- 05 Mar 2012 02:31
No, no effect
It would actually be more accurate to say "neutral effect" rather than "no effect." Surely there will be effects, but some will be positive while others will be negative. Overall, I think it is difficult to separate religion from culture, and many of the practices of the latter are unfairly attributed to the former. For example, female genital mutilation is practiced in certain parts of the world that are predominantly Muslim, so many ignorant Westerners will then point the finger at Islam as the culprit, despite no mention of the practice in the Qu'ran or the Hadith. Of course, those Muslims who do carry out this practice will say that it is Islamic, since it is part of their cultural tradition and their culture is Islamic, therefore it must be a Muslim thing. It's the same kind of reasoning that leads many Westerners to decry abortion as against their religion, despite no mention of it in the Bible. Or the identification of Christianity with "family values," despite the fact that the New Testament has a decidedly anti-family bias.
Religion, like patriotism, has always been a convenient cloak for cultural conservatives to wrap themselves in. It is a link to the past to which they cling tenaciously. It is valuable to them not in and for itself, but because it represents for them a sanctuary of permanence and order amid the constant, terrifying flux of progress.
At the same time, for the religious left, religion represents, in part, the hope for a better world to come, as well as an imperative to help bring about this new world within our own lives. If religious conservatives can be described as wanting to return to Eden, religious progressives want to create the New Jerusalem. The Fall and the Eschaton are the two driving myths of our society, not just among the religious, but even in the secular world(many a scholar has described Marxism as a kind of secularized Christianity).
Those like Richard Dawkins who call for the end of religion and imagine a world of rationalists in its place are still living in the eighteenth century. They adhere to the Enlightenment view of reason, and seem almost unaware that the 20th century ever happened. Religion reflects culture as much as it creates it, and this can be clearly seen by noticing the variety of ways Roman Catholicism is practiced throughout the world. What these "rationalists" mean when they describe replacing religion with reason is the conquest of other cultural modes of thought by European secularism. And personally, I find this imperialist attitude hardly any better than the countless other missionaries who have set out to convert everyone to their one Truth.