Religion may be nonsense, but God is real.
The Bible tells the story of two religions, Judaism and Christianity. Both stories were cut short when the composition of the Bible was fixed. If we read it for the broad sweep of the stories, we see that religion and nationalism are inseparable. This would be blatantly obvious to any alien who tuned into our TV news broadcasts for a day or two, yet we who are trapped in each of our own religions and national identity are often oblivious to this reality.
Britain today is still much influenced by the memory of the parts played in the two world wars by religion and nationalism. If we have a national religion, it is scepticism about the established church. The memory lives on several generations after millions were conned by the alliance of state and church into sacrificing their lives. The people are in rebellion against the use of religion to order society and make the masses content with their lot as they are exploited by the ruling classes. Consequently few will have anything to do with church and the Christian religion.
But it would be wrong to assume that an irreligious nation is a nation without faith. Faith is the personal relationship between the individual and God and many who do not go to church still believe in God, say the odd prayer from time to time and hold to the notion that God guides us in knowing the difference between good and bad. Their rejection of organised religion comes from a sense that it is more bad than good. Who wants to be part of an organisation that asks its members to contribute from their poverty to maintain its leaders in comparative wealth.
Yet religion is not all bad because it does offer a framework for faith. Like it or not, we are a thinking species and we cannot simply be in relationship with God. We have to think about it. We have to ask questions. We need to search for ways of expressing our feelings. Each religion provides a ready made set of answers: a framework to guide ones thoughts. Anyone who has been touched by God's love and experienced the reality of his existence becomes hungry for knowledge. Religion provides a source of knowledge. Most of it is rubbish, but, like diamond bearing rock, it is seeded with the wisdom and experience of those who have been in deep relationship with God.
The problem with religion is that it mostly takes the hunger of the new convert and perverts it.
I find it hard to understand why God allows this. At times, I am very angry with God for continuing to touch the individual with the experience of His love while others are using that experience to substantiate their false doctrines and political aims. The answer which comes into to my mind is that this exploitation of the faithful would happen anyway, even if there were no God, even if faith and religious experience were just figments of the imagination. That being the case, why should God deny the individual the experience of his love. But my thoughts are concentrated on the suicide bomber. What is the nature of the personal relationship between him and God as he prepares to die and take others with him. The answer which comes into my mind is that while nothing can separate us from the love of God, on His part; on our part, we separate ourselves from God through our thoughts and actions. This is part of the natural order of things. Once on the road to destruction, the suicide bomber has isolated himself from the experience of God's love, just as I do every time I act selfishly, or without regard to how my action might harm others.
I believe that religion evolved as a cultural tool for giving a sense of tribal identity. As modern man increased in numbers and competition for a finite food supply became a dominant factor, a tribe held together by religion would have an advantage. Liberal theologians interpret the first sections of the Bible as describing the process by which religion was used to form the disparate tribes of the Hebrew people into a nation.
We are stuck with the fact that we are here now because religion gave our tribal ancestors the advantage that enabled them to prosper while other tribes died out; and that this process in one form or another repeated itself over the generations until we are now a nation living within secure boundaries. Religion is part of human culture. Christianity is the major world religion it is because it was hijacked by the Roman empire and used as both a unifying force and a source of administrators. This pattern continued throughout Medieval Society and the colonial expansion of the European nations. English is now the world's lingua franca because of the success of the combination of church, state and private enterprise in the expansion of the British Empire. While the empire is no more, the culture survived.
Religion does not make sense when taken in isolation. Its doctrines and dogmas are too inflexible to allow it to encompass the broader picture. Once I realised that with the development of language, human evolution became cultural evolution, things made sense. God is committed to creation through evolution and cultural evolution has inevitably produced religions.