Accepting the Culturally Dominant Religion
by Rev. Philip van Bergen
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I have often wondered why those with a tendency toward devoutness in religious matters, almost without exception, choose the dominant religion of their inherited (and not necessarily “adopted”) culture. It is clear to me that something within their psychological make-up drives them toward religion, but they do not partake of a systematic analysis of all the religions on offer so as to make an informed decision on their theology. No, they meekly assimilate that which is culturally dominant, along with all its dogmas -- as explained previously, their religious experience will in fact be synonymous with their culturally dominant religion: a religious person of western heritage will become by default a Christian; one raised in Islam will unquestioningly accept Islam; those raised in a Jewish household will adhere to Judaism, etc. It is clear to me that these people have a deep seated need for religious support -- any religious support -- and hence religion is merely a crutch to be latched onto and not a consequence of logical analysis of different belief systems.
To quote Steve Allen “once the untrained mind has made a formal commitment to a [religious] philosophy -- and it does not matter whether that philosophy is generally reasonable and high-minded or utterly bizarre and irrational -- the powers of reason are surprisingly ineffective in changing the believer's mind." You only have to analyse your own political philosophy to see how true this is; your head may persuade you to tactically vote contrary to your normally espoused political beliefs, but the heart will invariably remain loyal to them.
The adherents of some of the more bizarre cults (the Branch Dravidians, to take a relatively recent example) may well be accused of delusion, but these people are experiencing the same intense visions and conversion experiences that orthodox faith practitioners undergo -- to deny this is crass hypocrisy. These people, on more than one occasion, have been willing to die for their faith, even to the extent of committing mass suicide in South American jungles.
It is also worthy of note that religion is more prevalent in cultures having less scientific inquisitiveness than those of the west. It is rare to find a non-practising Muslim, whereas practising Christians are a minority within countries with a Protestant heritage. Readers may argue that Islam produced a remarkable cultural flowering, but it has never undergone a Reformation or produced any theological philosophers of note. Islam’s cultural successes were rooted in mathematics, medicine, astronomy, the arts and, to a certain extent, chemistry -- although what was passed by Islam to the west lacked much in originality. Islam was predominantly a transmitter culture between ancient and modern, it preserved the apparatus of civilisation during the dark ages of the west. It had little, however, to contribute to independent speculation on theological matters. Islam’s stimulus produced new thought better than any from its own culture.