Have I seen the film Zeitgeist? A friend put this question to me the other day, and I answered that I had seen it, and commented that I enjoyed it even though I found it to be a strange sort of film. This friend of mine then continued to point out how the film ‘exposed’ the fact that many of the central truths of the Christian faith were derived from earlier, more ancient religious traditions, and so concluded that this was evidence that the claims of Christianity were debunked. Not at all, I argued, and naturally I would disagree. Christianity, like all modern religions, is the result of a very long process of transmission, and myth and cultic development, but this does not mean it is debunked or fraudulent.
Our innate religious imagination is one of the many psychological bi-products of our human intelligence which assists us as we try to make sense of our reality. In this respect it has much in common with language. English, like all living languages, is the result of a protracted process of transmission, and linguistic and cultural evolution, but this does not mean that it is any less useful for communication and the spreading of ideas. Like language, religion is one of the plethora of tools we have at our disposal, and, like language, it can be misused. Neither the history of their development nor their misuse provides reasonable grounds for their dismissal.
Many people now assume that the Age of Reason and the advance of scientific knowledge have done away with our need for religious truths, but this could not be further from the truth. Science and reason are also the products of our intellect, and as such they should be celebrated and used well, but these too are, like language and religion, tools at our disposal. Science can and does teach us how the world and the universe work, but it is limited in the fact that it has no foundations from which to begin to answer the questions of why the world and the universe work. People need, and have always needed to discover why things happen. Religion cannot answer these questions in a scientific way – and that it because it is not science.
Religion and myth answer our questions by appealing to the deeper levels of our psychology; to our subconscious and our imagination. In this respect religion might be considered more like art or literature. Dostoyevsky or Rembrandt will have a better chance of helping us to understand our emotions and feelings than would Immanuel Kant or Stephen Hawkins. Religion is not concerned with scientific answers. That is the task of science. Religion is concerned with equipping us with a language with which to give expression to our deepest hopes and fears; our anxieties and passions and so forth. In a world without such a grammar the entire work of science would seem pointless, as we ourselves would be mired in the futility of existence.