Many of my students cynically think that the purpose of religion is to scare people into oppression. The powerful created this huge myth as a means for social control. While I don't deny that some people have used religion for such a purpose, I do not regard that as the original intention of religion.
Religion is powerful, and so it will be abused, unfortunately.
So, what is the source of the power of religion? What is its real purpose?
Surprisingly, I think I've found answers to these questions.
The purpose of religion is to help us deal with our pain, suffering, and grief in ways that stop it from continuing to damage ourselves or others. The purpose of religion is to help us learn to "end suffering within" (I think that is a quotation from Thich Nhat Hanh).
I have this image of pain and suffering bouncing around the universe like ping pong balls. You see one coming at you, and the temptation is to bat it away. But doing so often makes it hit someone else and hurt them too. So they pick it up and angrily throw it back at you. Or maybe they miss and hit someone else. Etc.
To end suffering within is to catch the ping pong ball and paint it pretty colors and hang it in the window and show it off to your friends.
The power of religion then is redemption.
It really is possible to stop and hold your pain and suffering and grief instead of flinging it back on others. It really is possible to rework it in ways that make you a better person: stronger, more insightful, more compassionate.
We are artists, creators. The material we have to work with is our life experience. Just because we may not like some of the colors we are given does not mean that we cannot mix those colors with others to create beautiful art. The colors that are our experiences of pain can add depth and richness to the paintings we produce. Added artfully to our canvas, they can bring out the brilliance of the colors we do wish to emphasize.
Our world today, in general, does not do a very good job of teaching us how to do this. Our world today does not even do a very good job of reminding us that we should be trying to figure out how to learn this. Instead, when we are hurting, our culture tells us to find someone to blame -- as if blaming or punishing others will ever really prevent future suffering or help us to heal from our wounds.
Looking for blame misses the point. When we are wounded, it is our wound that needs attention. When we are wounded, we need healing.
The point of life is not to escape all suffering. That is naive and impossible.
Once we realize that most suffering does not destroy us, we can establish a new relationship with it. How can we meet life's challenges in ways that make us better people? How can we learn how to transform the pain and suffering that comes our way into strength, courage, compassion, and insight?
How you answer these questions describes your religion.
5 years ago