Religion Answers The Tough Questions

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Perhaps the scariest question for young adults is ‘What are you going to do with your life.’ Translation — ‘How are you going to make a lot of money?’ For people like Jejuna Lee, a sophomore at Wellesley College, this question is pressure packed. “You have to be the best at everything as soon as possible,” she said. “It’s not only about survival; it’s about the importance of having a certain lifestyle.” The importance of material wealth is surely a natural outcome of a capitalist society. Somehow the idea that you have “made it” is inextricably tied to living the life of the rich and famous. But is that all that really matters and motivates people in the 21st century? According to Professor To Weaning, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Confucianism and a Professor at Harvard University, people are beginning to wake up to the idea that there is a spiritual element that is missing in our lives and as such, religion is reemerging as a very powerful force in the world.

While The Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries) put powerful ideas like socialism, capitalism, metaphysics, science and technology, and human rationality in action it also pushed religion into the background. “The Enlightenment introduced a secular humanism with two major blind spots,” said Tu. “It was insensitive towards nature and it was a rejection of religion.” But how can religion reestablish itself in our society today in a way that is acceptable to people who have been weaned on Enlightenment’s humanism? “If human beings are simply rational animals, interested in self interests, maximizing profits in the market, then religion may not be a very important factor in one’s decision to make one’s value orientation,” says Tu. “If a person is also immune to giving, immune to creating, then the unexamined life is not worth living. But if the quest for the meaning in life, purpose in life and something you wish to pursue in order to understand yourself, your community and the world beyond is important to you, then religion becomes important.”

But connecting with the spiritual is not that easy in a world where religious fanaticism and ethnic cleansing are not a thing of the past. Even movies, like Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the story of Jesus Christ are provoking a shake-up in many religious communities over religious ‘truths.’ Certainly religious conflicts arise inter-religiously (between different religions) and Tu says intra-religiously (within the same religion). The challenge for all religions today is to find a way to bridge those differences.

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