Arthur C Clarke once said “It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him.” This quote seems to summarize the many aspects of religion in that all the aspects seem to point to one fact: Man created “God”. Many of the considerations can be taken into account when attempting to define religion. Being that there are so many, including some that aren’t very well understood, there will only be a few discussed here. These will include the intellectual aspects that go into every religion, the psychological factors of religion, and the sociological influences on religion. We’ll take an in depth look at each factor and also my own opinion on what religion is.
It seems that religion exists as a belief system to help people explain events that would otherwise be unexplainable. In fact Kenneth Dick said in “Man, Father of the Gods” “All religions start as a mere imaginary explanation for something not understood, and that is all they are.” Many, if not all religions do this. Christianity, Vikings, Greek, including every culture today. The Christians had for example the story of the “Tower of Babel” In Genesis to explain the division of languages. The Jews, Christians, and the Muslims as well as many others believe that God created the world.
The only difference is that the Muslims believe it only took 6 days instead of the conventional (Or what has become conventional to us) seven days . The Vikings and the Greeks seem to have Gods for everything, The God of Thunder, God of Lightning, God of War, and Goddess of Love, All to explain what they could not. Also many Americans believe that the World Trade Center attacks happened because God was angry. All these examples point to the fact that the search for knowledge is important to religion as a whole.
While understanding the intellectual component of Religion as an attempt to explain the unexplainable is helpful, obviously there is more to Religion than just explanations. The sociological effects on the community and the ethics involved play an important part as well. One strong example of a sociological aspect is the effect of the Catholic Church. Many Catholics strongly oppose a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. They are taught through the church that if a woman becomes pregnant, that is God’s will, going so far as to oppose birth control. Catholicism, like the religions in all cultures use the beliefs taught to them as guidelines to help them abstain from doing anything amoral. These guidelines can cause people to act in certain ways. For instance, in some Middle Eastern countries, Religion has affected women’s roles in society so much that they have few legal rights. Some aren’t even allowed to drive or obtain an education.
This happens because they think that it is immoral to do otherwise, based on their religion. Some religions allow polygamy, while Judaism and Christianity for example practice monogamy. Those that practice Hinduism aren’t allowed to eat beef, in fact, in the Hindu religion killing a cow is a major moral crime. There are many, differences in the different religions that make up our world today, but they do have a lot in common, for example, many religions look down upon murder, and stealing. Another thing many religions have in common is the classic “Golden rule.” “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” Or in Confucianism they say “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire” And also the Hindu rule of dharma, “One should never do to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self.” Reworded for different faiths but all meaning the same thing, basically that we have a moral obligation to one another based on our faiths.
However, the question still remains: Why do people believe? What part of human psychology tells us to go out and find a religion? What is it about religion that people want to follow? One reason could be the structure, the organization of religion, the hierarchy of the church. People need to have rules. People need to hear, from the pope for instance, that this is what you have to do, and this is how you should do it. That ties into the spiritual guidance that people cling to. They want to know how to avoid going to “hell” (in some religions) or how to reach the plane of spiritual nirvana (for others). We as humans have a psychological need to know that we are never walking alone, that we always have someone or something looking out for us. We need someone to take care of us and the things that we see as out of our hands.
We also need to feel that there is something beyond the grave that awaits us after death, that death is not the true end of everything, that there is something more. Also we have an ever present need to reach spiritual enlightenment, and to feel as if we are doing the “right” thing. That is why during the crusades, the Christians tried to convert the “non-believers”, although in essence, all they did was murder a lot of innocent people. Even then they didn’t see it as murdering their fellow man they saw it as “destroying the enemies of the church”. So why do people find religion? Because it makes it makes them feel whole. It makes us feel “right”, and like we are good people.
So after all of the previous information I have provided my view on what religion is has changed a bit. I believe that religion is just something that primitive man created to explain things they didn’t understand, like why fire burns and why the heavens move about the sky. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe in a higher power, A Creator, if you will. I just don’t agree that there is a benevolent “God” out there who is starved for attention that he (or she) has to interact with humans. I put more trust into a creator of the universe who sits back and occasionally looks in on our little planet. I just have a hard time putting my trust into a God who killed forty two boys for calling one of his followers bald. But what I think doesn’t really matter. What matters is this: Religion is what you make of it. What do YOU think?