This past week, once again a Western city was the victim of a religiously-motivated act of terror. A fanatic chose to drive a rental vehicle onto a bike path in New York City, killing eight people and injuring several others.

In the midst of the shock and confusion following the attack, the skeptic could sincerely ask: Is there any good to religion? Doesn’t it just harm the common good and sanction violence?

These are great questions that merit answers, but maybe our conversation on religion can address not only tragedy and horror, or attacks on the rules, structure, teachings, historical offenses, social limitations, and otherwise undesirable aspects of religion, but also our spiritual nature, our call to community, and the positive achievements and societal contributions made by religious people.

In terms of opposing worldviews to religion, it’s shocking that neither materialism nor positivist utilitarianism has yet to win the day. These creeds are strong and convincing to many, and yet people innately feel that there is something more than what we can simply sense or what we can manipulate and calculate with human skill.

As the American Southern writer, Dr. Walker Percy put it: “This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, ‘scientific humanism.’ That won’t do. A poor show.”

“Life is a mystery, love is a delight,” Percy said. “Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less.”

These views aren’t good enough, because as human persons we are more than simply the things of this earth. Within each of us, there is a capacity and a desire for transcendence. At the core of this spiritual yearning is our desire for meaning and purpose.

As each of us deepens in our comprehension of our spiritual nature and of God, we begin to seek out others who know and have a relationship with God. We find a need and a push to share and dialogue about ideas, experiences, and teachings. From this mutual exchange of spiritual goods, a community is formed and a way of life develops and is accepted by the people within this community.

This coming together is the basis of religion.

Admittedly, organized religion is not a utopia. It is an attempt to assist a community of faith to encounter God and follow its agreed upon way of life. Oftentimes, organized religion is more disorganized, and at times the structures within it are dependent upon the hearts and good intentions of the believers.

And so, have there been times when religion has followed a less-than-noble course of action? Yes. Have there been times when the tenets of religion have been used to justify evil and atrocities? Yes. Does that mean that religion can affect no good, and should be removed from society? No.

And so, religion is “good” to the degree that it protects human dignity and personal flourishing, as well as the common good of society. And religion is “bad” to the degree that it offends human dignity, dismisses personal growth and human development, and causes needless harm to the well-being and building up of society.

In response to the New York attack, Pope Francis addressed just such bad religion as he prayed: “I call on the Lord that he may convert the hearts of the terrorist and free the world of hate and that crazy homicide that abuses the name of God to disseminate death.”

By contrast, good religion has accomplished more edifying and uplifting things in human history than bad religion could ever hope to destroy or divide. It is the person who assents to good religion that seeks to dialogue, understand, and serve those around him.

Such believers find a communion with God, and then labor to share God’s love and compassion to others, while always respecting their consciences and freedom. They point to a higher ideal, seek to live by it, and call others to its fullness. They understand that the glory of God is man fully alive.

From this initiative, religion has been the source of abundant human services from hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes, and schools, to advocacy on behalf of those with no voice, to supporting cultural outreaches, and seeking ways to protect and promote life and its authentic flourishing.

And so, this is the task of good religion. It’s opposed to bad religion by its call to edify the person and enrich society. When the summons is accepted and lived well by believers, the human family can see the importance of religion, and the positive role it can play in making the world a more humane and loving place to live.