History informs us that every religion known to, and practiced by man has a set of principles and rules to follow. Whether God created man or man invented gods, religious beliefs have for centuries impacted on society, and so, on human behavior. No doubt the rules were designed to encourage ethical and moral behavior, but as always, these have been bent, altered and misinterpreted so that goodness has not always been the outcome of religious beliefs. Some behaviors run contrary to the ethics of the religion, with disastrous effects.
That has always been so, those interpretations that lead to extreme behaviors in the name of religion. The Spanish Inquisition, Bloody Mary Tudor executing Protestants, the Salem Witch Hunts, the Holocaust, right up to the Islamic Jihads of today – all manifestations of the impact of religion on human behavior. But the true purpose of any religious system is not to murder and destroy “un-believers,” but to provide a set of tenets to live by that will make the individual a better person, thus helping society to improve, as each person contributes to the common good. When this happens, the positive impact of religion is felt.
For many, the Christian tenets laid down in the Bible and the Ten Commandments provide an ethical and moral frame-work. These are designed to help the individual to achieve goodness and so behave well. As mentioned previously, similar rules apply throughout any faith. If we consider Buddhism, then we understand how our behavior would be driven never to hurt another creature, to do good and never evil. In Taoism, we find a “letting go” of all that is self-serving or damaging to ourselves or others. So if a person is a true believer, adhering to the rules of their chosen faith, then the end result should ideally be behavior that is morally good and beneficial to all fellow creatures.
Sadly, not all religious believers stick to the true meaning of the rules, preferring to bend them to their own ends. But it has to be said that most people are basically good, with only a very few seeking to do damage in the name of a faith or god. If the majority are good people, just striving to do the right thing, according to their religion, then this positive approach impacts on their behavior. It then goes further by encouraging others, even non-believers, to try to work from a moral standpoint. The outcome is a better society for all. Or so we can hope.