What is Religion? If asked that question most people might think of organized religion as a set of organized rituals. Religious rituals may include some organized worship as part of a group activity, daily practices, seasonal events, pilgrimage orientations, community activities and social rituals. However, for most people religion is a informal system of defined behaviors and attitudes, beliefs, values, scriptures, sacred places, ethical codes, prophesies, morals, teachings, and organizations, which unites humanity on a spiritual level.
The three largest organized religions in the world are Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam. Each has a different basic belief system but shares a common language, sacramental practices and ritualistic behavior. All have also developed and expanded from a foundation of truth expressed centuries ago by a religious figure or religious leader. All of these major religions have experienced cycles of growth and decline in their beliefs and popularity over time. Islam in particular seems to be on a steady decline, although there are pockets of enthusiasts that cling to the ideology as a vital part of their personal and cultural heritage.
Defining religion can be challenging given its informal nature. Some would say that religion is anything that unifies human beings through a set of shared beliefs and symbols. Others would define religion as the set of practices associated with a particular belief system and a set of sacramental ritualistic behaviors. Still others would define religion as a set of static symbols, beliefs or behaviors that are shared by a specific set of people.
No matter how one defines religion there are some characteristics common to all major religions. Religion provides a meaningful way of understanding the world around us and through divine intervention, God has brought order to the world. There is usually a god or gods whom most followers believe in and to whom they give allegiance, obedience, and worship. This is usually a universal form of deity that does not depend on the specifics of any religion, for example, Christianity doesn’t require the belief in a specific god but it does require submission to a supreme or authoritative figure such as Jesus Christ or Buddha.
Definition of Religion and Its Dialectics
The biggest difference between religion and belief is the absence of belief. Beliefs are based in reality while religion relies on a subjective opinion. A person may adopt a religious belief system but lacks the personal belief that supports it. The lack of belief prevents them from acting on what they believe. To follow a path with no evidence is to follow a path that may lead to frustration or failure, something that is avoided when you base your path on a personal belief system or a set of personal rituals.
As stated above, the definition of religion can be subjective depending on the source of information. There are numerous definitions out there and each one can be viewed as true and false. In addition to the numerous definitions, there are also a great many assumptions made about what is religion. One common assumption about what is religion is that there are only two types: religion and non-religion.
The problem with this assumption is that it provides a blanket solution to what is religion. Non-religious people can assume that their beliefs are meaningless and thus cannot have meaning. The problems that arise from this line of thinking are most often ignored because they assume that religion is based on what is truth and what is wrong. However, the reality of what is religion is more complex than what is truth or what is right. While it is true that there are religious and non-religious people, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
The problem with what is religion is that it often creates bad faith, which is to follow something that simply has no foundation in reality. The inability of humans to come up with a comprehensive explanation for anything leads to the question of what is religion. Unfortunately, there is no general answer to the question what is religion and definitions vary greatly between cultures and societies. In order to understand what is religion one must look beyond the definitions and look at the lives of those who choose to follow a particular path.