, with worship and adoration comes fear. A universal code of conduct, with the fear of God to ensure compliance. An institution that provides solid guidelines and rules with social control, and teachings that punishes those who are not following the standard of that religion: hence we feel trapped in a mental prison when religion is supposed to promote liberation.
Mental prison is defined differently from person to person. In Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing the Way You Think Dennis Greenberger, discusses that our emotional reactions and behaviors are strongly influenced by core beliefs. Core beliefs are essential to the individual’s cognition. Cognition comprises beliefs, thoughts, and interpretations about the self or situations. Simply put, one’s cognition is the meaning one gives to the events of their life. Our core beliefs are seen as personal fundamental truths that apply in all situations. They are formed early in life as a result of our experiences and may change later in life as a result of the changes in our perspective.
Greenberger supports this by explaining that a way to change a belief is through shifting our point of view and developing new perspectives and awareness to change the way we view things (Greenberger). Therefore, the tendency to gravitate towards religion is common because religion is built on beliefs, thoughts, and interpretations.
Religion by definition is a social construct. A social construct would simply be any ordered system of meanings about either material or ideational formation. Religion is an institutional manifestation of any ideas as recursive practices, rationalized thought-of orders, or lived-in experiences to appeal to a power beyond the “natural order of things”. Religion often demonstrates objective morality, thus enslaving and manipulating followers and controlling not only how they act, but how they think too. In Catholicism or Christianity, there’s an inherent set of morals and principles written in the Bible that are strict to be followed or the individual will face the consequences. For example, homosexuality is condemned in the bible and interpreted as immoral. My journey with this set of morals has always been difficult. As a devout Catholic, for years, I tried time and time again to deny my acceptance of my sexual orientation. This had negative repercussions on my beliefs because I felt trapped in a religion that is supposed to be built on love, acceptance, and peace: yet followers of Catholicism contradict the Bible’s teachings by dehumanizing those who are gay.
However, throughout history, religions differ in their sense of morality. Though morals are supposedly personal, they have such an encompassing intersection with religious principles that they become a part of society. And they change with social changes. As stated above with the example of homosexuality. Although it is a personal orientation, still society debates about it, and people have opinions about it because morality is inherently subjective. Even if you believe in dogmatic religion. In moral foundations theory, there are multiple quotients used for morality, not all of which are used equally by different ideologies and peoples. Each combination of the moral quotients is perfectly rational and is self-evidently moral to the end-user, but to the outside viewer, the ideology may seem foreign and nonsensical. For instance, under the moral foundation’s theory, consequentialists believe action is good or bad based on its outcome, what effects it will have on society or what the past has shown its outcomes to be. And then, there are non-consequentialists, who believe in absolute ‘good and evil’ and develop rules for judgment from the Divine Command (Brown). Meaning ‘God told them.’ Both are valid moral systems, but each is invalid to the other, which leads people to different moral and ethical views. Overall, people need to understand and accept that all people are equally moral, but not all morality is equal.
In other words, when most people are tasked with saving a family member or a stranger in a life-or-death situation and can only save one, the majority of people will save that loved one. This is also how morality works. The most important are given the most consideration. So this alone says that universal morality cannot work, as your value for others is dependent on your attachment towards them, or the differences in core beliefs. Universal morality would imply you treat all people with equal kindness and respect, which few others do in real life. You’d be more likely to shoot a masked burglar in your home out of self-defense than a beloved family member or close friend also there for the same reason as the burglar. This is my case for why universal or objective morality is dangerous when it comes to the influence of religion. Sure, you can be absolute in your state of beliefs of morality, but that does not mean morality itself is absolute. Even if you believe in God and believes God’s word is absolute, it is still a belief you hold, not the universe itself.
As we go on as a society, our religious interpretations evolve and change over time. Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, Galatians, David, John, and the wheel spin on. Individuals want a simple, clear, 100% unquestioned answer. It will never exist, because of language, translation, and culture. However, in my case of Catholicism, the Bible isn’t a singular text of rules. It is not a history book or a science book. To be frank, it is not even a singular book. The Bible is a library of books all written by different people in different periods. Their scriptures argue with other scriptures and thus contradict each other. And if that weren’t confusing enough, add the countless scholars throughout centuries that have disagreed and created different interpretations of what the texts meant. I take the Bible very seriously. I have devoted almost my entire life to studying it. I refuse to let it be reduced to a simplified rulebook. I refuse to let it be used to condemn people because it is not meant to condemn. I refuse to let it be used as a tool to mistreat and harm people. And finally, I refuse to let it be a reason to imprison our minds. Instead, the bible is a collection of poetry, stories, songs, etc written by real people in real places at real points in history. They were struggling to make sense of their place in the world and their relationship with the Divine. The writing is messy, gritty, and filled with mistakes because that’s what it means to be human. It’s also filled with immense beauty, passion, with struggle. It tells the story of a people struggling with who’s in and who’s out (and a God who is always calling them toward more inclusion). It’s the story of a people who struggle with what it means to do justice (especially in the face of Exile and Empire). It’s the story of a people who struggle to make the presence of God known through how they behave. The Bible still has immense relevance today but only if you read it the way it was meant to be read, not as a rulebook full of easy-to-understand facts but as a testament to the human struggle to connect with God and do right by each other.