Incautious religiosity is a potential safety and health time bomb

What you need to know:

  • There is a lot of misleading, brainwashing, and deception under the cover of religion, often to the detriment of innocent adherents and the wider society.

It is a commendable thing that our country does not impose any religious faith on the citizens and also does not disapprove of them. It makes a lot of difference, especially when we see in other countries the dark sides of the two extremes of imposing or disapproving.

However, this freedom needs to be spoken about, especially now when it becomes a licence for ‘everything’: good, bad, risky, dangerous, deadly, etc.

A sociologist, Anthony Giddens, says, ‘Religion provides a feeling that life is ultimately meaningful.’ It is enthralling to learn how vulnerable we are to matters of faith. Universally, faith, left on its own, makes people appeal less to objective reason, even when learned or with a lot of experience in life.

While this article is not a propaganda against religion, it is an objective clarion call for the government to provide guidelines, particularly for the health and safety of people, even in the practice of their private and personal religious beliefs, since such is done under the auspices of institutional religion, which is a social institution bound by the common laws of the land.

As religious faith fills the gaps for realities beyond our understanding, especially in our part of the world where superstition is a constant trend, its influence on people’s feelings, emotions, and dispositions for various actions towards people and concerns around us cannot and should not be underestimated.

There is a lot of misleading, brainwashing, and deception under the cover of religion, often to the detriment of innocent adherents and the wider society.

For example, one may disregard expert advice on the effects of eating ‘Z’, but when a religious leader advises the same with the reason that food ‘Z’ is infested with evil spirits or charms, many will quickly abstain. Religious convictions are powerful bonds capable of causing irreparable brokenness in people and division in society.

If a faith leader teaches literally, for example, that ‘God will provide’ without saying that people have to work hard, only a few people will associate God’s providing with working hard. The efforts to emancipate people from poverty are futile, as many sit back with false hopes, waiting for miraculous provision.

In the same way, if religion teaches that there is a reward for killing others, very few will weigh such teaching against the natural and social responsibility to safeguard human life.

The two are just samples of the global realities of today. While good things are done under the influence of religions and faiths, many unthinkable, ugly things are done under the same influence. This is because there is religious fundamentalism and indoctrination whose aim is not parallel to that of the religion.

Common consensus witnesses that religion impacts the formation of the character of its adherents and influences their worldview, approaches, and stances on sociopolitical and socioeconomic matters.

As such, there is a danger, if care is not taken, for believers to be ruthless mercenaries at the service of religion and frontliners of implanted hatred towards other people without objective causes.

Learning from situations where people have lost their lives for religious reasons, such as recent neighbour country sect forest-fasting for the so-dubbed ‘last days,’ or widespread tales of promised heavenly reward for killing adherents of other faiths, it is time the government puts in place guidelines for religious practice so as to ensure the safety and wellbeing of people, which is fundamentally a civil concern.

Places of worship and worship itself should be safe and done with openness for the common good.

The government can also consider indicating the requirements of appropriate education for religious leaders and teachers in the country. Being a delicate social force, religion has to be handled with optimal care, which necessitates some training. This might cause commotion, but it will be a transformative trajectory.

Even though it is hard to put together the diverse array of faiths, it should be a civil offence to advise believers of a religion about things that endanger their life or health, such as the termination of proper medical treatment, promoting refusal of healthcare, imposing extreme fasting, and disregarding health and safety practices in places of worship, like asking people to perform activities without practical guidelines, commending the eating of dangerous things, and many others.

There is a need for open social awareness regarding potential humiliations and abuse done in the name of religious cleansing and exorcism, false prophecies that can break down families and marriages, teachings that promote violence and hatred, preoccupying people with unending religious practices that make them no longer economically productive, and many others.

We need religious studies in schools, not only to teach the faith of world religions but, more importantly, to induce reasonableness so that faith does not make people cross the limits of the desired common good.

Shimbo Pastory is an advocate for positive social transformation. He writes from Manila, the Philippines. Email: [email protected]; WhatsApp: +447459732915.