Religion

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.

Origins. Many anthropologists consider modern religions to have evolved from earlier so-called primitive beliefs, usually identified as fetishism, totemism, or magic, and to have developed through polytheism or dualism to some form of monism, although not all extant religions can be so easily characterized. But other people, including some Theosophists, believe the reverse to be true, that fetishism and totemism, for example, are a degeneration of earlier theological ideas. Animism, described by the anthropologist E. B. Tylor (1832-1917), is the theory that religions arose out of a belief that natural things are alive, and thus there are also mighty spirits for major phenomena, which became objects of worship.Totemism, on the other hand, is an attempt to link a society or clan with an object, like a plant or animal, called a totem, which is considered sacred. J. G. Frazer (1854-1941), author of The Golden Bough, regards religion as a “child of magic,” that is, an attempt to control nature. The subjective theory of the origin of religion links religion with the psychological needs of human beings. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72) considers religious ideals as a projection of human desire. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) wrote that God is derived from the human need for a father image.To Karl Marx (1818-83), religion is the attempt to soothe the unhappy human condition, thus it is an opiate.

H. P. BLAVATSKY states that the great religions are but the expression of the one Wisdom-Religion that has existed since time immemorial. She claims that religious beliefs considerably predate what Western scholars consider the beginnings of civilization, that they go back to Atlantean and even pre-Atlantean times. Blavatsky claims that religion “is as old as thinking men” and that none of the so-called founders of religions actually invented anything new (SD 1:xxxvi). She also claims that the Secret Doctrine (also called the Ancient Wisdom) is “the essence” (SD 1:viii) or “fountainhead” (SD 1:xliv-xlv) of all the various recognized religions, although none of the extant religions contains more than “a chapter or two” of the real truth. It is suggested, in fact, that scriptures should be interpreted allegorically or mythologically rather than literally (SD 2:657-8). And she concludes her discussion, scattered among the pages of her magnum opus, by quoting the motto of the Theosophical Society, “There is no religion higher than truth.” The Theosophical approach to religion is thus very different from that taken by historians, anthropologists, or theologians. In fact, members of the Theosophical Society belong to all the extant religions of the world — or to none.

Religion, Mysticism and Esotericism. Almost all the world religions have a dual component: a popular religion for the masses and a tradition of MYSTICISM or ESOTERICISM for the few. Islam, for example, has SUFISM; Judaism has the KABBALAH; Christianity has a mystical theology (for example in the sixth-century Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite; Hinduism and Buddhism are known for their mystical schools. The aim of such mystical movements is the attainment of unity with the divine or ABSOLUTE, such as moksha in Hinduism, fana in Sufism, or nirvana in Buddhism. The mystical movements are not always regarded positively by the mother religion, such as Sufism in Islam. Thomas Merton has noted that the mystics of one religion may sometimes feel greater affinity to the mystics of other religions than to the ordinary adherent of their own religion.
In addition to mysticism, religions can also have esoteric traditions, which often conflict with the established mainstream religion. Thus Christianity has Gnosticism and esoteric Christianity; some schools of Buddhism are considered as esoteric Buddhism; so is Sufism in Islam.

World Religions. The composition of world religions has changed much in the last century. The Encyclopedia Britannica of 2006 (“Worldwide Adherents of All Religions, Mid-2004”) estimates that various clusters of religions have the estimated number of adherents as follows:

Christianity:
2.1 billion
Roman Catholic:
1.1 billion
Independents:
416.5 million
Protestants:
369.8 million
Orthodox:
218.4 million
Anglicans:
78.4 million
Islam:
1.283 billion
Hinduism:
851 million
Chinese Universism (a complex of beliefs that may include Confucian ethics, ancestor worship, folk religion, and mediumship): 402 million
Buddhism:
375.4 million
Ethnoreligionism (tribal, animistic, or shamanistic beliefs):
252.7 million
Neoreligionism (Asian twentieth-century new religions):
107.3 million
Sikhism:
25 million

Judaism:
15 million
Spiritism:
12.9 million
Baha’i:
7.5 million
Confucianism:
6.4 million
Jainism:
4.5 million
Shinto:
2.8 million
Taoism:
2.7 million
Zoroastrianism:
2.6 million
professions of no religious affiliation:
767.2 million
atheism:
150.6 million



For more extensive discussions of the various religions, the following articles in this Encyclopedia may be consulted: AMERICAN RELIGIONS, NATIVE; AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL SPIRITUAL BELIEFS; BAHA’I FAITH; BUDDHISM; CHRISTIANITY; CONFUCIUS AND CONFUCIANISM; EGYPTIAN RELIGION, ANCIENT; HINDUISM; INCA, AND OTHER RELIGIONS OF SOUTH AMERICA; ISLAM; JAINISM; JUDAISM; MANICHAEISM; MAYAN RELIGION; MYSTERIES; SHINTO; SIKHISM; SPIRITUALISM AND THEOSOPHY; TAOISM; ZOROASTRIANISM. For a Theosophical view of religions, see RELIGION, THEOSOPHY AND.

Richard Williams Brooks and Vincente R. Hao Chin, Jr.







 

Text Size

Paypal Donate Button Image

Subscribe to our newsletter

Email address
Confirm your email address

Who's Online

We have 117 guests and no members online

TS-Adyar website banner 150

EUROPEAN SCHOOL OF THEOSOPHY 2021 Logo

Facebook

itc-tf-default

Vidya Magazine

TheosophyWikiLogoRightPixels