My personal beliefs i suppose could best be described as Agnostic. I believe in a higher power which i refer to as "God" out of simplicity. My belief is that all belief systems rely heavily on the "Don't be a dick" rule, and as such if i do come before God in the afterlife, if there is one (an afterlife that is), i can say honestly that while i'm not perfect, I tried my best to be a good person.
I have a fairly decent understanding of religion having attended Catholic schools through the entire of my education. However i was lucky enough, though i didnt realise it at the time, to attend a school with a very progressive view on religion. Religious Education was a class that was manitory all through high school, including VCE (for our american members, VCE is the last 2 years of high school in which all subjects are elective (except RE in my case) and your marks in subjects are used to calculate a score for entry into University, i believe its similar to a GPA)
In primary school RE was little more than bible study. In high school we discussed in detail some of the more relevant parts of the New Testament and what the bible was as a whole. During VCE however, we examined religion as a belief system, how it worked and why, and in particular we spend time studying other world religions that were not Christianity or any of its sects.
It is my belief that religion encourages people to "not be a dick" and it has done so for thousands of years. Plenty of people have used religion as an excuse to be a dick, but if they had not used religion they would have found something else to exploit for their own agenda. Organised Religion as a whole, is a means of control, it has been for thousands of years. Many will argue that this is a bad thing. I tend to agree, in part, simply because i believe an Individualistic Belief allows people to have faith in something bigger than themselves without having to subscribe to the beliefs of others. However i do understand that, while many people will disagree, that many people need to be controlled. I am not saying that everybody needs a tyrant, i am simply suggesting that lots of people would rather be told than to figure something out for themselves. The idea of a Benevolent Dictator is a good one but ultimately is made impossible by the fallable nature of the human condition.
Next we'll talk about faith. Many people reject the idea of religion because they cannot understand believing in something that they have no proof exists. That is what faith is, belief without proof. I can sum it up simply, If you're at the beach and watch a ship disappear across the horizon, you believe that it is still there. You know that things can't just disappear but you have no GPS tracking or any kind of physical proof that the ship is there, beyond your view, you simply belive that it is. It is a simply anaolgy, and i'm sure you could poke all sorts of holes in it, its just an anology. It honestly doesnt bother me that some people are incapable of faith because, simply put, they don't need it. If you know enough that you can live a perfectly happy existance without needing to believe in a higher being, good for you. Some people can't. Some people need to believe that there is something tying everything together. And Theres nothing wrong with that, theres nothing wrong with the feeling of being part of something thats bigger than yourself.
I haven't been to church in a while, its not something i do. The time i would spend worshipping and praying i believe can be better spent. But i know why people go to church, and you'll find for the most part it has little to do with God. People attend church and Mass as part of a community. Think of it as logging onto facebook at the end of the day. Only its people gathering every sunday to listen to a guy talk about stuff and then catch up with all your neighbours and shoot the breeze. I fail to see how this is a bad thing, especially when the dude talking is usually just reinforcing the whole "Don't be a dick" concept.
The problem with Organised Religion, is that it is a means of control. It is a tool. In the same way a spanner can be used to make a wheelchair or a bomb, a tool has many uses. The simple fact is that there is Evil in the world. And people who would do terrible things use religion as a tool. If there were no religion, they would use a different tool. I can not argue that religion has not been used to justify terrible things, and that people hide behind it to escape reality and harbour their own selfish prejudices. No one can. But i can argue that religion has done some great things. Most charities are set up by religions. Religions help the poor and derelict at home and abroad. Would a corporation? No. Would a government? Short answer no, governments still work on the principal of profit and loss. Walk into any cathedral, look around at the artistry and the workmanship that has gone into it. No corporation or individual desire inspired that. A Belief did. A unified belief in God inspired people to create something beautiful and grand.
I know many people who believe that the world would be better off without religion. I tend to disagree, for the reasons stated above. Some people need religion because it gives them personal strength and it also brings people together. You can't ask people to abandon that just because we have science. Just because you can prove everything doesnt mean there is no place for belief, or faith, or religion.
I could probably go on but i'm going home now, i've been at work over an hour longer than i should be.