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Today's Leaders Forum Praise 2019: ROLES OF RELIGION IN THE SOCIETY - Hammed Adijat Opeyemi

Religion occupies an important place in human society. It is believed by many thinkers that religion is instinctive in men. Almost all the aspects of society including economic and political regions are guided and controlled by it. It formulates human conducts behavior, social sense, morality etc. But in spite of all these, there are some dark sides of it, which people made to pop up using religion as cover up! -Dr. Shanjendu Nath.

What is Religion?
In explaining the meaning of religion  Edward Burnett Tylor says that religion is the belief in spiritual beings. But his explanation of the meaning of religion does not satisfy a rational mind as he does not give us a clear picture of 
the nature of spiritual beings.

Max Muller, a German born philosopher, gives us a vague definition of religion. While explaining the nature of religion he says that in religion infinite is perceived.

There are three different aspects of religious consciousness, viz., intellect, feeling and action. But while defining religion different thinkers emphasise either of the aspects. 

According to Herber Spencer, religion is a 
type of hypothesis by which people attempt to comprehend the universe. His definition thus emphasizes the intellectual aspect of religion. 

Other thinkers like Mc Taggard emphasizes on the emotional aspect neglecting other aspects. 

Similarly, Frazer‟s definition of religion emphasizes only the volition and action. But the definition of religion seems to be more or less satisfactory is put forwarded by Robert Flint, as he embraces all the three aspects of religion. 

According to him, “Religion is man‟s belief in a being or beings mightier than himself and inaccessible to his senses but not indifferent to his sentiments and actions, with the feelings and practices which flow from such a belief.”

“Religion is hard to define, not because there is so little of it, but because there is so much.
It is the fact that God is the central element of religion and men have implicit confidence on Him and they exercise all their attempts 
to make commune with Him. Thus without mentioning this aspect of religion no definition of it can give us a complete picture of religion.

According to Wikipedia online dictionary 
"Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. 

However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion". 

A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. -Wikipedia.

The origin of Religion
There are different theories regarding the origin of the concept of religion. But it cannot be certainly said that when and how religious ideas emerged in man. It is also certainly cannot be said that what is the origin of the ideas of religion. All these are due to the fact that there is no broad consensus amongst the thinkers of this field regarding the origin of religion. But there are people who firmly believe that religious ideas are instinctive in man. No other animals except man bear this instinctive feature. 

Man can be distinguished from other animals 
from two angles: reason and religion. Man possesses reason while other animals do not and that is why men are called, rational animals‟. 

Similarly, men are religious while other animals are not. Men bear both finite and 
infinite features. At the very inception of human race on earth, men were totally ignorant about the different events that occurred in nature around them. But they were curious to know the happenings and accordingly, they 
applied their own efforts. 

They had to face the different natural calamities like storms, floods, lightning; dangerous animals, famine etc. and they were unable to overcome these situations. As a result, they had to  imagine an invisible power mightier than themselves upon whom they depended for assistance, strength and relief. 

Thus fear and curiosity are the main factors responsible for the emergence of religious tendency in ancient people. They also believed that this unseen and invisible power would be helpful in their birth, sorrow, old age and finally in obtaining salvation. 

They sometimes conceived God as their object of love. There are different forms such as, father, friend, lover, beloved, master through which they tried to attain relation with God. Thus, in order to meet their ignorance and to get strength and courage to face natural calamities, men time and again depended on an imaginary existence, the result of which is named „God‟ in religion.

Religion is, in fact, an individual matter. It is individual who acquires religious experience and he has conviction on it. He personally realizes religious experiences in his life. He believes that salvation can be attained through performing religious activities. But to a social philosopher, social aspect of religion is more 
important and carries greatest significance. This social aspect is emphasized by all the great religions of the world. 

It is because of the fact that religion plays an important role in maintaining social unity, its promotion and maintenance. The religion which emphasizes this social aspect is the religion of humanity, although in traditional sense this aspect is not recognized as religion. In emphasizing the social aspect of religion Blackmar and Gillin, the famous sociologists say that without community worship, no religious faith can survive for long time. 

They are of the opinion that a living religion may lose all its importance if the believer and worshiper of that religion ceases to worship together.


What are the roles of Religion in our Society?
The first role of religion is typically to give a purpose to humans.

In a sometimes senseless world, this is vital, as it guides them and gives them something towards which to work. Beyond that, religion is used to teach morality. When used properly, religion combats evil and despair in the world by providing morally upright leaders and teachers.

It provides social cohesion to help maintain social solidarity through shared rituals and beliefs.  One example of religious tradition positively enforcing social cohesion is repeated collective practice, such as Muslims observing Salat together in the mosque, Christians worship together in church,  Catholics attending mass, and the feelings it engenders.

It serve as Social control to enforce religious-based morals and norms to help maintain conformity. Karl Marx viewed religion as a tool of social control used by the bourgeoisie to keep the proletariat content with an unequal status quo. For example Hebrews 13:16 "And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased".

Allah says in Holy Quran about righteous deeds: “Whoever works righteousness whether male or female while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment, and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter)” (Quran, 16:97).

The above verses justify how religion tends to influence social control, because if you follow the religion guidelines, you will only be doing what is good and not what is bad.

Religion improves health
There is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed than their non-religious counterparts. Certain features of religious practice may facilitate greater well-being for members. These include the following: basic social contact
a large, non-family network of social support, the positive mental health one derived from optimism and volunteering, coping strategies to enhance one’s ability to deal with stress a worldview that prevents existential questions from arising.

A 1993 study by Kosmin & Lachman indicated that people without a religious affiliation appeared to be at greater risk for depressive symptoms than individuals affiliated with a religion. 

Religion is also vital to democracy 
Religion’s role as a protector of democracy has been widely noted.  Religious organizations stand as a “buffer” or “mediating institution” to protect individual believers and their organizations against the powerful impositions of government.  

I maintain that the teachings and free practice of religion are essential to a free and prosperous society. I also maintain that religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of religion and religious bodies in our public life without seriously jeopardizing our freedom and prosperity.

Lastly, Religious instruction and belief remain the lifeblood of the  society's moral ethics. 
Not only does religion teaches virtue, it inspire moral action. As such, religion plays an essential societal role warranting special consideration.


What is not religion
So far I have discussed, it is evident that religion acts as an instrument of social control and 
integration. But despite all the aforementioned fact about religion. There are many dark sides of religion which needs to be mentioned. 
From the pages of history we find that some people hide under the seige of religion to create conflict and disunity in society. The glaring 
examples of these are conflict between the Protestants and Roman Catholics, between the Christians and the Muslims.

Not only had these conflicts of religion led to the religious wars of the century. In many cases it is proved that religious fanaticism is responsible for much inhuman bloodshed. Sometimes it is seen that religion creates an obstacle in the development of the free spirit in common people. 

This was prominent in the middle ages where free enquiry and independent thinking was thwarted by religion.

Again, there are so many immoral acts that have been going on in the name of religion and as a result society and its members have been suffering. In twentieth century this religious intolerance has been increased in a rapid way. 

The demolition of the Babri Masjid on the 6th December, 1992, the destruction of Church on the 9th August, 1998 at Ahmedabad, the barbarous murder of an Australian Missionary Graham Stains and her two sons in Orissa on 23rd January, 1999 and also the one that happened in Jos in 2008 are some of the examples of this religious intolerance. 

The present communal feelings amongst the different communities of society are the glaring example of the destructive actions which is made to believe that its religious.  Some people intentionally utilize religion for their own interest. 

Above all, conflicts are everywhere in our societies in the name of religion. Thus observing the present condition of religion, some people opine that if religion could be eradicated from the society then the Society will be at peace, the major thing is that if people could practice religion with sincerity as opposed the selfish interest, peace will reign as no religion will teach disharmony against those that ain't in believe of what you believe in.
Extremism or fanatism is not religion! 

 Bible, Hebrews 13:16.

Blackmar, F.W. & Gillin, J.L.; Outlines of Sociology, Macmillin Company, New York, 1921.

Encyclopedia of Philosophy: History of the philosophy of religion.

G, George: The Philosophy of religion; C. Scribner‟s Sons in New York, 1914.
Quran, 16:97

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