I was reading a discussion on the subject of religion and specifically whether Britain should become a secular society earlier today on the BBC web site. I mentioned some of the comments to a colleague who gave the rather glib reply, 'religion is the root of all evil' to which I retorted, 'No. Religion is used as the root of all evil.' The distinction in my mind is that religion in itself is not evil, it is the way it has been used and twisted (by the misguided) in the pursuit of self-interest that has led to evil.
If you'd asked me the same question maybe five years ago, I may well have given an equally similar or glib response. I would probably have said yes to the idea that Britain should become a secular society. Now, my views I think are somewhat more moderated and open to religion although I do not believe myself to have any deep religious beliefs. So what's changed?
I am not sure to be honest. I haven't had any major experiences in my life that have changed my view of the world. There has been no revelation where I have miraculously 'seen the light.' I do not even consider the existence of God to be plausible yet I find it hard to deny. I've always seen myself more as a 'realist' and a believer that everything can be explained by science and that one day when we have the mental capability, we will unravel the meaning of life. However I have found that a belief in science alone cannot deliver all the answers. Moreover it cannot always provide the reassurance or comfort that I feel I need.
My religiosity is limited though. I don't pray and I have never owned a Bible and have never read it in any great detail or studied its meaning. I don't belong or follow any particular religion or church nor do I attend the latter that often.
What I do find in my limited encounters with religion and in particular Christianity, is spiritual strength and succour. I also find that religion defines a morality that I feel is sadly lacking from modern society. Although I consider my beliefs to be generally liberal, I do have a strong sense of what is morally right and wrong and I find that religion informs those choices. For example, I am completely opposed to abortion because I believe in the sanctity of life and that we do not have the right to make decisions about life and death, especially when it concerns a life so defenseless as the unborn. Often, this particular deeply held view has brought me into an internal conflict with my strong sense of compassion. Is it right, for example, to allow a baby to be born that will be afflicted with a serious and debilitating physical or mental impairment with little or no quality of life? Or a baby born to a mother who was raped? Religion doesn't offer me an answer to these questions. It doesn't tell me what is the right or the wrong choice but my beliefs give me strength and courage to stand by the decision I would make.
Mostly, I think that religion for me is a source of moral strength. It is not about being right and righteously judging others but finding direction and capacity to deal with such difficult issues.
There have been moments in my life when I have felt lost and confused and it is in those times particularly, whether it be a hymn, a passage from the Bible or a prayer, that I have found not necessarily the answer but a way forward. Because religion like science doesn't have all the answers. Sometimes, the only answers we can find are inadequate and feeble anyway. At least to have some beliefs and a strong sense of moral direction can help finding the way again that much easier.