Religion is a man-made concept serving many purposes and objectives, the two most important of which are coping with death and maintaining a functioning society. It is essentially the glue that holds people together as a society. Religion tells us how to live with and relate to others. It gives us a reason to hold moral value. It gives us a reason to be kind to our neighbors and to lend a helping hand to those in need. What is this reason? So that we, as individuals, can continue to live in some unknown fashion or state of consciousness beyond death; so that we can feel that we have a purpose that goes beyond life.
It is difficult to credit any one religion as being true or any one god as being true when there have been so many throughout human history. None appears to have any greater claim to being more credible or reliable than any other. Why Christianity and not Judaism? Why Islam and not Hinduism or Buddhism? These are some of the most widely practiced religions, but there are actually hundreds of currently active religions being followed in our world and every one of them has its defenders, all as ardent as those in other traditions. They can’t all be right…but they could all be wrong.
About one hundred thousand years ago, homo sapiens first appeared in Africa and Asia. These were the first creatures (on earth) to walk fully erect and to domesticate plants and animals. The homo sapiens, or “man,” if you prefer, were capable of a higher level of thought than any of their more ape-like predecessors, as well as the rest of the living creatures found on this planet. With this higher level of thought, man became capable of imagination and developed the ability to wonder and to ask questions. Man also discovered the ability to enjoy life, as opposed to simply surviving it as does the rest of the animal world.
The more we learned to enjoy life, however, the more we learned to fear death. The only thing we fully understand about death is that it is the end of life. We do not look forward to death. We do not desire death. In fact, we fear death more than anything else. We do everything within our power to delay it, push it back, or even deny it. But in the end, there is no denying death. This is one fact that no one can argue against. We live, therefore we die. It was out of this fear of death that man created religion, something to help take the edge off that looming threat that hangs over us all from the day we are born.
The oldest known still practiced religion recognized by theologians is Hinduism. Hinduism, the religious practice of India, was formed about 2000 years before Christianity. The Hindu’s version of God has no form and no name. They worship the spirit of the earth. Their equivalent to Christianity’s God would be most closely resembled as Mother Nature. When one dies, according to their beliefs, their souls and their spirits are reincarnated on earth as a part of the earth or as one of its many creatures.
Buddhism, predominantly practiced in the Orient, dictates that there is no god, no heaven, and no hell. Buddhists worship an icon named Buddha and use the written works of philosophers like Plato and Confucius to guide them through life. They believe that reaching the highest level of inner peace and salvation is one’s purpose in life. Once these objectives are found and maintained, one’s life has been well lived.
Islam is of the Muslim faith. One fifth of the world’s religious population follows this faith. In their religion, a man named Muhammad is worshipped for his close contact with the maker, God. Their holy book is called “The Koran.”
Judaism subscribes to the teachings written in “The Torah.” Their religion is based solely on the Old Testament in the Bible. They believe they were the first race created by God. They also believe that they are “The Chosen People” that will one day inherit the earth.
Christianity is observed by forty-two percent of the world’s population. It is the predominant faith of the western world. Both the Old and New Testaments of The Bible are recognized in Christianity. It is also one of the youngest religions. Compared to the amount of time man has been on earth, Christianity would be the new kid on the block.
In the United States of America, when most of us are very young, we are introduced to a number of creatures that no one has ever actually met. The Easter Bunny hides colorful eggs for us to find. Santa Claus travels the whole world in a single night and brings us gifts if we’ve been good for most of the passing year. The Tooth Fairy is even allowed to enter our rooms as we sleep, get under our pillows, and magically turn our baby teeth into coins. And of course there is God, who is allowed into our hearts and our souls, who instills all that is good within us.
One by one, as we grow older, we begin to discover that all these “superheroes” our trusted, wise, and certainly honest parents told us were real, are in fact not. One by one…except one; God. No one has ever actually met him, at least in the most common sense of the word. No one knows for sure what He looks like, where He lives, what He eats for breakfast, or who His favorite girl-band is. He is but a myth, a desperate wish. He is an adult version of the Santa Clause no one wants to believe could possibly not be real because He delivers to us all (at least all of us who worship His existence and abide by His laws) the ultimate gift, the most precious present of all…a life after death. Even if Ol’ St. Nick and Peter Cottontail and Tinkerbell and The Train That Thought He Could all turn out to be fairy tales, until the day we die (and presumably even beyond that) we are expected to hold on to this one belief, to have “faith.”
Faith, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, means “complete trust or confidence…a firm belief without logical proof…a system of religious belief…” Faith is what every religion asks of its followers. There is no proof of any kind that any one religion is true. There is no logic that dictates that any one religion can be truer than any other. To believe in any religion, one must have faith.
Once faith has been achieved, religion has acquired its power over society. But can you imagine what life on this planet would be like without religion, without any reason to help each other out in times of need? Without religion, there would still be laws, there would still be penalties, but only if one is caught. With religion, God sees all and God knows all. One might get away from law enforcement, but no one escapes the eyes of God. Are you willing to give up a chance at life after death? Without religion, simply put, it would be survival of the fittest, the craftiest, and the wealthiest. Society would digress to the times before religion, a time when all that mattered was survival from day to day.
The moral value religion demands from its followers and its laws or commandments that it asks its followers to practice are indeed the glue that holds together and maintains a functioning society. The stress of knowing that we are going to die and that there is nothing we can do to stop it from happening is also greatly reduced when holding on to a faith that there is more to life than just death. These are the two main reasons why man created religion. From Ra and Zeus to Buddha and God, man has always created ways to try to answer the things he cannot answer and to give reason to life. And why has man always done this? Because, unlike the rest of the living creatures that inhabit this planet, he can.