Religion affects social values because human beings are social creatures, and religion is one area in which people can find community, shared values, hoped for connections, a sense of purpose, and most of all, a sense of belonging.
The world is changing, however, and religion, is changing too. It always has, in fact. No Christian would recognize doctrine as it was 2,000 years ago. And this is true of every religion. In fact, instead of revealing a central truth for all humanity, religion continues to splinter up groups right down to this very day. The world today is in a fast race to arrive at whether all people will be included into a kinship that protects the earth, both human and non human sustaining systems, or a contest that has competing groups fight over the right to be the prevailing “faith” on earth.
In the western tradition of Europe and the Americas, religion may have begun with the early Hebrews. But Christians split off from this group with the gospel of Jesus. The Roman Catholic Church rose to power, and then Martin Luther split off from the Catholic Church, as did Henry the Eighth. Protestant groups splintered off, again and again, branching further still. Many sought freedom of religion and went to America. Today, the monotheistic deity of the desert has many more names, holy texts, and adherents than ever before.
A look at geography reveals that with people moving and assimilating cultures all across the planet, there are as many different “faiths” as there are human beings. Values such as big families threaten to undermine competing values for higher quality life.
In the Middle East and India, of course we find split offs in Muslim groups, Hindu groups, Buddhist groups and there are many inter-mingled and over lapping groups as well. That said, there is still a great sense in any society that a culture is centered on a foundation of religion.
Social values that put fairness first, that strive for justice and equality often lead to revolutionary change. Ending “legal” slavery was such a change based on Christ’s teaching for humans to love one another as brothers and sisters. Allowing women the vote was also based on the idea of belonging to a free society. Allowing civil rights was preached by Martin Luther King Junior. Today, Barrack Obama is the first president to offer belonging and equality to the Lesbian, Gay and Bi-sexual and Transgender people.
All of these things display a tolerance for social values that many find controversial, but that nonetheless are based on a sense of compassion, love, belonging and social fairness.
Has society fallen into degradation and lost its social values? Some people think so, but most think something more complex than this.
People have become more materially demanding, more consuming of goods, resources and less connected to the sensory world of nature, beauty, sustenance and kinship beyond the human society. The world is connected with technology on a scale never before experienced, and every detail and object of a person’s day will have come from the work and materials of several nations, farms, transport systems and energy use.
Values, have shifted, more to the valuing of things, than valuing life, even human life, of the planet. For example,more slaves exist today and are much “cheaper”, or valued than they were decades ago. Large scale economy shrinks the global “village” of humanity, while at the same time it strains the finite resources of clean water, food, fuel and soils of the planet. This is the cause of many wars, disconnection and conflict over who is entitled to what.
Still, the United States is called a “Christian nation.” This leads to some confusion, a sense of non belonging to some disenfranchised non Christians. It certainly has been the case, for example, that no one who declares him or herself as non Christian, agnostic or atheist has been, or is likely to be elected president any time soon.
Social values change daily, and when the world is “one” as John Lennon put it, there will be no need for exclusion into any one group, or religion.