“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” -Voltaire
In my teens I was fiercely opposed to religion, in all its forms. I was an ardent atheist, and thought religious people were stupid, close-minded sheep, following the instructions of some ridiculous ancient book, not having the brain capacity to judge right or wrong for themselves. God, in my mind, was such an obvious falsity, such an obvious lie; how could anyone believe in such utter nonsense?
As I matured, my vicious hostility towards religion waned, replaced instead by a growing fascination. At first it was the Eastern religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) that drew my attention; later I grew interested in the ancient European religion (Germanic paganism, heathenism or whatever else you might wish to call it), stemming perhaps from my love of nature. Then, much later, I gained an interest in, and fondness of, Christianity; although I personally am more attracted to paganism as a spiritual belief. I had realized the need for religion, in myself, as well as in humanity itself; and while I yet had no firm religious beliefs, I frequently visited religious sites in my spare time.
The need for religion is, I think, prevalent in all of us; if denied, it will take prominence in other forms: politics, social causes, even hobbies – these will take on a religious fervor in some. Almost all cultures and peoples that have ever existed have had a religion of some kind. I think it is safe to say that this religious desire is inbuilt in us at this point. It has been passed down to us through the ages.
As for morality, as many today claim that you can have a perfectly fine moral basis without religion, a secular morality as it were; I agree up to a point. Of course, you can have a workable, honorable morality without being religious, but how many do? Many atheists seem to be under the impression that most people are capable of producing a moral framework from scratch. I don’t think this rings true at all. Some might be able to do this, but for the vast majority of people, I think it’s safe to say that they just want to be led, to use what has already been put in place for them by their predecessors. They might alter some of it, but they’ll use most of it. They just want to live their lives, they don’t have time to ponder greatly over moral issues. They take their cues from their societies, and act in accordance with what they have been told is right.
What happens when societies no longer believe in religion, when they throw them away? In many developed countries it has been replaced with a sort of shallow nihilism, a general widespread depression, a sense of purposelessness. This ties in with the belief in a secular morality somewhat, as many modern day behaviors known to be harmful to the spirit, can not be discouraged without religion. In earlier times they were called sins. You’d be laughed at today if you tried to tell someone they were commiting a sin, because our societies (and by extention, peoples) no longer believe in religious morality.
This has the effect that many people don’t realize that some behaviors degrade them. We seem to have this concept in place that if it’s not harmful to others, it’s completely fine to do. I think this is a shallow way of looking at human nature. Behaviors matter. And perhaps more than is immediately obvious to us.
Nowadays it seems to be a more or less agreed upon belief (in the West, at least) that we are beyond religion, that we are so enlightened and rational that it is beneath us. This comes across as self-aggrandizement to me. We are not more intelligent than our ancestors, although many of us like to think we are. Even though some scientists have made tremendous progress, does not mean that the average person is any cleverer than his predecessors. Quite the contrary, since modernity allows for almost everyone to survive and procreate, regardless of their skill or intelligence or resourcefulness.
I believe a society need some sort of religious foundation that it espouses to its inhabitants. Of course, not all religions are equally preferable, but it seems to me that without a guiding force, like religion certainly can be, a society quickly degrades. But the people still crave a religion, somewhere deep inside, and so they look for it in unlikely places, unknowingly. Or they adopt a foreign faith.