What Is Religion?


Religion is a set of beliefs and values that human beings hold sacred and consider to be spiritually significant. Religious beliefs can be a source of meaning and purpose in life and may provide comfort at times of stress and illness. Research shows that people who are religious have a lower risk of mental health problems and report greater happiness. Religion also provides a sense of community and attachment to others. There is a growing body of evidence that religiosity is associated with many health benefits, including reduced rates of depression and heart disease.

Some scientists believe that religion developed in response to the need of early humans to control uncontrollable aspects of their environment, such as weather, pregnancy and birth, and success in hunting. Attempts to control these aspects were made either through manipulation, as in magic, or by supplication, as in religion. The latter involved the use of rituals, such as drawing pictures of large numbers of animals on cave walls, to assure success in hunting or other goals.

Most religions are based on some sort of belief in supernatural forces or powers, although there are also religions that are centered on natural elements. Most religions address what might be called the soul or spirit of humanity, with some addressing salvation in a literal fashion (either to heaven after death, as in Christianity, or in a more symbolic manner, such as achieving inner peace, as in Buddhism). Religions also often contain a moral code, a set of beliefs that govern human behavior and a sense of community.

Scholars who have attempted to define religion have varied widely in their approaches. Some, like Durkheim, have focused on its function of creating solidarity in society, while others, such as Tillich, have looked at its axiological role of providing orientation for a person’s values and priorities. More recently, critics have taken a more critical approach, such as that of Asad, who argues that assumptions baked into the concept of religion distort our understanding of its historical realities.

It appears that the only way to get a handle on what religion is, and what it does for humans, may be to stop trying to constrict it to certain structural definitions. Instead, it may be helpful to view it as something open to the stunning diversity of human existence.

This might help us to appreciate the role that religion plays in the lives of two-thirds of all Americans, a role that should be appreciated by people in public policy, psychotherapy and education, and by the judges who sit on federal courts. Judges should be screened for their views on the role of religion in the American community, and the President should make it clear to candidates for federal office that he or she is committed to preserving the place of religion in all areas of public life. The Senate should ensure that this commitment is reflected in the appointments it makes. A failure to recognize this essential part of the American fabric would weaken it and create dangerous gaps in our national security.

By adminss
No widgets found. Go to Widget page and add the widget in Offcanvas Sidebar Widget Area.