What is religion? What has itreally done for society? Many people would argue that religion has only served as another way for members of society to separate themselves from their neighbors. Religion has also been the underlying reason for wars and violence dating all the way back in history to the Christian Crusades up to now with the Israeli Palenstian War. Thousands of individuals have lost their lives for their religion, which ironically is supposed to save people.
On the other hand there are thousands of people that would argue that their religion has been their savior. Whether it is by helping them get through a rough patch in their life or even preventing them from committing suicide. In my opinion religion can be whatever you want it to be. For me religion has served as just another aspect of what makes me who I am. I would never say that I was religious per say in terms of celebrating all the holidays and observing all the rules (for the record I’m Jewish), but I would say that my religion has instilled a sense of morals and beliefs in me from the teachings, readings, and stories basically everything that Emerson argues is wrong with religion.
In his Self-Reliance, Emerson makes it very clear that he is against conformity and anything that restricts the individual from forming their own opinion. As he shares “ I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching” (Emerson, pg. 37). He likes the silence better than the preaching, because from what I know about sermons, both in Jewish and Catholic/Christian services, they are based on the preacher/ rabbi’s interpretation of the text. Emerson completely disagrees with this concept because he believes that an individual should interpret the text on his own.
This image of standing in an empty church reminds me of a prayer that is done in a Jewish service the Amidah or the silent prayer. While yet there is a routine associated with this prayer in terms of what you say when, what you say out loud, when you daven or bow, every service I have been too (given I’m reform) allows each individual to take this time to themselves to pray in silence- after all, who knows if your saying the right words your not saying anything out loud. For me this is my favorite part of the service because this is the time that I feel I truly have with just God and me. While this prayer provides me with some guidance in the beginning I’m also allowed to think and pray how I please.
Emerson on the other hand would disapprove of this. He disagrees with prayer and describes it as “ looking abroad and asking for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and meditorial and miraculous” and as “ diseases of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect” (Emerson, 40-1). In other words prayer is asking for something foreign rather than doing it on your own and ruining your intellect.
I personally disagree with Emerson and see nothing wrong in praying if that is what you personally need to do. If asking God or whomever for help or guidance or whatever is what makes you feel better, than who am I or society or Emerson to stop you. It’s your prayer, your decision. I also don’t think that being religious or believing in prayer makes you any less intelligent. Religion hasn’t forced my beliefs like Emerson would argue, but rather has served as an aid in me forming my own beliefs. Religion, in the eyes of Emerson may be a form of constriction, like how Tocquiville see it or a reason to cause wars or it can be a way to find yourself… Hell it it can be whatever you want it to be.