- Published: Saturday, 29 September 2012 23:13
A religion is a system of beliefs and actions shared by a group, giving the members of that group an object for their worship and a code of behavior, although early Shinto lacked the latter and only in more recent times has adopted ethical codes either from Confucianism, Buddhism, or Christianity. The object of worship or veneration of most religions is a transcendental Being (God, Allah, Jehovah, Shiva) who is considered the “creator of heaven and earth,” although early Jainism does not identify such a being, since that religion considers the universe to be beginningless and endless, i.e. not to have been created at some specific time. Religions also usually include some idea of both the purpose of life (teleology) and the consummation of it (eschatology) for those who adhere to its moral principles. Many religions also include ideas about the afterlife (heaven, a happy hunting ground) and some have a belief in rebirth or reincarnation, which suggests a gradual development of the soul toward some supreme goal, often called liberation (moksha, nirvana). Some religions teach that people who have not lived up to their moral code will suffer in an unpleasant world, usually identified as hell. Many, though not all, religions identify a hierarchy of supernatural beings (angels, archangels, houris) superior to humans but inferior to the supreme Being. Most religions also identify certain people who are especially identified as qualified, by their training or by a special gift they are perceived to have, to lead the rest of the members in worship (priests and nuns, rabbis, mullahs, medicine men).
The word religion is derived from Latin re-ligio, etymologically “bind back,” which some Theosophists interpret to indicate a reunion with one’s ultimate source and equate with the literal meaning of yoga, “union.” The Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, once defined religion as “an attitude of ultimate concern,” which could include materialism or even terrorism in its definition, hence is too broad for the customary use of the term. Any definition must cover all those belief systems usually identified as religions, not just Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, but also Buddhism, Jainism, the various forms of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, religious Taoism, Sikhism, Native American religions, Kahuna beliefs, African religions, the Baha’i faith, and (some would say), Confucianism. Since there is a considerable variation of beliefs in that list, a definition to cover all of them must be very general.