By Engr. Carlos Cornejo
Are there people who don’t practice any religion who are more virtuous or more behaved than those who do? Unfortunately, yes. This can happen if people who are part of a religion don’t practice what has been preached by their religion. Morality or observing a set of rules on right conduct is part of every religion. It is not the only part. Every religion also has a doctrine or teachings or wisdom. Every religion likewise has forms of worship or liturgy. Morality, doctrine and liturgy are three parts of every religion in the world or creed, code and cult.
You need to be moral to be truly religious, but you don’t have to be religious to be moral. So, is there an advantage of being in a religion or a Christian in trying to practice morality? Yes. First, religion helps you remove your guilt. When Christ said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17) He did not say be sorry for all the offenses you have done to your neighbor but be sorry to God, thus, implying two kinds of relationships, vertical (towards God) and horizontal (towards other men). Peace of mind comes not only for apologizing to any person whom we have offended but also asking for forgiveness to God whom we have offended more often through the violation of His commandments. Psychologists for example could not remove deep guilt. They can only remove guilt feelings for a while which are symptoms of a disease of the soul, but not cure the disease itself. Guilt feelings would always come back later to persistently haunt the guilty party. Only a priest through the Sacrament of Confession could permanently erase deep guilt because you have not offended a person but a God. But the good news is God is always willing to forgive as long as we are sincerely sorry, and would try our best not to sin anymore, even though we can’t assure that we will not sin in the future. God is happy enough with our sincere repentance at the time of confession.
Second, religion gives us a clearer path to practice good morals because religion gives us a better picture of what is good and evil. There are many offenses that we are not aware of towards God. Many of us think we are “good people” just because we have not harmed anyone. But as we have mentioned already our relationship is not only towards other persons but most importantly towards God. The reality is we are all sinners in need of salvation. Religion gives us a full diagnosis of the sickness of our soul and God is the only doctor and therapist who can cure us.
Third, religion gives us a stronger motive to be good, which should be our love for God. When a man falls in love with a woman, he will try not displease his beloved, by not doing anything that displeases her. In the process, the man becomes a different person because of his love for that woman. The same thing with our love for God, and we don’t only become a new person, we become more like God who is inviting us to “become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet 1:4)
Fourth, religion gives you the highest ideals, because you do it for the most important person in your life. An ideal that is more beautiful and greater than any worldly ideals. Suicide bombing is not martyrdom because it is done out of hatred for others. True martyrdom is to die for love of God and love of others like in the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe who offered to die by voluntarily taking the place of a prisoner who was sentenced to death in the Nazi concentration camp. St. Maximilian offered himself as a substitute so as to give the condemned fellow a chance to see his family after the war.
Finally, and most importantly, religion gives you the power, the help, the assistance to be good, through God’s grace, so you don’t have to rely on your own efforts alone. Holiness or sanctity which is the ultimate reason for being moral is always the interplay between God’s grace and man’s correspondence to that grace. It would be very hard to persevere in practicing morality without religion. Religion makes the impossible possible through God’s grace. “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:25-26)