Today is Good Friday, recognized by Christians as the day that Jesus was crucified and ultimately killed. As a child, I’d spend the day at home with my family. For at least a few hours my parents would require my siblings and I to remain silent and reflect, something inconceivable for an adolescent. Remember, my mother would say, that Jesus went through so much pain and hardship to save those who hadn’t even been born yet. Next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself, keep that in mind, she’d say.
I’m now a 20-something living in a big city. The day will be spent poring over Excel spreadsheets and then having a few pilsners. Notwithstanding the glare from my computer screen, there will be little reflection. It is a vivid reminder of yet another lesson that I didn’t learn until reaching adulthood: for all the criticism it takes from modern urban elites, religion can be a tremendously positive force in one’s life.
Indeed, it was central to my emotional development and maturation. Without my strong Catholic upbringing (helped along by concerned, active parents), I almost certainly would be worse off. And now that I have largely abandoned my faith, it is increasingly more difficult for me to take time away from the grind and contemplate something grander than my own affairs.
Growing up Catholic instilled many values and virtues at a young age. It taught me discipline, selflessness, and courage, lessons are tougher to teach to a child without placing in the paradigm of Heaven and Hell and Good and Evil. It occasionally forced me to take time away from things I liked doing (playing soccer, hanging out with friends) to go to Mass, imbuing the very adult concept of forgoing pleasurable activities for necessary ones. Most importantly, it taught me that there is right and there is wrong. As my parents conveyed in more simple terms, it was the concept (acknowledging that right and wrong existed) rather than the execution (what actually was right and wrong) that was important. These lessons stuck with me; for as flawed a person as I am, I’d be fare more so without them.
This is not to say that religion is a necessary condition for morality, or that religious individuals are better people than atheists. Rather, religion is largely a factor for good when taught and applied properly. It is not to claim that the historical foundation of Abrahamic religions (as detailed in the Old Testament) is factually correct. It is not to say that an omnipotent and omnipresent God is logically possible. I do not believe it to be so. Finally, it is not to claim that the Catholic Church (or any other major religion) is infallible. It is, after all, a human institution; like governments, all institutions comprised of men are by definition fallible.
Horrible things have been done in the name of Mohammed, Jesus, and Yaweh. Religion has, in some cases, led people to maintain discriminatory and harmful beliefs. But as a whole, I believe it to have had a tremendously positive influence on the human existence.
Secularists should take note. It is one thing to deride religion in the specific cases in which it imperils the freedom (theocratic governance) or person (religious wars) of another. Doing so simply in the name of “uncovering lies” is a pathetic endeavor. Nonbelievers of a liberal persuasion should recognize religion for the collective good that it provides far more effectively than welfare programs. Libertarian nonbelievers, meanwhile, should remember one of their fundamental tenets: excessive regulation doesn’t work because the universe is largely indecipherable.
On this Good Friday, let’s remember Jesus’ sacrifice, even if we don’t necessarily believe in it.