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In Theory: What is the role of religion?

November 11, 2010

David Hartman, a Jerusalem-based rabbi and philosopher, recently sat down for an interview with CNN's Izzy Lemberg. In the interview, Hartman wonders whether religion is really helpful to the human condition. "There's a whole bunch of myths that religions use to sort of make reality not as overwhelming and as significant, "he said." Hartman argues that life is full of uncertainties, so "religion is in some way the battle against contingency, vulnerability, precariousness … you anchor your life in a god who in some way provides for you a picture, an opportunity to leave reality …"

Hartman believes argues that religion is a trip into "fantasy," a trip into "another world." However, when people encounter adversity, that fantasy quickly dissolves. Instead, he says, religion should offer a way for people to make sense of life's uncertainties.

What do you think of Hartman's comments? What's the real role, do you believe, religion should play in the human condition? And if religion is a trip into fantasy, as Hartman says, how can people avoid falling into this trap?

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Boy, I have thought a lot about this topic the last four years as a psychotherapist. As an ordained minister working as a full-time pastor, I believed, and still believe, God helps us in times of adversity and times of peace simply because he is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. I truly believe Christ to be savior and the way to eternal life — and the way to daily direction and healing from trials and adversity.

As a therapist, my thoughts have gone further. I treat many people from different religions. I do not proselytize them — this not my job as a therapist. My job is to respect their beliefs, direct them to personal healing from whatever diverse issue brings them into my office, and have them come out the other side healed, healthy and living a quality of life that is life-giving to them and to those they encounter.

So how do I view those that serve a religion that does not necessarily fit my personal belief? I understand that spirituality and religion are a comfort. Spirituality and religion take one's eyes off the immediate crisis in life and set it aside to a higher power, whatever that power may be in the spirit of the human. And for some reason, this brings peace, perspective and the ability to make it through life's troubles.

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