What Is Religion?

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Religions exist in every culture on the planet, and more than 80 percent of people worldwide subscribe to some. It seems logical to assume that these beliefs would be similar, but that is not the case. Many cultures have a different view of truth, Scripture, and behavior than others, which leads to fundamental disagreements about what religion is.

The word religion is often used to describe a system of belief and practice that is linked to something supernatural, but it can also refer to something spiritual or philosophical. It can be a framework for moral conduct or a way to judge one’s own and others’ actions. It is generally understood that it encompasses a code of ethics, practices such as worship, and a philosophy or view of the world that affects how an individual views his or her life.

Attempts to define religion have often been fraught with difficulty, but some scholars argue that there is a core concept at the heart of any religion, no matter what specific practices or beliefs are involved. These essentials include a sense of the sacred, or something that is considered worthy of devotion; an object (or objects) of devotion; a set of rules governing proper and improper behavior; and an explanation for why the universe or world is the way it is.

Anthropologists suggest that religion may have developed out of human beings’ attempts to control the uncontrollable parts of the environment, such as the weather and success in hunting. These efforts might have taken the form of magic, which tries to manipulate the environment, or supplication, or religion, which calls upon a mysterious deity for help.

Religious belief and behavior have the potential to arouse emotions, including hope and love, as well as fear and anger. The innate desire for communion with the Divine, which is the goal of all religions, invokes the imagination and stirs the emotions. It is a profoundly irrational pursuit, however, and mankind has a tendency to fall into offences, ritual or moral, deliberate or involuntary, that can block or destroy the bliss of this communion.

The earliest religious ideas for which there is some evidence date back to primitive tribal totems and ancestor worship, and to the worship of the great gods of nature that evolved from mistaken applications of ancestor-worship. These early religions were polytheistic, and they taught that there are many forms of divinity. Later, a number of monotheistic religions emerged in Egypt and Mesopotamia, followed by the Indian religion of Hinduism. Many of the modern world’s religions are derived from these ancient traditions.