Religion (see etymology below) —sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system—is commonly defined as belief concerning the supernatural, sacred, or divine; and the moral codes, practices, values, institutions and rituals associated with such belief. In its broadest sense some have defined it as the sum total of answers given to explain humankind's relationship with the universe. In the course of the development of religion, it has taken many forms in various cultures and individuals. Occasionally, the word "religion" is used to designate what should be more properly described as "organized religion" – that is, an organization of people supporting the exercise of some religion, often taking the form of a legal entity (see religion-supporting organization). There are many different religions in the world today.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Approaches to the study of individual religions
- 3 Development of religion
- 4 Approaches to relating to the beliefs of others
- 5 Religion and other approaches to forming beliefs about the nature of the universe
- 6 See also
- 7 Compare with
- 8 External links
The origins of the word "religion" have been debated for centuries. Some explanations for the origin of the word are:
- re-reading--from Latin re (again) + legio (read), referring to the repetition of scripture.
- treating carefully--from Latin relegere (Cicero's interpretation)
- re-connection to the divine--from Latin re (again) + ligare (to connect, as in English ligament). This interpretation is favoured by modern scholars such as Tom Harpur, but probably originated with St. Augustine.
- to bind or return to bondage--an alternate interpretation of the "reconnection" etymology, possibly also originating with Augustine but emphasising a sense of servitude to God. However, the bondage interpretation, while popular with critics of religion, is often considered imprecise and possibly offensive in many modern religious contexts.
- concerning a gathering--from Latin ablative res (with regard to) + legere (to gather). More emphatically, religion concerns an organization.
What is clear about the word "religion" is that the religious connotations (in the sense of gods, morality, afterlife, etc.) were not a part of the term's Latin precursors.
Religion and science
According to the religious, knowledge can be gained from a religious leader, a sacred text, or personal revelation. It is not limited in scope and can try to answer any question. Some religious people maintain that knowledge obtained in this way is absolute and infallible (religious cosmology). Religious knowledge tends to vary from religion to religion, from sect to sect, and from individual to individual.
In contrast, the scientific method gains knowledge by interaction with the world, and can only answer cosmological questions about the physical universe. It tries to give theories of the world which best fit the observed evidence. All scientific knowledge is tentative, and subject to later improvement or revision in the face of better evidence. It should be noted that science can not only describe the world physically, but can also state facts that aren't physical, e.g. facts of economics, linguistics or much of psychology.
Many early scientists held strong religious beliefs and strove to reconcile science and religion. Isaac Newton, for example, believed that gravity caused the planets to revolve about the sun, but also said that angels may have to give the planets a push from time to time to keep them going. Sometimes, however, conflicts arose between science and religion. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has reserved to itself the right to decide which scientific discoveries are acceptable and which are unacceptable. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for unacceptable scientific theories, while Galileo was tried and forced to recant the theory that the earth goes around the sun. The modern Roman Catholic Church accepts most current scientific theories, but still reserves the right to make the final judgment.
Here are a few of the areas in which science and the organized Church have come into conflict from time to time.
- Does the earth move or does the sun move around the earth?
- Is the earth a few thousand years old or more than a billion years old?
- Was there a flood that covered all the earth?
- Did the various species evolve or were they individually created by God?
- Did the universe have a beginning or is it infinite?
- Is the speed of light constant and is Einstein's Theory of Relativity correct?
- Does radioactive decay occur at a predictable rate?
Philosophy and metaphysics
In between the doctrines of religion and science, stands the philosophical perspective of metaphysical cosmology. This ancient field of study seeks to draw logical conclusions about the nature of the universe, humanity, and god. One important philosophical tool that attempts to resolve the conflict between religion and science is Occam's razor, which was originally developed by William of Occam to support religion but is now often used in the philosophy of science to support science. Occam's razor cuts both ways. One should also take note of the related philosophic field of epistemology which questions the very nature of how we come to understand and accept that a belief is true or false, such as belief in Darwinian evolution as compared to Christian young earth creationism and vice versa.
Esotericism and mysticism
Mysticism, in contrast with philosophy and metaphysics, denies that logic is the most important method of gaining enlightenment. Rather physical disciplines such as yoga, starvation, self-strangulation, or whirling (in the case of the Sufi dervishes) or the use of drugs such as LSD, lead to higher states of consciousness that logic can never hope to grasp.
Mysticism ("to conceal") is the pursuit of communion with, or conscious awareness of ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or God through direct, personal experience (intuition or insight) rather than rational thought. Mystics believe in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible through personal experience. They believe that such experience is a genuine and important source of knowledge.
Esotericism claims to be more sophisticated than religion, to rely on intellectual understanding rather than faith, and to improve on philosophy in its emphasis on techniques of psycho-spiritual transformation (esoteric cosmology). Esotericism refers to "hidden" knowledge available only to the advanced, privileged, or initiated, as opposed to exoteric knowledge, which is public. It applies especially to spiritual practices. The mystery religions of ancient Greece and the modern religion of Scientology are examples of Esotericism.
Members of an organized religion may not see any significant difference between religion and spirituality. Or they may see a distinction between the mundane, earthly aspects of their religion and its spiritual dimension.
Some individuals draw a strong distinction between religion and spirituality. They may see spirituality as a belief in ideas of religious significance (such as God, the Soul, or Heaven), but not feel bound to the bureaucratic structure and creeds of a particular organized religion. They choose the term spirituality rather than religion to describe their form of belief, perhaps reflecting a disillusionment with organized religion (see Religion in modernity), and a movement towards a more "modern" — more tolerant, and more intuitive — form of religion. These individuals may reject organized religion because of historical acts by religious organizations, such as Islamic terrorism or the Spanish Inquisition.
- "Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d'etre of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran? As Christian friends were endeavouring to convert me, so were Muslim friends. Abdullah Sheth had kept on inducing me to study Islam, and of course he had always something to say regarding its beauty."
He then went on to say:
- "As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is no such thing as religion over-riding morality. Man, for instance, cannot be untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side."
He also said the following about Hinduism:
- "Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being ... When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita."
Later in his life when he was asked whether he was a Hindu, he replied:
- "Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew."
The word "myth" has two main meanings, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
- a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon
- a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
Ancient polytheistic religions, such as those of Greece, Rome, and Scandinavia, are categorized under the heading of mythology. Religions of pre-industrial peoples, or cultures in development, are similarly called myths in the anthropology of religion. Mythology can be a term used pejoratively by both religious and non-religious people. By defining another person's religious stories and beliefs as mythology, one implies that they are less real than one's own religious stories and beliefs.
The term "myth" in sociology, however, has a non-pejorative meaning. There "myth" is defined as stories that are important for the group and not necessarily untrue. Examples include the death and resurrection of Jesus, which, to Christians, explains the means by which they are freed from sin, as well as being ostensibly a historical event.
Approaches to the study of individual religions
Methods of studying religion subjectively (in relation to one's own beliefs)
These include efforts to determine the meaning and application of "sacred" texts and beliefs in the context of the student's personal worldview. This generally takes one of three forms:
- one's own — efforts by believers to ascertain the meaning of their own sacred text or other traditions, and to conform their thoughts and actions to the principles enunciated in those traditions. For most believers, this involves a lifetime process of study, analysis, and practice. Some faiths, such as Hasidic Judaism, emphasize adherence to a set of rules and rituals. Other faiths, such as Christianity, emphasize the internalization and application of a set of abstract principles, such as Love, Justice, or Faith. Some believers interpret their scriptures literally, and apply the text exactly as it is written. Other believers try to interpret scripture and other tradition through its context, to derive abstract principles which they may apply more directly to their lives and contexts.
- another's compared to one's own — efforts by believers of one belief system attempt to describe a different belief system in terms of their own beliefs. One example of this method is in David Strauss's 1835 The Life of Jesus. Strauss's theological approach strikes from the Biblical text the descriptions of angels and miracles which, due to his presupposition that supernatural events do not occur, he does not believe could have occurred. He then concludes that the stories must have been inserted by a "supernaturalist" merely trying to make an important story more convincing. In this course of his argument, Strauss argues that the supernaturalist who inserted the angels into the story of the birth of Christ borrowed the heathen doctrine of angels from the Babylonians who had held the Jews in captivity. That is, the New Testament's fabulous role for angels "is evidently a product of the influence of the Zend religion of the Persians on the Jewish mind." Due to his presumption that supernatural events do not occur, he dismisses the possibility that both cultures came to believe in angels independently, as a result of their own experiences and context.
- another's as defined by itself — efforts by believers of one belief system to understand the heart and meaning of another faith on its own terms. This very challenging approach to understanding religion presumes that each religion is a self-consistent system whereby a set of beliefs and actions depend upon each other for coherence, and can only be understood in relation to each other. This method requires the student to investigate the philosophical, emotional, religious, and social presuppositions that adherents of another religion develop and apply in their religious life, before applying their own biases, and evaluating the other faith. For instance, an individual who personally does not believe in miracles may attempt to understand why adherents of another religion believe in miracles, and then attempt to understand how the individual's belief in miracles affects their daily life. While the individual may still himself not believe in miracles, he may begin to develop an understanding of why people of other faiths choose to believe in them.
Methods of studying religion objectively (in a scientific and religiously neutral fashion)
There are a variety of methods employed to study religion which seek to be religiously neutral. One's interpretation of these methods depends on one's approach to the relationship between religion and science, as discussed above.
- Epistemological and ontological approaches to religion deal with the very nature of how one comes accept any belief or assumption as true on it's own terms and questions such matters of the nature of reality and existence of the universe and humanity. Such an approach may begin from philosophic first principles of epistemology and philosophic logic such as the law of non-contradiction, the law of excluded middle and others. This is perhaps one of the strongest approaches as one's assumptions here will underline one's assumptions and subsequent approaches to analysis of all of the history, people, sciences (or pseudosciences), humanities and social sciences, texts, ideologies, literatures, emotions and experiences associated with religions.
- Historical, archeological, and literary approaches to religion include attempts to discover the sacred writings at the "dawn of humanity." For example, Max Müller in 1879 launched a project to translate the earliest sacred texts of Hinduism into English in the Sacred Books of the East. Müller's intent was to translate for the first time the "bright" as well as the "dark sides" of non-Christian religions into English. 
- Anthropological approaches include attempts to lay out the principles of native tribes that have had little contact with modern technology as in John Lubbock's The Origin of Civilization and the Primitive Condition of Man. 
- The term "religion" is problematic for anthropologists, and their approaches to the subject are quite varied. Some take the view that religion, particularly in less technically complex cultures, is a form of proto-science--a primitive attempt to explain and predict phenomena in the natural world, similar to modern science but less advanced.
- However, most modern anthropologists reject this view as antiquated, ethnically and intellectually chauvinistic, and unsupported by cross-cultural evidence. Science has very specific methods and aims, while the term "religion" encompasses a huge spectrum of practices, goals, and social functions. In addition to explaining the world (natural or otherwise), religions may also provide mechanisms for maintaining social and psychological well-being, and the foundations of moral/ethical, economic, and political reasoning.
- While many early anthropologists attempted to catalogue and universalize these functions and their origins, modern researchers have tended to back away from such speculation, preferring a more holistic approach: The object of study is the meaning of religious traditions and practices for the practitioners themselves--religion in context--rather than formalized theories about religion in general.
- Sociological approaches include attempts to explain the development of the ideas of morality and law, as in for example, Auguste Comte's Cours de philosophie positive hypothesizing in 1842 that people go through stages of evolution 1) obeying supernatural beings, then 2) manipulating abstract unseen forces, and finally 3) exploring more or less scientifically the social laws and practical governmental structures that work in practice. Within a sociological approach, religion is but the earliest primitive stage of discovering what is morally right and wrong in a civilized society. It is the duty of intelligent men and women everywhere to take responsibility for shaping the society without appealing to a non-existent Divinity to discover empirically what moral concepts actually work in practice, and in the process, the shapers of society must take into account that there is no Divine authority to adjudicate between what are only the opinions of men and women. Comte wrote, in translation, "It can not be necessary to prove to anybody who reads this work that Ideas govern the world, or throw it into chaos; in other words, that all social mechanism rests upon Opinions. The great political and moral crisis that societies are now undergoing is shown by a rigid analysis to arise out of intellectual anarchy." The intellectual anarchy includes the warring oppositions among the world's religions. 
- Psychological approaches. The Psychology of religion involves the gathering and classification of data (usually wide ranging) and the building of the explanations of the psychological processes underlying the religious experiences and beliefs. It includes a wide variety of researches (psychoanalytical and others) : Sigmund Freud (Oedipus Complex, Illusion), Carl Jung (Universal archetypes), Erich Fromm (Desire, Need for stable frame), William James (Personal religious experience, Pragmatism), Alfred Adler (Feeling of inferiority, Perfection), Ludwig Feuerbach (Imagination, Wishes, Fear of Death), Gordon Alport (Mature religion and Immature religion), Erik Erikson (Influence on personality development), Rudolf Otto (Non-rational experience), James Leuba (Mystical experiences and drugs).
- Philosophical approaches include attempts to derive rational classifications of the views of the world that religions preach as in Immanuel Kant's 1788 Critique of Practical Reason. Within a philosophical approach, the reason for a religious belief should be more important than the emotional attachment to the belief.  And in attempting to provide a reasonable basis for morality, Kant proposed the categorical imperative: "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." 
- Neuroscientific approaches seek to explore the apparent similarities among religious views dominant in diverse cultures that have had little or no contact, why religion is found in almost every human group, and why humans accept counterintuitive statements in the name of religion. In neuroscience, work by scientists such as Ramachandran and his colleagues from the University of California, San Diego  suggests evidence of brain circuitry in the temporal lobe associated with intense religious experiences. See also neurotheology, the scientific study of the biological basis of spiritual experience.
- Sociological approaches include the work of Rodney Stark who has looked at the social forces that have caused religions to grow and the features of religions that have been most successful. For example, Stark, who claims to be an agnostic, hypothesizes that, before Christianity became established as the state religion of Constantinople, Christianity grew rapidly because it provided a practical framework within which non-family members would provide help to other people in the community in a barter system of mutual assistance. Similarly, evolutionary psychology approaches consider the survival advantages that religion might have given to a community of hunter-gatherers, such as unifying them within a coherent social group.
- Critics assert that this approach is inadequate insofar as it asserts that people subscribe to religions merely because of practical advantages.
- Cognitive psychological approaches take a completely different approach to explaining religion. Foremost among them is Pascal Boyer, whose book, Religion Explained, lays out the basics of his theory, and attempts to refute several previous and more direct explanations for the phenomenon of religion. Religion is taken in its widest sense (from holy mountains over ancestral spirits to monotheistic deities). An explanation is offered for human religious behaviour without making a presumption, to the positive or the negative, about the actual subject matter of the religious beliefs. Essentially, the reasoning goes that religion is a side effect to the normal functioning of certain subconscious intuitive mental faculties which normally apply to physics (enabling prediction of the arc a football will take only seconds after its release, for example), and social networks (to keep track of other people's identity, history, loyalty, etc.), and a variety of others. For instance, the same mechanism that serves to link, without explaining, an event (e.g. rustling of tall grass) with a cause (the possible presence of a predator) will help to form or sustain a belief that two random events are linked, or that an unexplained event is linked to supernatural causes. The reasoning would imply that there is no direct causal link between the subject matter of a belief (e.g. whether the ancestors watch over us) and the fact that there is such a belief.
- Critics assert that cognitive psychological approaches are unfalsifiable and hence are unscientific speculation.
For a discussion of the struggle to attain objectivity in the scientific study of religion, see Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey (ISBN 1581344589), who argues that some studies performed pursuant to these methods make claims beyond the realm of observable and verifiable phenomena, and are therefore neither scientific nor religiously neutral.
Development of religion
- Main article: Development of religion
There are several models for understanding how religions develop.
- Models which view religion as untrue include:
- The "Dogma Selection Model," which holds that religions, although untrue in themselves, encode instructions or habits useful for survival, that these ideas "mutate" periodically as they are passed on, and they spread or die out in accord with their effectiveness at improving chances for survival.
- The "Opium of the Masses Model," in which "Religion in any shape or form is regarded as pernicious and deliberate falsehood, spread and encouraged by rulers and clerics in their own interests, since it is easier to control over the ignorant." -- Bertrand Russell Wisdom of the West (ISBN 0517690411)
- The "Theory of Religion Model," in which religion is viewed as arising from some psychological or moral pathology in religious leaders and believers.
- Models which view religion as progressively true include:
- The "Bahá'í Prophecy Model," which holds that God has sent a series of prophets to Earth, each of which brought teachings appropriate for his culture and context, but all originating from the same God, and therefore teachings the same essential message.
- The "Great Awakening Model," which holds that religion proceeds along a Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis, in cycles of approximately 80 years as a result of the interaction between four archetypal generations, by which old religious beliefs (the thesis) face new challenges for which they are unprepared (the antithesis) and adapt to create new and more sophisticated beliefs (the synthesis).
- The "A Study of History Model," which holds that prophets are given to extraordinary spiritual insight during periods of social decay and act as "surveyors of the course of secular civilization who report breaks in the road and breakdowns in the traffic, and plot a new spiritual course which will avoid those pitfalls."
- Models which view a particular religion as absolutely true include:
- The "Jewish Model", which holds that God relates to humanity through covenants; that he established a covenant with all humanity at the time of Noah called the Noahide Laws, and that he established a covenant with Israel through the Ten Commandments.
- The "Ayyavazhi Model", which states that, "All religions had their own truth on their own point and the one and same God himself incarnates in different parts and by destroying the evil forces, saved the people and there by formed different scriptures. But as Kaliyan in Kali Yukam brought cruel boons, and proceed to the world, for the first the Ekam, 'the ultimate oneness' (the supreme God) came to the world as Vaikundar and so all the previous religious texts had lost their substance." By this it states that at present Vaikundar the only worshippable God and the religion Ayyavazhi alone is true.
- The "Exclusivist Models," which hold that one particular is the "One True Religion," and all others are false, so that the development of the True Religion is tied inexorably to one prophet or holy book. All other religions are seen as either distortions of the original truth or original fabrications resulting from either human ignorance or imagination, or a more devious influence, such as false prophets or Satan himself.
Some historically Christian countries, particularly those in Europe, have experienced a significant decline in Christian religion, shown by declining recruitment for priesthoods and monasteries, fast-diminishing attendance at churches, synagogues, etc. Explanations for this effect include disillusionment with ideology following the ravages of World War II, the materialistic philosophical influence of science, Marxism and Humanism, and a reaction against the exclusivist claims and religious wars waged by many religious groups. This decline is apparently in parallel with increased prosperity and social well-being. It appears increasingly common for people to engage in far-ranging explorations, with many finding spiritual satisfaction outside of organized churches. This is a demographic group whose numbers are growing and whose future impact cannot be predicted.
In the United States, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, studies show that Christianity is strong and growing stronger, and many believe those areas to have become the new "heart" of Christianity. Islam is currently the fastest growing religion, and is nearly universal in many states stretching from West Africa to Indonesia, and has grown in world influence in the West. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shintoism remain nearly universal in the Far East, and have greatly influenced spirituality, particularly in the United States. Explanations for the growth of religion in these areas include disillusionment with the perceived failures of secular western ideologies to provide an ethical and moral framework. Believers point to perceived terrors such as Nazism, Communism, Colonialism, Secular Humanism, and Materialism, and the havoc wreaked by such movements around the world. Particularly vehement in this regard are Islamic fundamentalists, who view Western secularism as a serious threat to morality itself. They point to perceived decadence, high rates of divorce, crime, depression, and suicide as evidence of Western social decline, which they believe is caused by the abandonment of Faith by the West.
Modern reasons for adherence to religion
Typical reasons for adherence to religion include the following:
- "Experience or emotion": For many, the practice of a religion causes an emotional high that gives pleasure to them. Such emotional highs can come from the singing of traditional hymns to the trance-like states found in the practices of the Whirling Dervishes and Yoga, among others. People continue to associate with those practices that give pleasure and, in so far as it is connected with religion, join in religious organizations that provide those practices. Also, some people simply feel that their faith is true, and may not be able to explain their feelings.
- "Supernatural connection": Most religions postulate a reality which includes both the natural and the supernatural. Most adherents of religion consider this to be of critical importance, since it permits belief in unseen and otherwise potentially unknowable aspects of life, including hope of eternal life.
- "Rational analysis": For some, adherence is based on intellectual evaluation that has led them to the conclusion that the teachings of that religion most closely describe reality. Among Christians this basis for belief is often given by those influenced by C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, as well as some who teach young earth Creationism.
- "Moderation": Many religions have approaches that produce practices that place limitations on the behaviour of their adherents. This is seen by many as a positive influence, potentially protecting adherents from the destructive or even fatal excesses to which they might otherwise be susceptible. Many people from many faiths contend that their faith brings them fulfillment, peace, and joy, apart from worldly interests.
- "Authority": Most religions are authoritarian in nature, and thus provide their adherents with spiritual and moral role models, who they believe can bring highly positive influences both to adherents and society in general.
- "Moral framework": Most religions see early childhood education in religion and spirituality as essential moral and spiritual formation, whereby individuals are given a proper grounding in ethics, instilling and internalizing moral discipline.
- "Majesty and tradition": People can form positive views of religion based on the visible manifestations of religion, e.g., ceremonies which appear majestic and reassuringly constant, and ornate cloth.
- "Community and culture": Organized religions promote a sense of community. The combination of moral and cultural common ground often results in a variety of social and support networks. Some ostensibly "religious" individuals may even have a substantially secular viewpoint, but retain adherence to religious customs and viewpoints for cultural reasons, such as continuation of traditions and family unity. Judaism, for example, has a particularly strong tradition of "secular" adherents.
- "Fulfillment": Most traditional religions require sacrifice of their followers, but, in turn, the followers may gain much from their membership therein. Thus, they come away from experiences with these religions with the feeling that their needs have been filled. In fact, studies have shown that religious adherents tend to be happier and less prone to stress than non-religious people.
- "Spiritual and psychological benefits": Each religion asserts that it is a means by which its adherents may come into closer contact with God, Truth, and Spiritual Power. They all promise to free adherents from spiritual bondage, and bring them into spiritual freedom. It naturally follows that a religion which frees its adherents from deception, sin, and spiritual death will have significant mental health benefits. Abraham Maslow's research after World War II showed that Holocaust survivors tended to be those who held strong religious beliefs (not necessarily temple attendance, etc), suggesting it helped people cope in extreme circumstances. Humanistic psychology went on to investigate how religious or spiritual identity may have correlations with longer lifespan and better health. The study found that humans may particularly need religious ideas to serve various emotional needs such as the need to feel loved, the need to belong to homogeneous groups, the need for understandable explanations and the need for a guarantee of ultimate justice. Other factors may involve sense of purpose, sense of identity, sense of contact with the divine. See also Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, detailing his experience with the importance of religion in surviving the Holocaust. Critics assert that the very fact that religion was the primary selector for research subjects may have introduced a bias, and that the fact that all subjects were holocaust survivors may also have had an effect. According to , "more longitudinal research with better multidimensional measures will help further clarify the roles of these [religious] factors and whether they are beneficial or harmful".
- "Practical benefits": Religions may sometimes provide breadth and scale for visionary inspirations in compassion, practical charity, and moral restraint. Christianity is noted for the founding of many major universities, the creation of early hospitals, the provision of food and medical supplies to the needy, and the creation of orphanages and schools, amongst other charitable acts. Many other religions (and non-religious organisations and individuals, eg: humanistic Oxfam) have also performed equivalent or similar work.
Modern reasons for rejecting religion
Typical reasons for rejection of religion include the following:
- "Logical Contradiction": Many major world religions make the claim that they are the one true religion, and that all other religions are wrong (see Exclusivism). Logically, either one exclusive religion is right and all the others wrong, or else all exclusive religions are wrong. Since the vast majority of people believe in a religion they were taught before they were old enough to make a rational choice, it is more rational to reject all exclusive religions rather than to accept one for no better reason than an arbitrary birth.
- "Logical Irrelevancy": Many people use logic to render religion pointless, regardless of their belief in the existence of God. God, by definition, cannot fail—ergo—God is successful. Therefore we can say and do anything we want without ever being a failure, because we are a reflection of a perfect universe created by God.
- "Guilt and Fear": Many atheists, agnostics, and others see religion as a promoter of fear and conformity, causing people to adhere to it to shake the guilt and fear of either being looked down upon by others, or some form of punishment as outlined in the religious doctrines. In this way, religion can be seen as promotional of people pushing guilt onto others, or becoming fanatical (doing things they otherwise wouldn't if they were 'free' of religion), in order to shed their own guilt and fear ultimately generated by the religion itself. The "others" in this case being non-adherents to said religion. According to people who share this view, this can take forms such as: people looking down on others based on their non-adherence, to people preaching that others need something the religion can provide, all the way to global war.
- "Irrational and unbelievable creeds": Some religions postulate a reality which may be seen as stretching credulity and logic, and even some believers may have difficulty accepting particular religious assertions about nature, the supernatural and the afterlife. Some people believe the body of evidence available to humans to be insufficient to justify certain religious beliefs. They may thus disagree with religious interpretations of ethics and human purpose, and theistic views of creation. This reason has perhaps been aggravated by the protestations of some fundamentalist Christians.
- "Restrictiveness": Many religions have (or have had in the past) an approach that produces, or produced, practices that are considered by some people to be too restrictive, e.g., regulation of dress, and proscriptions on diet and activities on certain days of the week. Some feel that religion is the antithesis of prosperity, fun, enjoyment and pleasure. This causes them to reject it entirely, or to see it as only to be turned to in times of trouble.
- "Self-promotion": Some individuals place themselves in positions of power and privilege through promotion of specific religious views, e.g., the Bhagwan/Osho interlude, Reverend Moon of the Unification Church (sometimes called Moonie movement), and other controversial new religious movements pejoratively called cults. Such self-promotion has tended to reduce public confidence in many things that are called "religion." Similarly, highly publicized cases of abuse by the clergy of several religions have tended to reduce public confidence in the underlying message.
- "Promotion of ignorance": Many atheists, agnostics, and others see early childhood education in religion and spirituality as a form of brainwashing or social conditioning, essentially concurring with the Marxian view that "religion is the opiate of the masses", with addiction to it fostered when people are too young to choose.
- "Dulling of the mind against reality": Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marx developed atheist views that reality is sometimes painful, there is no God to assist people in dealing with it, and people must learn to deal with problems themselves in order to survive. Per this view, religion in modern times, while it may decrease pain in the short run by providing hope and optimism, in the long run hinders the ability of people to deal with their problems by providing false hope. Hence in 1844, in Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's 'Philosophy of Right', Marx said of religion, "It is the opiate [most likely in the traditional sense of an opium-like drug] of the masses." 
- "Unsuitable moral systems in mainstream religions": Some argue that simplistic absolutism taught by some religions impairs a child's moral capacity to deal with a world of complex and varied temptations in which, in reality, is different than they have been brought up to think by religion.
- "Unappealing forms of practice": People can form a negative view, based upon the manifestations of religion, e.g., ceremonies which appear boring, pointless and repetitive, arcane clothing, and exclusiveness in membership requirements.
- "Detrimental effect on government": Many atheists, agnostics, and others believe that religion, because it insists that people believe certain claims "on faith" without sufficient evidence, hinders the rational/logical thought processes necessary for effective government. For example, a leader who believes that God will intervene to save humans from environmental disasters may be less likely to attempt to reduce the risk of such disasters through human action. Also, in many countries, religious organizations have tremendous political power, and in some countries can even control government almost completely. Disillusionment with forms of theocratic government, such as practiced in Iran, can lead people to question the legitimacy of any religious beliefs used to justify non-secular government.
- "Detrimental effect on personal responsibility": Many atheists, agnostics, and others believe that many religions, because they state that God will intervene to help individuals who are in trouble, cause people to be less responsible for themselves. For example, a person who believes that God will intervene to save him if he gets into financial difficulties may conclude that it is unnecessary to be financially responsible himself. (Some believers, however, would consider this a misrepresentation of religion: they would say that God only helps people who take initiative themselves first.) This attitude can be taken to extremes: there are instances of believers refusing life-saving medical treatment (or even denying it to their children) because they believe that God will cure them. Many atheists, agnostics, and others also find the assertion that 'circumstances are overpowering because they are the will of God' to be a negation of personal responsibility.
- "Tensions between proselytizing and secularizing": Increasingly secular beliefs have been steadily on the rise in many nations. An increasing acceptance of a secular worldview, combined with efforts to prevent "religious" beliefs from influencing society and government policy, may have led to a corresponding decline in religious belief, especially of more traditional forms.
- "Cause of division and hatred": Some religions state that certain groups (particularly those that do not belong to the religion in question) are "inferior" or "sinful" and deserve contempt, persecution, and even death. For example, some Muslims believe that women are inferior to men. Some Christians share this belief. At the time of the American Civil War, many Southerners used passages from the Bible to justify slavery. The Christian religion has been used as a reason to persecute and to deny the rights of homosexuals, on the basis that God disapproves of homosexuality, and by implication homosexuals 1. Many people believe that those who do not share their religion will be punished for their unbelief in an afterlife. There are countless examples of people of one religion or sect using religion as an excuse to murder people with different religious beliefs. To mention just a few, there was the slaughter of the Huguenots by French Catholics in the Sixteenth Century; Hindus and Muslims killing each other when Pakistan separated from India in 1947; the persecution and killing of Shiite Muslims by Sunni Muslims in Iraq and the murder of Protestants by Catholics and vice versa in Ireland, (both of these examples in the late Twentieth Century); and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that continues today. According to some critics of religion, these beliefs can encourage completely unnecessary conflicts and in some cases even wars. Many atheists believe that, because of this, religion is incompatible with world peace, freedom, civil rights, equality, and good government.
Approaches to relating to the beliefs of others
Adherents of particular religions deal with the differing doctrines and practices espoused by other religions in a variety ways. All strains of thought appear in different segments of all major world religions.
People with exclusivist beliefs sometimes typically explain other religions as either in error, or as corruptions or counterfeits of the true faith. Examples include:
- Christian scripture states that Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me." John 14:6.
- Islamic scripture states: "O you who believe, do not take certain Jews and Christians as allies; these are allies of one another. Those among you who ally themselves with these belong with them. Surely Allah does not guide the unjust people." Qur'an 5:51. and "O you who believe, do not befriend those among the recipients of previous scripture who mock and ridicule your religion, nor shall you befriend the disbelievers. You shall reverence GOD, if you are really believers." Qur'an 5:57
- Hebrew scripture states that God said to Israel through Moses: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
- Ayyavazhi scripture states: "The day at which Narayana incarnated as Vaikundar the Kali started declining; the book of perfection, Vedas and all previous scriptures lost their Substances as the Sathasivam came as Vaikundar." Akilam 12:147-150
- The Buddhist scriptures of the Dhammapada states: "The best of paths is the Eightfold Path. The best of truths are the Four Noble Truths. Non-attachment (viraga or Nirvana) is the best of states. The best of bipeds is the Seeing One. This is the only Way; there is none other for the purity of vision. Do follow this path; it is the bewilderment of Mara". Dhammapada verse 273 & 274
Exclusivist views are more completely explored in chosen people.
People with inclusivist beliefs recognize some truth in all faith systems, highlighting agreements and minimizing differences, but see their own faith as in some way ultimate. Examples include:
- From Hinduism:
- A well-known Rig Vedic hymn stemming from Hinduism claims that "Truth is One, though the sages know it variously."
- Krishna, incarnation or avatar of Vishnu, the supreme God in Hinduism, said in the Gita: In whatever way men identify with Me, in the same way do I carry out their desires; men pursue My path, O Arjuna, in all ways. (Gita: 4:11);
- Krishna said: "Whatever deity or form a devotee worships, I make his faith steady. However, their wishes are only granted by Me." (Gita: 7:21-22)
- Another quote in the Gita states: "O Arjuna, even those devotees who worship other lesser deities (e.g., Devas, for example) with faith, they also worship Me, but in an improper way because I am the Supreme Being. I alone am the enjoyer of all sacrificial services (Seva, Yajna) and Lord of the universe." (Gita: 9:23)
- From Christianity:
- Jesus said, "He who is not against me is for me." Mark 9:40.
- The Apostle Peter wrote of God: "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
- From Islam:
- The Qur'an states: "Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way - except in the case of those of them who do wrong - saying, 'We have faith in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him.'" (Holy Qur'an, Surat al-'Ankabut; 29:46)
- "Among the people of the Book there are some who have faith in God and in what has been sent down to you and what was sent down to them, and who are humble before God. They do not sell God's Signs for a paltry price. Such people will have their reward with their Lord. And God is swift at reckoning." (Holy Qur'an, Surat Al 'Imran; 3:199)
- "...You will find the people most affectionate to those who have faith are those who say, 'We are Christians.' That is because some of them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant." (Holy Qur'an, Surat al-Ma'idah; 5:82)
- From Ayyavazhi
- Narayana said to Vaikundar: "I am the one who as God is worshiped by all sects and races" (Akilam 9:Vinchai to Vaikundar|Vinchai)
- Ayya states: "I will come in all scriptures" (Arul Nool)
- From Judaism:
- The Talmud states: "The righteous of all peoples have a place in the World-To-Come" (Tos. to Sanhedrin 13:2, Sifra to Leviticus 19:18), and affirms that the great majority of non-Jewish humanity will be saved, due to God's overwhelming mercy (BT Sanhedrin 105a).
- The Torah mentions a number of righteous gentiles, including Melchizedek who presided at offerings to God that Abraham made (Gen. 14:18), Job, a pagan Arab of the land of Uz who had a whole book of the Hebrew Bible devoted to him as a paragon of righteousness beloved of God (see the book of Job), and the Ninevites, the people given to cruelty and idolatry could be accepted by God when they repented (see the Book of Jonah).
- Rabbinic tradition asserts that the basic standard of righteousness was established in a covenant with Noah: anyone who keeps the seven commandments of this covenant is assured of salvation, no matter what their religion. This is standard Jewish teaching for the past two thousand years.
- From the Bahá'í Faith:
- Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith states: "The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society." (The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh in World Order, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1972-73)) 
- Main article: Religious pluralism
People with pluralist beliefs make no distinction between faith systems, viewing each one as valid within a particular culture. Examples include:
- The Qur'an, revealed through Muhammad, states, "Those with Faith, those who are Jews, and the Christians and Sabaeans, all who have Faith in Allah and the Last Day and act rightly will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow." (Qur'an, Surat al-Baqara; 2:62)
- The Christian writer Paul wrote, "God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)" Romans 2:6-15.
- Main article: Syncretism
People with syncretistic views blend the views of a variety of different religions or traditional beliefs into a unique fusion which suits their particular experience and context.
Unitarian Universalism is an example of a syncretistic faith.
Some believe that religion cannot be separated from other aspects of life, or believe that certain cultures did not or do not separate their religious activities from other activities in the same way that some people in modern Western cultures do.
Some anthropologists report cultures in which Gods are involved in every aspect of life - if a cow goes dry, a God has caused this, and must be propitiated, when the sun rises in the morning, a God has caused this, and must be thanked. Even in modern Western cultures, many people see supernatural forces behind every event, as described by Carl Sagan in his book The Demon-Haunted World.
People with this worldview often consider the influence of Western culture to be inimical. They may claim that in the United States, in particular, people go to church on Sunday and cheat their neighbors the rest of the week. Others with this world view resist the influence of science, and believe that science, or "so-called science", should be guided by religion. Still others with this worldview believe that all political decisions and laws should be guided by religion. This last belief is written into the constitution of many Islamic nations, and is shared by some fundamentalist Christians. For example George H.W. Bush, on August 27 1987 said, "No, I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
In addition, beliefs about the supernatural or metaphysical may not presuppose a difference between any such thing as nature and non-nature, nor between science and what the most educated people believe. In the view of some historians, the pre-Socratic Athenians saw science, political tradition, culture, and religion as not easily distinguishable, but all part of the same body of knowledge and wisdom available to a community.
In Buddhism, practice and progress along the spiritual path happens when one follows the system of buddhist practice. Any religion which follows (parts of) the fundamentals of this system has, according to the teachings of Buddha, good aspects to the extent it accords with this system. Any religion which goes against (parts of) the fundamentals of this system, includes bad aspects too. Any religion which does not teach certain parts of this system, is not because of this a 'bad' religion; it just lacks those teachings and is to that extent incomplete.
A question by the monk Subhadda to the Buddha: "O Gotama, there are Samanas and Brahmanas (religious leaders) who are leaders of their sects, who are well-esteemed by many people, such as Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sancaya Belatthaputta and Nigantha Nataputta. Do all of them have knowledge and understanding as they themselves have declared? Or do all of them have no knowledge and understanding?"
The reply by Buddha was: "Subhadda, in whatever teaching is not found the Noble Eightfold Path, neither in it is there found a Samana (priest or holy person) of the first stage (Sotapanna), nor a Samana of the second stage (Sakadagami), nor a Samana of the third stage (Anagami), nor a Samana of the fourth stage (Arahant)".
Religion and other approaches to forming beliefs about the nature of the universe
Humans have many different methods which attempt to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and our place in it (cosmology). What is reality? How can we know? Who are we? Why we are here? How should we live? What happens after we die? Religion is only one of the methods for trying to answer one or more of these questions. Other methods include science, philosophy, metaphysics, esotericism, and mysticism. Many people use more than one of these methods.
Present day religious adherence and trends
Christianity is the religion with the largest number of professed adherents, followed by Islam and Hinduism. These statistics show the number of professed adherents of the major world religions. In addition, approximately one billion people do not profess any belief in a religion. These figures are necessarily approximate.
- Christianity: 1.9 billion
- Islam: 1.3 billion
- Hinduism: 1 billion
- Buddhism: 400 million
- Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
- Primal-Indigenous: 300 million
- African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
- Sikhism: 23 million
- Spiritism: 15 million
- Judaism: 14 million
- Bahá'í: 7 million
- Jainism: 4.2 million
- Shinto: 4 million
- Cao Dai: 4 million
- Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million
- Sant Mat / Surat Shabd Yoga : 2 million
- Tenrikyo: 2 million
- Unification Movement: 1.5 million
- Neo-Paganism: 1 million
- Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
- Rastafari movement: 600 thousand
In ranking religious denominations, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single denomination within Christianity, Sunni Islam within Islam, and Vaishnavism within Hinduism. It is impossible to say whether there are more Roman Catholics or Sunnis, as their numbers only differ by a few thousand, less than .0001% of the total, and exact counts are impossible.
- Attacks against Hinduism 
- Attributes of some religions: clergy – creed – cult – dogma – orthodoxy – priests
- Arguments for and against the existence of God
- Criticism: Criticism of Religion
- Entities of some religious worldviews: angel – animal worship – demigod – demon – devas – devil – ekam – god – goddess – prophet – sky father – solar deity – spirit
- Lists: list of religious topics – Major world religions – list of religions – list of religious populations – list of deities – List of people considered to be deities – List of religion scholars
- Non-religious beliefs: agnosticism – atheism – secularism – Secular Humanism
- Other elements of some religious worldviews:Dharma Yukam – afterlife – chosen people – creation belief – end of the world – evil - heaven – hell – karma – miracles – moksha – nirvana – resurrection – revelation – soul – spiritual possession – supernatural
- Problematic effects of some religions: religious violence
- Religious practices: divination – ecstasy – exorcism – faith – magic – meditation – mysticism – prayer – repentance – sacrifice – shunning – superstition – veneration – worship
- Practices frowned upon by religions: apostasy – heresy – idolatry – sin
- Related subjects: mythology – philosophy of religion – theology – pseudoreligion – angelology – demonology
- Religious beliefs: anarchism – transtheism – deism – henotheism – maltheism – monism – monotheism – pantheism – panentheism – polytheism – theism
- Religious organizations: cult – sect – denomination – ecclesia
- Scholarly approaches to religion: anthropology of religion – comparative religion – psychology of religion – sociology of religion
- Types of religions: ancestor worship – civil religion – folk religion – fundamentalism – mystery religion – New Age – paganism – shamanism – spirituality – totemism – animism
- Religion and social issues
- The axis age
- Comparing Eastern and Western religious traditions
Related philosophical stances
- Balagangadhara offers a fundamental rethinking of religion.
- Dualism (Philosophy of mind) - the view that the mental and the physical have a fundamentally different nature as an answer to the mind-body problem.
- Idealism (Philosophy) - any theory positing the primacy of spirit, mind, or language over matter. It includes claiming that thought has some crucial role in making the world the way it is.
- Vitalism - the doctrine that life cannot be explained solely by mechanism. Often, the non-material element is referred to as the soul, the "vital spark," or a kind of energy.
- Naturalism (Philosophy) - which rejects the validity of explanations or theories making use of entities inaccessible to natural science.
- Materialism (Philosophy) - the view that the only thing that can truly be said to 'exist' is matter; that fundamentally, all things are comprised of 'material'. Materialism is typically contrasted with dualism, idealism, and vitalism.
- the Scientific method - essentially an extremely cautious means of building a supportable, evidenced understanding of our world.
- What does it mean to be human? BBC article about Flores Man and religion
- History of Religion related discussions on History Forum
- Studying Religion - Introduction to the methods and scholars of the academic study of religion
- Retrograde Religion - Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
- A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right - Marx's original reference to religion as the opium of the masses.
- Religous tolerance - an overview about religions
- American Religion Data Archive
- A Historical Outline of Modern Religious Criticism in Western Civilization
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