COLUMN – Religion for a better society
Last week, I wrote about the increasing number of people moving away from religion –– a trend that we cannot afford as a society to ignore. Rather, we should seek to analyse the reasons and how such a trend would impact our nation.
The population census conducted over the last 20 years confirms the growing number of people here and in other parts of the world choosing None as the category on the question of religious affiliation.
I ended my column last week with the hope that such a trend would ultimately be for the better and positive improvement for our society. My wish is that even though increasing numbers are moving away from established and institutionalized religions, such people would still have belief in the Creator, spirituality and the core values that faith teaches as their guiding principles. I would hope that people who have chosen None as their religious affiliation would not have moved completely into a materialistic approach to life, devoid of any spirituality.
Perhaps some solace may be found in a point made in the article last week: “It’s not exactly correct to call them non-believers, because some still have faith and spirituality in some sense or another. A 2012 Pew study noted that
30 per cent of these people believe in ‘God or universal spirit’ and around 20 per cent even pray every day.”
One reader made the point that the followers of “religion” over the years have contributed to the negative view that many hold today of “religion”. This viewpoint is true to some extent; however a careful and truthful analysis of the various religions found in the world today proves that the true face of the various religions is not the negative picture oft-times painted by the mass media.
For centuries, religious beliefs of the world’s major religions have been hijacked by followers whose real motivation is nothing but evil, greed, pride, power, control and many other wrong and inhumane desires. The reality is that the vast majority of followers and leaders of the world’s religions are decent, law-abiding, God-fearing human beings who have used their faith and all the good that it teaches to enhance themselves, the society around them and humanity as a whole.
True belief in God and having sincere faith bring to an individual a great deal of comfort, strength and blessings. And I acknowledge that many atheists would argue that they have the same with no belief; and perhaps they do. However, researchers have shown that families who have strong religious values are the most likely to be successful, contributing members of a given society.
In fact, the data shows that, overall, the always-married intact family provides children with more wealth, greater happiness, better health and educational opportunities, and more stability than any other arrangement. And the spiritual benefits loom large as well. Families who worship together tend to stay together and pass on to future generations more benefits, and are the bedrock of moral principles.
Today, many people are lamenting where we as a society are heading in terms of our morality, decency, character, generosity, kindness and so many other positive attributes that our nation once boasted of having, but now seem to be lacking. Perhaps we as a nation must look critically at where we have lost the role of faith in our everyday lives. Faith in God brings a very important ingredient to the life of an individual: accountability. If an individual truly accepts that he or she is ultimately accountable for his or her actions, then such an individual would always ensure his or her actions are in accordance with what is good and right.
And, as human beings who at times are weak, we may overlook that accountability and do something not worthy. Then that faith also helps us to get back on track, for we have an appreciation for mercy and forgiveness.
Researcher Patrick F. Fagan of the United States, in his paper titled Why Religion Matters: The Impact
Of Religious Practice On Social Stability, stated the following:
“Religious practice appears to have enormous potential for addressing today’s social problems. As summarized in 1991 by Allen Bergin, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, considerable evidence indicates that religious involvement reduces ‘such problems as sexual permissiveness, teen pregnancy, suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, and to some extent deviant and delinquent acts, and increases self esteem, family cohesiveness and general well being . . . . Some religious influences have a modest impact whereas another portion seem like the mental equivalent of nuclear energy . . . . More generally, social scientists are discovering the continuing power of religion to protect the family from the forces that would tear it down’.
“Professor Bergin’s summary was echoed two years later by nationally syndicated columnist William Raspberry: ‘Almost every commentator on the current scene bemoans the increase of violence, lowered ethical standards and loss of civility that mark American society. Is the decline of religious influence part of what is happening to us? Is it not just possible that anti-religious bias masquerading as religious neutrality is costing more than we have been willing to acknowledge?’
“Other reviews also list the positive effects of religious belief and practice in reducing such problems as suicide, substance abuse, divorce, and marital dissatisfaction. Such evidence indicates clearly that religious practice contributes significantly to the quality of American life.”
I am certain that everything said by that researcher is equally applicable to Barbados in our current times. Under the previous administration I had the privilege to represent my faith on a council set up by the then Prime Minister Owen Arthur. The Religious Advisory Council On National Affairs, as it was called, brought together representatives of the major religious bodies on the island.
It was an opportunity to discuss from a faith-based perspective issues confronting Barbados. Such councils have their role and place in our nation, and I strongly believe it is time again for deeper dialogue on the contribution of faith and religion to the welfare of our society.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association.