In a short essay, on a vast subject, it is impossible to deal with more than
four or five aspects of the influence of religion on the life of man - and
these, of course, must be connected with the main world-religions excluding
primitive, animistic beliefs and practices encountered in the most backward
societies. Considering Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and
Judaism, we find that religions have influenced every aspect of the life of man.
Among the early Jews, religion not only 'influenced' government, it was
government. Palestine, until the 8th century B.C. was ruled by 'Priests-Kings'
who claimed divine sanction for all their decisions. Their appointment was a
religious rite. And this has more or less influenced the Western theory of
monarchy ever since. The theory of the 'Divine Right of Kings' was formally
propounded in Britain in the 16th century, based on New Testament social
philosophy. Officially rejected, it has, nevertheless, influenced the monarch to
subject relationship in many countries ever since. Christianity, for its first
300 years, lived in more or less opposition to the Roman Empire ... until the
days of Constantine, who, in 325 A.D. became the first Christian monarch of the
Holy Roman Empire. But of course the temporal and spiritual functions of
government had long since been separated between Pope and Emperor, King and
Archbishop, and the relations between these have shown all the 'ups and downs'
one might expect in subsequent history. In most countries today, government is carried out on
democratic lines, the monarch retaining little more than a strong 'influence'
and powers of sanction and veto.
Religion has, in result, played an important part in the foreign affairs of
countries. In this, the Moslem and Christian religious are cases in point. The
faithful Muslim has always been permitted to take up arms in the defense of his
religion, or to further its cause. The outcome has been wars against the Jews
and the Christians. The Christians, likewise, considered it their duty to oust
the Moslem Turks from the 'Holy Places' of Palestine in the middle ages, and
long drawn-out 'crusades' were the result, costly in manpower, wealth and
goodwill to both sides. If we examine the causes of most wars from mediaeval
times to the 17th century, in Europe and the Middle East, we find religion was
the direct cause, as between Christian and Saracen in Europe; sometimes, it was
used as a cloak to further a political or economic struggle, or as a sanction to
proceed with a war of aggression where legal claims could be proved (Henry V,
Charles VI of France). Occasionally, the war was on a religious issue such as
Protestantism versus Roman Catholicism. The Spanish Inquisition, as a part of
the counter reformation, forcibly attempted to 'Convert' Protestant prisoners to
Catholicism for the ultimate good of their own souls! Religious massacres have
been commonplace in India in the past, and it says much for the democratic
spirit of the New Malaysia that, today, Christians, Muslims and Hindus are able
to live together in harmony.
Among other influences, those on the social customs of countries have been
important. The Western 'weekend' is based on the Christian Sunday which in turn
replaced the Jewish Sabbath. Bank Holidays such as Easter Monday and Whit Monday
have a religious origin - just as do the sequence of holidays proper to the
Chinese and Indians, beginning with Chinese New Year. But the effect of religion
on social custom goes much deeper. It certainly produced the caste system in
India and was partly responsible for the class system in Europe, but nowadays,
both Hinduism and Christianity repudiate these arbitrary divisions among people.
The theories of marriage and general conduct in social life also stem from the
teaching of the respective world-religions and have become a fixed part of the
pattern of life where they apply.
The most important influence of religion is upon morality. Modern law is based
on a mixture of Roman law and religious principle. Its sanction is authority.
Moral law, which is behind national and international legal systems, has behind
it the final sanction - the Will of God. In this connection, each world-religion
has made its own individual contribution to the sum-total of world morality,
despite the fact that certain moral precepts are held in common by them all. If
we look to the Muslim faith, we find there an admirable teaching about
self-discipline; to the Hindu faith, about non-violence; to the Christian faith,
about love; to the Buddhist faith, about contemplation and to Confucianism,
about duties to society and the family. The most important commonly-held piece of
teaching is that we should behave towards others as we should wish them to
behave towards us.
The great Religions not only carry profound influence today, but also are, (and
will remain) integral part in the life of man.