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Religion has been a part of life since the conception of human society. Throughout history many major decisions have been made because of how people view religion and their own spiritual values. In her short story “The Lottery” Shirley Jackson creates a world where the townsfolk hold a lottery for a human sacrifice for their harvest to go well. The story goes on to explain how it has always been this way and how necessary evil is needed to balance life and death.
Salman Rushdie’s 1993 essay ‘Imagine There’s No Heaven’ shows the flipside where he highlights that religion is not what it makes it out to be, many of the common religious stories have been proven to be flat out wrong. Both Shirley Jackson and Salman Rushdie depict how religion effects everyday society. Jackson’s short story shows how necessary evils are a part of religion and how unquestioned loyalty effects everyday lives, Rushdie’s essay talks more of the logistic facts of religion and how it has impacted society in its entirety.
Is religion taught for spiritual value or a way to govern society? How has the idea of god impacted human history? Is religion necessary for humanities existence? Religion has been taught early to instill spiritual value at a young age, but is religion really being taught to contain people and their emotions in society. Shirley Jackson’s story depicts a world where the town accept religion because that is how it has always been, that led to the unnecessary murder of people.
Although the characters in the story were upset with the decision and started to question their decisions the town was unified with murdering Mrs. Hutchinson. Jennifer Hicks wrote about the fear in her overview of the story “The fear becomes more noticeable during the drawing when people were “wetting their lips, not looking around” and holding “the small folded papers in their large hands, turning them over and over nervously……The fear is blatantly apparent once the Hutchinson family had been chosen and Nancy’s friends “breathed heavily as she went forward (Hicks) The townsfolk are scared into believing that this lottery is the only way that they can go about doing things in their society. Even though it has been said in the story that the neighboring towns have stopped the rituals and they still have the same crops being grown. Being taught anything from a young age almost creates that thing as second nature. Artifacts found from as far back as ancient Greece show that the rich families sent their children to be taught by tutors specifically about their gods. As Salman Rushdie states in his essay “So you will be told that belief in ‘your’ stories, and adherence to the rituals of worship that have grown up around them, must become a vital part of your life in the crowded world. They will be called the heart of your culture, even of your individual identity.” (Rushdie)
Although the stories taught have good morals and teach life lessons, they aren’t a part of your individual life. Rushdie makes strong arguments that religion has been a part of society in order to keep society at peace. The idea of god dictates what happens in society, but just how much has religion changed peoples mind with crucial life choices. How are we supposed to make decisions regarding what is morally right versus wrong? An easy example is the overpopulation of our planet. The realistic answer to overpopulation would be to have a law that limits families to having only one child regardless of gender.
China has already shown that this can be an effective way to cut on an ever-growing population. But because of some cultures and religious views, boys are more favorable and simply aborting a child isn’t an option. Or some cultures do not believe in any form of birth control, or different sexualities and genders. Therefore, many families would be opposed to this law even though at this point it is almost necessary for survival on this planet as me know it. “If too many people are being born as a result, in part, of religious strictures against birth control, then too many people are also dying because religious culture, by refusing to face the facts of human sexuality, also refuses to fight against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.” (Rushdie)
Morals versus hard facts has been an issue in society across history. In Shirley Jacksons short story the townsfolk all have the fear of the day they draw pieces of paper to see who the sacrifice will be. Old man Warner seemed to have been the governing figure who regulated the draw, we can make the similarity that he is almost like the church officials of today. He did not give people a choice in the matter. It was morally accepted that somebody was going to die. The townspeople refused to adapt to modern views. The story clearly shows that some peoples detest the lottery and states that other towns have voted to end them. Eustace Haydon believes that people have not changed their views to adapt to the modern society, and it can be tied to the same views that the townspeople in Shirley Jacksons story hold. “The stubborn resistance to change of the fundamental pattern of Christian religious thinking through five stirring centuries is remarkable, for it is an axiom of the history of religions that a living religion, integral to the life process of a people, will flow into new forms as the social and intellectual patterns change.” (Haydon)
Religion has led to some of the most heinous acts in human history. If the catholic church never put the fear of going to hell in the minds of citizens maybe the Christian crusades never would have happened, maybe Hitler would not have rose to power in Germany. If religion was not such an issue maybe the terrorist attacks on September 11th would not have happened. In religion happiness comes with necessary evils. Not everything is as glorious as it would seem.
In Shirley Jacksons story the townsfolk truly believed that the human sacrifice would help their harvest. To them it truly might have helped because the people believed they would be blessed enough to make it through the season, maybe that would lead to higher moral and more effective work. However, they still stoned a person to death every season just for their own selfish gain. Rushdie points out that we are overpopulating our world and religion is a major reason why we cannot accept the fact that we need to make changes in order to sustain the planet we live on. Is it fair to ask if we can be freer as a species if we did not depend on religion? Rushdie believes that we would be better off making our own decisions without the interference of morale. Simply put, facts are easier to govern and abide by than people’s emotions.
That’s not to say that emotion is a sign of weakness, humanity needs emotion to still be human. But relying on emotions and morals as a primary factor is not smart for government. People have relied on religion for centuries for relief as well as the way to make important life choices. However, religion has led to many of humanities best and worst moments. It comes down to the individual and how they choice to go about everyday life. Shirley Jackson and Salman Rushdie view religion as an unquestioned devotion and write about how it affects society, both Positively and negatively. Jackson’s short story shows how necessary evils are a part of religion and how unquestioned loyalty effects everyday lives, Rushdie’s essay talks more of the logistic facts of religion and how it has impacted society in its entirety. They are both correct that religion has played a huge part in society but how will it affect our future?
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