I put forth this as an example of the religious impulse:
DN31 wrote:When the Exalted One had spoken thus, Sigala, the young householder, said as follows:
"Excellent, Lord, excellent! It is as if, Lord, a man were to set upright that which was overturned, or were to reveal that which was hidden, or were to point out the way to one who had gone astray, or were to hold a lamp amidst the darkness, so that those who have eyes may see. Even so, has the doctrine been explained in various ways by the Exalted One.
"I take refuge, Lord, in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. May the Exalted One receive me as a lay follower; as one who has taken refuge from this very day to life's end."
Sigala could have simply approved of what the Buddha said and left it at that. But he went further. He declared an alligence to the Buddha, declared his intent to follow the Buddha for the rest of his life. Something clearly happened in Sigala's mind bridging the gap from simply approving of what the Buddha said to finding the Buddha worthy of following for the rest of his life. It is a gap bridged by sadha
, faith, confidence.
I would call this the religious impulse. I would call this the difference between merely finding some Buddhist teachings interesting to taking on Buddhism as a religion, taking the Noble Eightfold Path as the supreme guiding principle in one's life.
And it is something one either experiences or they don't. And those that don't experience it apparently cannot understand those that do; likewise those that do apparently cannot explain it to those that don't. It is that wide of a gap.
I think it is not unreasonable to suggest this lack of clarity on what happens over this gap may be responsible for contributing to some bad behaviors. For example, I have seen people relentlessly (aggressively, annoyingly, violently) proselytize because they believe this is the way to bring people over that gap. I have seen the strength of one's faith give them the energy and will to commit physical aggression and violence. So I can see how someone might conclude "eliminate the faith, eliminate that bridge over the gap and then we will have eliminated the condition for these bad behaviors." I can see this being suggested especially because those who have not crossed the gap do not understand it. In a way both sides are guilty of the same thing: wanting to eliminate that which is different from them. It is fear of the unknown. That's all.
For my part, I believe the problem is neither faith nor lack of faith. The problem is for people of faith to learn how to relate to people of no faith and for people of no faith to learn how to relate to people of faith. It is a matter, as I said previously, of learning tolerance.
I remember myself before confidence in the Buddha arose. I remember not understanding people of religion. I remember thinking religion was a crutch, a delusion, a clinging to something unnecessary. And I remember being shocked to realize one day that I was now a person of religion.
I remember when my sister became a born-again Christian. I remember how obnoxious and at times outright hostile she was to everyone who didn't love Christ. And I remember seeing a gradual change in her over the years as she learned tolerance. Her husband put it to me this way: "It either happens for you or it doesn't. You can't make it happen. And you can't make it happen to someone else. Either Christ makes himself known to you or he doesn't." I find I can understand what he's saying. You either find faith in the Buddha arising or your don't. You either find yourself willing to be a follower for life or you don't. What makes that happen? What's the trigger? the cause? I don't know. Christians say it is G-d's will. Buddhists say it is due to past karma.
I do think it is interesting to talk about, to look at. The religious impulse. I think to look objectively one has to put aside any preconceived notions of good or bad. To say "the religious impulse is bad because it is a supporting condition for all sorts of bad behavior" is going to make one less objective. To say "the religious impulse is good because it is a supporting condition for liberation" is also going to make one less objective. These views are also going to make discourse intolerable as both sides will be looking down on the other. I think both views are also unnecessary to the discussion. Something happens, a chasm surmounted, a profound change occurs. I think this can be talked about while still maintaining an attitude of respect.
I think understanding how that gap is bridged, or perhaps discovering that it can't be bridged intentionally, will go a way to eliminating bad behaviors on both sides.