In my World Religions course at the University of Guelph as a last discussion question I ask if human beings are naturally religious. This sparks a lively debate – despite this being only a bonus question assignment worth 1% of their grade total. I pose it at the end of term and without much weighting in terms of grades so students will treat it without pressure and think widely and deeply.
Usually a number point out that religion is not the same thing as spirituality and that humans may be naturally spiritual but not naturally religious. Religion is seen as the structure of religions – institutional in form. Spirituality as numinosity is defined by Rudolph Otto in his still important work Das Heilige/The Idea of the Holy.
I was thinking about this today and thought something different. First of all, ‘religion’ can mean the structured, institutional and organized – but organized what? I would say organized spirituality. Human beings may indeed in general [but not in every case] be naturally spiritual. But human beings are social animals and immediately begin to organize. Those who discover others with similar spirituality create organizations with leadership, meeting places, rituals, etc.
Secondly I was thinking about why people are spiritual and therefore religious. Most students in the discussion noted that religion used to supply answers that science now fulfills. I think there is another, more profound level to this. Religion and its foundation, spirituality, supply not answers, but purpose. I was thinking back to the debate I watched online between Rowan Williams the current Archbishop of Canterbury and the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins. Prof. Dawkins insisted that there is no purpose in the universe – it is all a colossal accident. That everything that exists now is the result of an initial random occurrence and a series of occurrences spiralling out of that. Archbishop Williams insisted on purpose in the universe.
I think spirituality and therefore religion will always exist as a primary force in human life because humans need purpose. Science may someday explain every mechanical act, but cannot answer or even pose, the question, ‘why?’