From time to time, I like to take a question and explore it from a New Thought and spiritual evolutionary perspective. Today we consider a question about the necessity of religion. Below my take is some background on the question and a link to some other takes. If you have a question you would like me to tackle in a future article, post a comment at the bottom.

Q. Are Religious Beliefs Necessary?

I believe that humans have a natural tendency to seek meaning, to understand the universe and their place in in. In the evolution of our human consciousness, we have developed different ways of explaining our existence. Early on, we saw powers in the world within the things around us, the “gods” were in the sun, the moon, the plants, the animals, etc. Later, these entities became the pantheon of early “Gods” such as in Egypt, Greece and other places.  Then these Gods evolved in our beliefs to one all-powerful God who stood outside the world and passed judgment on us.  This monotheistic belief system gave rise to the religions we still see with us today.  These religions also coupled their descriptions of “meaning” (how and why the universe works) with distinct dogmatic laws defining acceptable human behavior.

At a certain point, we evolved beyond the idea of an external God and dogmatic religions and sought meaning in reason and science. Science has been successful in explaining how the world works but has not really addressed our desire for meaning.  This contributes, in my opinion, to some of the challenges today that people call a “crisis of meaning” among modern humans. However, many now seek meaning through a melding of science and spirituality.

So, to the question “are religious beliefs necessary?” I would suggest that religious beliefs were a necessary step in the evolution of our consciousness.  For many of us who no longer get meaning from formal religions, we can at least see that from an historical perspective and as a developmental step, they were useful.  We must also see that for many people, their religious faith still serves to meet their needs for meaning where they are in their individual consciousness.

However, I would also suggest that as we continue to evolve, we need to make a distinction between religious beliefs and spiritual beliefs.  We still have a desire to seek meaning. Now, however, it appears to me that we are evolving towards what is frequently called “spiritual but not religious”.  This stage of our development incorporates the wisdom of the mystical truths of all religions, the findings of logic and science and the freedom to move beyond dogma to forge our own individual path towards truth. This truth acknowledges that we live in a physical universe but that our existence also transcends it.  So religious beliefs were a necessary step in our evolution but at some point they need to be released and evolve into new levels of understanding that serve our ever-continuing need for meaning.

Further Commentary and Background

The genesis of looking at this question came from and email from my friend Debilyn Molineaux who works for the Bridge Alliance. She and I served together on the board of the Coffee Party USA a few years back. She recently sent out an email posing this question to her mailing list. Normally I don’t have the time to answer such queries, but I decided to take some time and craft a response for her.

Given the length and nuance of my “answer”, I’m not surprised that she didn’t include it in her summary of the responses received. That’s OK, as I figured I would post it here on my “bridge” and I know from experience that I always get something from taking the time to write down what I believe about some question like this one. However, if want to get some other takes on the question, here is a link to her summary of some of the responses she received.

So now, I pose the question to you. What do you think? Are religious beliefs necessary?

Mark Gilbert