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Is there an alternative to organised religion?

With the 50th Eucharistic Congress taking place recently it is worth noting how we have moved from being a deeply religious society to becoming a more secular one.

Fifty years ago the majority of Irish citizens were practicing Roman Catholics who observed holy days and Lenten guidelines, faithfully said the family rosary, attended missions, prayed to the numerous saints, went to confession weekly, believed in papal infallibility and in the concept that priests were in some way different from the rest of us and were guided by divine powers.

How times have changed.

Many still attend mass on Sundays but few have retained the blind faith that supported the religious practices of the past. Most people today would agree that the current openness and freedom associated with fresh thinking on religious issues are a good thing and that we should continue to question the actions of our church leaders.

We must, however, be mindful of what we have lost in terms of the support and comforting lifetime guidelines that the church provided, for the decline in faith has left a gap in our lives.

Religions present us with a wonderful list of rules for just getting by, living in harmony with our neighbours and overcoming grief and hardship.


For thousands of years, faith in the ability of the church and its saints to help solve our worries has brought great solace to each succeeding generation.

Whether Islamic, Jewish or Christian, all religions instruct us on how to behave from birth to death and present us with the wonderfully supportive concept that the tougher our lot is in this world, the better it will be in the next.

In general, despite the many so called "holy" wars along with financial and other scandals, religion has served mankind well and even if there wasn't a God, we would have invented one for we all have a deep need for a spiritual dimension within our lives and an even greater need for the therapeutic powers of prayer and meditation.

Just look at the proliferation of churches and religious sects in America where millions of people seek desperately for some faith to cling to and some certainties to live their lives by.

The recently published "Religion for Atheists" by Alain De Botton is a fascinating read and throughout the pages he argues powerfully for the need to provide today's largely secular society with the aids and supports that religions formerly provided.

He discusses how the decline in faith has left a huge void which must be filled somehow by giving us the security, comfort and support we formerly enjoyed as a result of our belief in the powers of saints to help us get by.

Despite being an atheist, he presents the best arguments I have yet read on the need for religion.

Imagine you have been told you are terminally ill or perhaps have lost a much loved friend or relative or are being pursued by the banks to repay loans you cannot possibly meet.


These are moments of crisis that most of us experience at some point in our lives and the comfort gained from entering a church and pouring out ones troubles to a chosen saint helps greatly to overcome difficulties and face the world again.

Handling "worry beads" is practiced worldwide as a form of relaxing therapy and we are similarly assisted if we pray with rosary beads.

Some people lie on a psychiatrists couch and find their troubles are lessened by being listened to as they tell of their failings and problems while others do the same thing in the confessional.

Just contemplating the Stations of the Cross makes our personal problems seem trivial.

At 6pm most people turn on the news but some also say the Angelus at that hour and use the time for a spot of healing meditation and reflection.

The ancient philosophers recognised we all need help in navigating our lives but nowadays, few young people enlist to become priests and nuns.

If we abandon religion, who will act as our life coaches?

Indo Farming