Question: Can religion offer something that secularism cannot?


If someone were to say that religion is nothing but pure evil, I would have to reply that that person is absolutely, positively, undoubtedly wrong. From their respective origins to the current day, different religions all around the world can be seen to have common benefits, the three most important and oft-cited being a sense of community, a channel for charity and, of course, having an answer to all of life’s questions.

Mosques, churches, temples and synagogues all have the exceptional ability of bringing mass amounts of people together and making everyone feel buddy-buddy. Just watch the National Baptist Convention, and you’ll agree that it looks like unbelievable fun.

However, secular institutions bring people together as well. Just about any club or organization, regardless of whether it’s religiously based or not, can give members a feeling of belonging and a sense of camaraderie among their fellows. So, you like getting together on a weekly basis and reading old literature? Join a book club! If you enjoy being in theatrical performances, even if it’s just for the holiday season, I’m sure the local community theater will be more than happy to find a role for you.

Okay, but what about all that charity work the Church does? No matter how irreligious you are, you can’t ignore the fact that religious organizations help the poor and needy — one of the main pillars of Islam is to give to those who are less fortunate than you are. But every opportunity to do a good deed through a church or synagogue or temple can be equally matched by a non-religious organization. Goodwill, Amnesty International, Rotary International and UNICEF are just a few examples of organizations in which good happens without God. In fact, unlike religious organizations that can get tax write-offs without necessarily doing charity, with charity-specific organizations, you can know your money is being used directly for helping those who need it.

What about explanations? What other institutions can give an answer to all your questions from “What career should I pursue?” to “What exactly is my purpose on this space rock?” Well, none really. Admittedly, no secular institution can answer all of life’s questions and mysteries — but hey, religion can’t necessarily answer them all either! We’re all prone to mistakes, and undoubtedly priests, rabbis and Dalai Lamas give their share of bad advice. They are human, after all.

Science does answer many questions and explain many mysteries about the universe. But, unlike religion, it never claims to know the purpose and role of every inch of the cosmos. Science admits its limitations and, because it is grounded in reason and evidence, the answers its gives can be proven to be effective and realistic. Science, however, lags behind when it comes to answering personal questions. Go ahead and pray to the law of gravity. When all you get is concerned stares from those around you, it might be time to take responsibility and realize that some decisions you just have to make for yourself.

For me, perhaps the only thing religion truly offers is convenience. It ties up all these benefits into one neat package, making the people you work at the homeless shelter, the friends in your Bible study group and those with whom you talk about life’s mysteries the same people. As well as being the “one-stop shop” for the aforementioned benefits, religion is convenient because it is so abundant and easy to access. Unless you’re currently residing in the Transantarctic Mountains, there’s guaranteed to be at least some place of worship nearby. It’s evident why so many people choose religion.

The things that religious institutions offer are either non-existent or not exclusive to religion. Still, regardless of what people think about atheism, it should go without saying I am not against religion when it does good things. If you want to volunteer to help a church group build schools in Mexico, fantastic, more power to you. While religions do have their benefits, I find the atrocities committed in their names have historically outweighed any good they have done. And if they happened to be the only institutions around that did good, it was probably because they were the only institutions that were allowed to do good. Just take a look at medieval Europe and you’ll see the Catholic Church had a monopoly on morality for over 1,000 years. In that case, if you say religion is unique in the benefits it offered people, you might not be totally wrong — but you still wouldn’t be right.

  Jay Grafft is a third-year communication major.

This article appeared on page 8 of the Friday, March 1, 2013 print edition of the Nexus.