Positives and Negatives of Religion

A reflection on Chapter 5 of “Faith, Religion, & Theology: A Contemporary Introduction” for my fall semester religion course.

     Upon reflecting on the chapter “Religion: Why Bother?” from the book “Faith, Religion & Theology: A Contemporary Introduction” by Brennan Hill, Paul F. Knitter, and William Madges, I have had a chance to see the bigger picture of the benefits and problems presented by religion and religious interaction in the world for my Religion class. These are presented in a more organized way than they are usually shown during research and media attention regarding religion. When researching or reading into this topic, personal biases, inaccuracies, and fallacies in argument can obscure the understanding of the real situation. Though it is shown through a decidedly Christian, theological, “pro-religion” view, it still serves a valuable purpose in highlighting the main points of the arguments against religion and its study.

     Two attitudes are presented in the first part of the chapter, the “ho-hum” and “watch out” positions. These are shown, through the admission of the author, to be potentially legitimate positions for the layman to take in his view of religion. The idea of the “ho-hum” position is an unenthusiastic idea of religion. It tends to be visible in the attitudes of many modern people who feel they don’t have the time to reflect upon the spiritual or to participate in religion. It is less a critical position and more an apathetic approach to religion, while the alternative “watch out” position is openly critical of religion and religious institutions. Without knowledge of the alternative views of religion, or of religion’s potential for good, these views are potentially well reasoned and not entirely without merit.

     The problem with both of these positions is that they result in a restriction of dialogue about religion. The apathetic observer sees no reason to study religion, or even to keep it alive. Someone with a serious dislike of religion will aggressively oppose the maintenance of religious conduct, perhaps even of its study. If religion is a “crutch” or an “opiate” as Freud and Marx stated respectively, then it is something to be disposed of. This thinking may result in a refusal to hear the alternative position of religion as an emotional tool for self improvement, or even to pay attention to it as a fascinating social construct to be studied.

     Greater issues of self understanding are where the greatest personal benefit of religion can be found. Many people, myself included, feel the need to grasp the meaning of their existence. Religion, for good or bad, fills that role for someone who doesn’t have the free time to mull over the greater questions of the universe. It provides a platform from which to become better people, and in many cases it succeeds. The dangers of religion are present, but the positives can result in psychologically healthy individuals capable of dealing with larger philosophical and moral problems, without being philosophers themselves.

Works Cited

Hill, Brennan, Paul F. Knitter, and William Madges. “Chapter 5 – Religion: Why Bother.” Faith, Religion & Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1990. 133-58. Print.



Filed under philosophy

4 responses to “Positives and Negatives of Religion

  1. Thank-you. There are times I wish I could just really discuss with the ‘Watch Out’ ppl rather than get overwhelmed with a barrage of standard and stereotypical critique.

    • Michael Sweeney

      This is definitely true. I don’t have a problem with their brand of criticism, and I think that skepticism is a perfectly legitimate position, but when it impedes reasonable discussion it becomes a problem. Criticism/critique is one thing, but when they resort to Ad-Hominem attacks (or worse) it becomes impossible to make progress. I must point out that members of both sides are common culprits of this.

  2. Did the author clearly offer a definition for “religion”? If not, what sort of definition of “religion” was the author presuming?

    • Michael Sweeney

      The author doesn’t specifically give a definition for religion, but the questions he poses and ideas he suggests are clearly based on the great organized religions such as Christianity and Islam. Mostly the critics of religion he deals with are Freud and Marx, so he is dealing with post-enlightenment organized religion.
      This book doesn’t really deal with smaller, more localized religions but the whole course I took was about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; so these were the kinds of religions we discussed. I am currently taking a course on the eastern traditions, so we are dealing with many of the sects of Hinduism and Buddhism which are a bit less organized, but there are unfortunately no courses on truly primitive religion available to high school students at this college.

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