Do you agree that religion is a tool that gives power to certain individuals? Explain your views by giving specific examples

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We have some 5,000 years of written history from all over the world on the topic of religion. To generalize about what people in hundreds of countries have done or believed over such a long period would either require statements so vague as to be meaningless or require statements that contained a high degree of inaccuracy.

Religions, by their very nature, vary. Some establish strong hierarchies and thus dominate much of civic and personal life, while others do not establish such hierarchies and instead implement personal spiritual practices. Some religions are officially "established" in certain nations, meaning that they are part of a political system of authority (a phenomenon known in the Orthodox Church as caesaropapism), while other nations, such as the United States, have a "wall of separation" between church and state. 

Religions which are part of national governments and have strict hierarchies tend to give great power to individuals at the top of the hierarchy, while less personal power is divested in religions that are independent of the state.

While some people use religion cynically—a tool to achieve personal power (Lucian's The Passing of Peregrinus is an example)—many other people have deep and genuine religious beliefs. Religion can also, in some instances, be a locus of resistance to power. This can be seen in Tibetan Buddhists' resistance to  British rule and Bishop Tutu's role in the struggle against apartheid. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that religion can be a tool that gives power to certain individuals.

Theoretically, I don't see religion as a means to empower specific people.  It is meant as a way for individuals to find the presence of the divine in their lives. This means that spiritual identity exists between the individual and the divine. However, the way individuals seek this is where the element of power arises. People who turn to "more knowledgeable" sources might end up giving a great deal of power to specific individuals.  As a result, gurus or healers emerge.  

While the theoretical construction of religion does not mean to give power to specific individuals, the path that people take to find the presence of the divine might enable some to have power over others. When people struggle with questions such as "What does God want from me," or "How can my suffering be alleviated," there is a propensity to turn to people who are supposedly insightful.  The need to find answers from another source is where religion can give power to specific people.  It might be for this reason that one can find pastors, rabbis, priests, and other individuals who are considered "Holy" as holding power over individuals.