RELIGION.   1 comment

It has been said that thoughts of death lead necessarily to the development of religion. It is difficult to imagine what need there would be for religion in a world in which no one ever died or became ill. All religions attempt to give answers to basic questions: From where did the world come? What is the meaning of human life? Why do people die and what happens afterwards? Why is there evil? How should people behave? In the distant past these questions were answered in terms of mythology. Much of literature deals with them. Modern sciences try to investigate them.

As a word religion is difficult to define, but as a human experience it seems to be universal. The 20th-century German-born American theologian Paul Tillich gave a simple and basic definition of the word: “Religion is ultimate concern.” This means that religion encompasses that to which people are most devoted or that from which they expect to get the most fundamental satisfaction in life. Consequently, religion provides adequate answers to the basic questions posed above.

Four centuries earlier the German reformer Martin Luther spoke in similar terms about God. He stated that to have a god was to “have something in which the heart trusts completely,” whether such a god was a supernatural being or something in the world like wealth, power, career, or pleasure. Putting Tillich’s and Luther’s definitions together, it is possible to see that religion does not necessarily have to be involved with shrines, temples, churches, or synagogues. It does not need complex doctrines or clergy. It can be anything to which people devote themselves that fills their lives with meaning.

In Western civilization religion has traditionally been defined as belief in and worship of one God. This is true for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The statements by Tillich and Luther make it clear, however, that such a definition may be too narrow. In original Buddhism in India and Confucianism in China, there was no recognition of a supreme being. Both of these philosophies were basically concerned with patterns of human behaviour

Regardless of definitions, all religions (as the word is normally used) have certain elements in common. These include common rituals to perform, prayers to recite, places to frequent or avoid, holy days to keep, means by which to predict the future, a body of literature to read and study, truths to affirm, charismatic leaders to follow, and ordinances to obey. Many have buildings set aside for worship, and there are activities such as prayer, sacrifice, contemplation, and perhaps magic.

Closely associated with these elements is personal conduct. Although it is possible to separate ritual observances from moral conduct, worship has normally implied a type of relationship with a god from which certain behaviour patterns are expected to follow. A notable exception in history is the official state religion of ancient Rome, which was kept separate from personal commitment and morality.

Religion and Belief

The existence of religion is rooted fundamentally in human ignorance. People do not know the origin of the world, why there is death, or the answers to other basic questions. Explanations must be devised on the basis of a complete lack of evidence. The first explanations gave the world the fascinating mythologies of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and other civilizations. Under the influences of Judaism and Christianity, mythology was replaced in Western civilization by religions based on historical events. Nevertheless, all acceptance of religion is based on belief, not on the weight of evidence or the reaching of reasonable conclusions.

Atheism, the belief that there is no Supreme Being or God; usually associated with materialism (the belief that matter is the sole guiding force of the universe); the term comes from the Greek word atheos, meaning “without God”.

This means, for example, that all statements about God or the gods are statements of belief. Even the assertion that there is no God atheism is a statement of belief. In the case of religions based on historical events, interpretations of those events are accepted by believers as true. Non-believers arrive at completely different interpretations.

If belief is the key to religion, it is also the chief problem. If religion were a form of knowledge, then its teachings would have to be supported by visible evidence that could be examined by everyone. There would then be widespread acceptance of it as knowledge as there is in mathematics or the natural sciences. But there can be no evidence, as science understands the term, that a supreme being created the universe. Nor can there be any evidence of life after death. These and other beliefs are not open to verification; they are matters of faith. One trusts that they are true, and they seem to give valid explanations to fundamental questions.

Religion and Science

Modern science had its origins in the late Middle Ages, especially during the period called the Renaissance. Many of its discoveries brought it into conflict with the traditional beliefs held by the medieval church. The assertion by Galileo and others that the Earth was not the centre of the universe outraged many church leaders, and Galileo was brought to trial for teaching unacceptable doctrines.

Conflicts between religion and science did not cease with the Renaissance. Today there are many religious people who condemn all teaching about the theory of evolution. They assert that the Biblical account of creation is literally true; therefore, evolution is unacceptable to them.

Opposition between religion and science arose from the mistaken notion that religion could present its doctrines as undisputed knowledge that would hold true for all time. The medieval church had incorporated into its system of belief certain ancient scientific assertions about the Earth and the heavens. As these assertions were slowly proved false, the church reacted because it had used ancient science to support its doctrine. In other words, it had attempted to use assumed facts of science to support belief. It feared, consequently, that if the facts were swept away, the belief would crumble. As it happened, religious resistance to science alienated many educated people.

The church did not realize that real belief cannot be supported by evidence from science. Nor can belief be undone by scientific evidence. The sciences deal with what they can see, inspect, and experiment with. They can make no valid statements about the existence or non-existence of a god because such statements must be made without any available evidence. On the other hand, religion cannot pretend to invalidate the findings of scientists for fear that belief will be challenged. If the objects of faith are true and the objects of scientific discovery true as well, then the objects are equally true and cannot contradict each other.

The uneasiness between science and religion has not been limited to Christianity. Marxist communism of the 20th century has become a kind of religion. It has an all-embracing world-view, and it has a faith in the historical process for which no evidence exists. During Joseph Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, scientific theories that seemed to contradict his version of Marxism were suppressed. Stalin’s favourite scientist was Trofim Lysenko, a biologist and agronomist who supported theories on heredity completely at variance with the genetic principles developed by Gregor Mendel. Through Lysenko’s influence and under Stalin’s insistence, all other approaches to biology were outlawed. Some scientists who had previously taught Mendelian genetics were forced to change their opinion and teach Lysenko’s version of biology.

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Posted 2011/12/04 by Stelios in Education

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One response to “RELIGION.

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  1. I truly admire you for maintaining an open mind on the subject – Religion. Most people try to impart their particular denomination on others. Thank you.

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