Religion and politics are like the bread and butter of social thought. The two share some very similar characteristics and have even been the foundation of wars. But since this is the religion and spirituality section, let us focus only on religion.
So what is this entity, this organism, this institution that has evoked so much division, yet unwavering devotion among people across the world?
Religion, simply put, is a set of values and beliefs a group of people agrees upon and practice.
According to John F. Haught, author of “What is Religion?: An Introduction,” religion is one of those “phenomenon” experts have a hard time understanding, given its evolution, power, impact, and modern implications. Haught says the word or concept of religion is relatively new, because in ancient times, spirituality and ideas of God and the universe were so much a part of early people’s lives, that it was nearly impossible to separate the two.
These days, with skepticism and globalization, religion has become one of those sometimes ominous concepts among a small populace within society that many are beginning to shy away from. Instead, universalism or agnosticism have become more excepted ideas about God and purpose. Contemporary youth seem to be “losing their religion” and divorcing their traditional belief systems, and more and more are turning to modernized spiritual practices.
But religion has been around for ages and may never go away.
It has been around since the beginning of time, and has evolved according to the evolution of human intelligence.
Essentially, religions are man-made philosophical constructs based upon discovery, circumstances, and need.
Haught writes, “(John Bowker) sees religion as a ‘route-finding’ through the severest barriers interfering with the continuity of human life. Religions formulate ‘ways’ to move us past the most frustrating ‘compounds of limitation’ that we have to deal with as we make our way through life.”
Basically, religions were created to help man (and woman) overcome certain obstacles in life and walk on a path that is good and supportive of our efforts. Haught suggests that religion is something like a catalyst–the middle guy who helps individuals get through those difficult times.
“Their symbols, rites and teachings, though connected with the rest of life, tend to cluster in higher density around what are identified as the ultimate limits to our quest for perfection,” Haught writes. “The function of religions is to fortify our trust that there is some ‘way through’ the barriers that block the road toward ultimate fulfillment.”
According to the author, religion is simply a piece of motivation; that beam of hope and security; a way to stay encouraged.
But religion has been credited for the progress and stability of society, despite its confusing nature.
Wilhelm Bousset, author of “What is Religion?” suggests that religion is something like the backbone of civilization.
“… it is still incontestable that wherever human life advanced, a stage religion was evolved. Religion has conducted man to his highest point of civilization; and this is so in our own time … there never has been, and never will be, a civilization which is progressive and vital unaccompanied by religion,” Bousset writes.
But that begs the question, why? Why is religion so important to society and the development of humanity?
Hans Joas, author of “Do We Need Religion? On the Experience of Self-Transcendence” uncovers that religious faith is more than that feel-good, get-me-over-the-hump type of deal. It is about interpreting and progressing the human experience.
According to the Urantia Book, Paper 100 “Religion in Human Experience,” religion has promoted personal growth and self-awareness.
“The experience of dynamic religious living transforms the mediocre individual into a personality of idealistic power. Religion ministers to the progress of all through fostering the progress of each individual, and the progress of each is augmented through the achievement of all,” the paper reads.
Despite religion’s inventive nature, it has shown itself a safe haven and strong post for humanity throughout the civilization of mankind. Whether or not the set of values and beliefs are true or even have a smidgen of proof does not matter, because essentially the fruit religion has produced has given humanity an outlet of expression, a bit of hope, and some would even argue, prosperity.