Religion in the Modern World

By Guest Contributor

 Religion has been crucial to human cultures for millennia, but it appears to have been dwindling in importance for the about the last century. Although God does not change, our culture has been rapidly transforming since the Industrial Revolution. It seems that our desire for happiness and accumulating wealth has replaced our passion for finding meaning in a world that was previously filled with suffering. As our culture becomes more and more secular, we should ask the question if religion and our contemporary consumer culture can coexist. Have our current passions replaced our passion for the truth? Can we be independent of God if all our basic needs have been met? Do the creature comforts that we so enjoy fulfill us or corrupt us?

For many religions, a critical element of their philosophy is to find an answer to the meaning of suffering. If there is a just God then why must we suffer? In Christianity, the answer can be found in the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus. His suffering was the means by which eternal life was attained. Most other major religions such as Buddhism, Islam and Judaism all use some form of suffering as a means to achieve self-transcendence or a greater good. From a more secular point of view, the psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, in his magnum opus, Man’s Search for Meaning, states that love is the answer to suffering. He realized this concept as a Holocaust prisoner while he contemplated the daily tortures he faced at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was convinced that his seemingly unimaginable suffering was worthwhile for the chance of even a minute of seeing his wife if he were to be released.

The meaning of suffering is an essential idea when trying to find meaning in one’s own life, but what if there is little to no suffering? Humans have often used religion as an answer to suffering. If there is no suffering, do we need religion? For a majority of people from developed countries, true suffering is not an issue. Most of us are well-fed, clean water is basically free, heating and air conditioning protect us from nature’s elements and we are seemingly never alone as social media and cell phones create a constant connection between us.

Humans across cultures and throughout history have used God as an answer to their problems, but now our culture has shifted from relying on God to relying on money and technology as panaceas for our troubles. Unfortunately, in a way it does allow us to be independent of God, although I believe it is a short term and insufficient answer. Our creature comforts definitely bring us happiness, but they are too superficial and fleeting in nature. Being overly enveloped in our industrial civilization does not seem like a legitimate reason to deny the importance of religion in one’s life. Although I do not think that this is the conscious reason for many people, it is likely an underlying root cause of this phenomenon. Having wealth and security does not change the existence of God or the importance of religion; it just changes our perspective on life. I think that if we created a less materialistic culture, we would be more inclined to contemplate the deep, philosophical issues that humanity has historically been trying to answer. This dilemma brings to mind an old Scottish tune:

Will the space that you’re so rich in

Light a fire in the kitchen,

Or the little god of space turn the spit, spit, spit?

We can only perpetuate this state of satiety for so long until our morals and ethics begin to be compromised.

Regardless of whether abandoning our materialistic culture will lead to a religious life or belief in God, it will undoubtedly lead to a more meaningful way of living where we can appreciate many of the things that we often take for granted. Maybe we will begin to think more about the consequences that our economic habits have on the globe. Questioning the purchase of goods that are produced by laborers working in unjust working conditions and contemplating the effect that our investments have on the environment are significant strides in the right direction. Whatever direction you choose, the end goal should not be to accumulate the most wealth or produce the most goods but instead, to do the most good.

DYLAN SINNICKSON ’15 is from Sands Point, N.Y.