Who doesn't hope for a better world than the one we know?
Hope is why we buy lottery tickets, bet on horses, and put faith in God, whoever we conceive him or her to be. Who wouldn't want a life after this one? Life in another dimension, another universe, a heaven where our future has been saved for another day.
The word religion comes from the Latin word religare. Ligare means to bind. Adding the prefix re makes religare mean re-bind. Some say that implies that religion is a dogmatic, binding set of theological rules that requires us to sacrifice our ambitions and individuality for the will of a divine being.
Some say, however, that religare means to re-connect. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, that might imply that religion is a way to re-cover the relationship we had with God before sin defiled it in the Garden of Eden. Some argue that we shouldn't be condemned for something Adam and Eve did. The counter argument is that you and I would have done the same thing. According to the Judeo-Christian Bible, the Garden of Eden was an earthly paradise. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, he locked the gate to Eden. Some say Eden is now a heavenly paradise, and that religion is a way to climb the steps back to Eden. Some say Eden, like Camelot, is a silly, make-believe place, and that walking out of it is waking up from the sleep of religion to become a fully conscious human being—free to become who you want to be, not who some god demands that you be.
Whether you believe there is a god or not, it's likely you agree that religion matters. Even if you doubt that God exists, keep in mind that because people act as if God exists, their belief brings God into the world. What matters, in other words, is what people do because they believe in a god. And that matters in both religious and secular ways.
The good news is that religion can benefit individuals, families, states, and nations when people are free to decide for themselves what they will and will not believe. Religion makes it more likely people are productive, law-abiding citizens because it discourages suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, out-of-wedlock births, divorce and crime while encouraging self-discipline, self esteem and moral, ethical, and civil behavior.
The bad news is that religious power is similar to political power because all the material and immaterial things that matter—art and science, family and friendships, medicine and manufacturing—can be swept away or made impossible to pursue if society gets religion wrong. History, the Dark Ages for example, is grim evidence just how wrong religion can be for everyone except those in a position of privilege and authority. Religious fanatics, especially terrorists, are creating a global nightmare for individuals and nations by threatening to kill everyone who doesn't believe in their God their way. Religious fanatics want to return to the dark ages of life without science, medicine and technology. Religious fanatics want to destroy Capitalism and Democracy wherever it flourishes. And they treat women like chattel and non-believers as Infidels.
Even in democratic countries with a constitutional separation of church and state, politics can be driven by religious agendas. A political agenda, however, can be friendly to the general practice of religion and to the different faiths of a pluralistic society without implying the establishment of a particular religion. Society is more stable if people have a religious or secular belief in what is right and wrong behavior. Religion will probably always occupy a place in the diversity and complexity of life.
Even in a society where people are free to do religion as they see fit, or perhaps because they have that freedom, disagreements will occasionally cause intense debates. The bad news is that arguments frequently become polarized into either/or, mutually exclusive positions.
Do religious principles or secular laws define good behavior?
Does a religious or a secular world view matter in politics?
Are science and religion opposite approaches to life?
Is science or religion the only path to truth?
Should prayer be allowed in public schools?
Did the world evolve, or was it created?
Are Heaven and Earth at war?
Should we be born again?
Or just grow up?
One way to answer these either/or questions is to simply say YES. Science tells us about this world. Religion tells us about the next world. And both can be a source of purpose, meaning and belonging. The problem is more complicated than that, of course, and you will have to answer these questions to your own satisfaction.
Keep in mind, however, that believing there is a god is very different than believing there is life after death. Steve Pavlina, for example, has Ten Reasons why we should not believe in religion and one reason to believe in life after death.
We cannot prove life after death by investigating evidence outside ourselves. We can only go inside ourselves for the answer by choosing to believe it. Work on your consciousness now. If this life is all there is, yours will be better by increasing your awareness and sensitivity to it. If consciousness survives death, your next life will be better for the same reason.