As beings thrown into existence, as Sartre put it, there are the inevitable questions of where we are from, why we are here and where we are headed after death. We are caught in material existence with no way to objectively dabble in realms outside of time and space as we know it. We find ourselves trapped in the physical— a place we simply can't accept life to have manifested randomly from non-physical matter. Like the entrapment of the physical universe is not enough, we also have the trappings of our minds that confine us to existential loneliness, a maddening disease that fills us with dread at the thought of death and how utterly alone we would be in our pain.
It is no surprise that with the stakes so high, over the history of time, gods have come and gone. Religions keep sprouting in their wake only to fade when they are conquered. Africa for example used to be a continent of very diverse religions and spiritual practices. However, with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and colonisation, today, it is largely a Muslim and Christian continent with traditional practices often considered idolatry.
From the moment man learned to contemplate his existence: to ask 'why?', we have been caught in a search for an ultimate truth to give meaning to our experience as beings. For many, the absurdist stance that there is no meaning to life but the one we give it is simply too brash a consolation. For some, only in a universe without inherent meaning can we be truly free to decide our own destiny. Regardless of whatever side of the debate you lean to, you lean somewhere. Even leaving off and saying that such truths are beyond our knowledge—because we possess neither information or sensory capacity to lay solid claim— is a category of thinking.
For the thinker that believes existence definitely is the work of a non-material entity, questions of her nature follow immediately. Hence, as creatures of different perspectives, we, at this age witness many sects of this shared acceptance (knowledge) branch out. This then is religion in the context of faith.
Abrahamic religions, for example, conceive an entity as a supreme being with infinite power to suspend the natural order of the universe to deliver miracles. Most other religions like Buddhism— though argued to be more so a set of beliefs than a religion— and even the Yoruba Ifa divination system see the natural order of the universe to be unbreakable by any deity.
Over the years as religious thought has evolved with theology, deist, pantheist, agnostic and even atheistic stances have emerged to challenge the monopoly of monotheism— which was wrenched from the hands of the once popular polytheism. With all the advances made in science to explain reality— now having the M-Theory at the forefront, it appears the nature of existence remains an incomplete puzzle. The strides achieved by science has so far been able to explain 'what?' and 'how?' leaving the evasive 'why?' hardly touched. The need for answers to the question 'why?' is what has been explored by religion and other forms of knowledge.
As the world follows the promise of reason and logic popularised by the Enlightenment era, it isn’t surprising we often find ourselves in bitter debates about what theological stance is right. After that, what particular religion is right, and the cycle goes on.
Scholars and apologetics of every side of the argument make their case and anyone who has been in any of these arguments sooner realises it has very little to do with logic. It is much more to do with how we feel in our innermost core about existence. Of course, as expected, this is heavily influenced by the socio-cultural exposure even if we don’t always stick to the cultural norm where we are from.
Recently, our understanding of humans to be first emotional creatures, and then logical beings sheds light on the futility that is found in theological and religious arguments. Mostly, these debates almost always go on the same way: people exchanging words and plotting points only to convert the other instead of engaging in real mutual reasoning. It is always the same I'm-right-and-you're-wrong trend.
The populist philosopher, Alain de Botton, spoke about these debates referring to them as boring and pointless. His concern instead, is focused on how the existential need for religion can be tended to instead of arguing for or against the rights of religions to exist and if they carry any inherent truth. In his opinion, we embrace our ideological stance not because we have investigated the matter to the end and pieced together logical conclusion. Rather, we take this stance based on our pre-disposed emotional leanings; we only use logic to justify what we already believe.
In a world of so many options to consider, it is necessary we understand that our own belief is just one expression of many possibilities. One cannot possess any inherent truth over another because they are all based on subjective interpretations of reality. Unfortunately, the problem we often face with religion in a society is the need for us to enforce our mode of thinking on others; this sometimes includes directing legislation to trample on freedom. Understanding that our view is no more than another perspective, however hard this is to accept, enables us to get on better with people of opposing or different views. It also reduces the urge for us to force our beliefs on others. In essence, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of belief and religion, there is only right and wrong application of belief based on understanding. Granting equal rights and opportunity for all ideas to exist will go a long way to ending ideological warfare. Relief also comes with the unburdening of having to be right because we can be comforted that just like everyone else, we too, do not yet have all the answers.