It is a well-known principle in Judaism that it is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason, than to not do it for any reason.
This principle is valid in all cases except regarding religiousness itself. Nothing does more harm to religion and to God’s reputation than people who lead religious lives with wrong motivations.
Wrong motivations does not refer to people who seek solace in faith to overcome earthly hardships. This kind of religiosity may be the proverbial "opium of the masses", yet is not destructive.
Destructive religiosity is that which exploits insecurity and inferiority complexes. In this sphere there are many people who are drawn to religion in order to feel superior. This kind of religious pride is utterly destructive. It turns religion into a service of the ego rather than a service of God.
How can we discern whether our religious intentions are pure?
Kohlberg’s theories on ethics give us guidelines to discern the worst, the bad, the good and the best reasons to embrace religious faith.
The worst reason is to do so only out of fear of punishment and pursuit of a reward in this life. To be religious to impress others or to obtain material bounties is pure narcissism.
The bad reason is to do so only out of fear of punishment and pursuit of a reward in the afterlife. To practice religion just to secure heaven turns God into a mere contractual partner.
The good reason is to find answers to existential questions that neither science nor hedonism are able to address.
The best reason is to find a conduit for the gratitude and love we owe God and God’s creation.
This hierarchy sheds light on why religion inspires sincere believers to spectacular ethical heights and at the same time is often the maidservant of power, egotism and pride.
I urge all religious readers to examine their deepest motivations for engaging in a religious life.
I urge secular readers to realize that religious lives are as good and bad as the quality of believers’ motivations.
Rafael Castro is a Yale and Hebrew University educated business and political analyst based in Europe. Rafael specializes in proofreading, editing and ghostwriting quality texts for entrepreneurs and politicians. Rafael can be reached at email@example.com