Why does Religion exist? This is the puzzle that runs through the minds of many individuals of this age. A possible answer is that it serves many human needs. One of our primary needs is having a means to deal with our mortality. Because we and our loved ones must die, we have to face the pain of death and the inevitable question it brings about whether there is any soul, afterlife, or rebirth. People often look to Religion for the answer. Religion helps us cope with death, and religious rituals can offer us comfort. Human beings also desire good health, a regular supply of food, and the conditions (such as suitable weather) necessary to ensure these things. Before the development of modern science, human beings look to religion to bring about this practical benefits, and they still do. Perhaps the most basic function of religion is to respond to our natural wonder about ourselves and the cosmos. Religion helps us relate to the unknown universe around us by answering the basic questions of “who we are, where we come from, and where we are going”. Little wonder, Carl Gustav Jung, (1875-1961), pointed out that as people age they can make a healthy use of religion to understand their place in the universe and to prepare for death.
At this juncture, I am of the opinion that stands contrary to the widespread view within the study of religion that a real definition of religion should be avoided. A real definition is not necessarily as contentious as it is often assumed that alternatives to the essentialist definitions are less well-founded than they may appear. I therefore wish to opens up with an outline of different definitions of religion and a discussion of common concerns. It goes on to present a starting point for providing a real definition and ends with the suggestion that a real definition would be a valuable tool both academically and practically.
Religion, a very complex terminology has been described as human attempt to feel more secure in a cruel universe. Similarly, another psychologist, William James (1842-1910) came to his ideas on religion via an unusual course of study. Although he began his higher education as a student of art, he made a radical switch to the study of medicine. Finally, when he recognizes the influence of the mind on the body, he was led to the study of psychology and then of religion, which he saw as growing out of psychological needs. James viewed religion as a positive way of fulfilling these needs and praised its positive influence on the lives of the individuals. He wrote that religion brings “a new zest” to living, provides “an assurance of safety”, and leads to a “harmonious relation with the universe”. These views may have been well approved if scholars like Karl Marx have not referred to religion as the “opium of the masses”.
For Hornby, Religion could be either “the belief in the existence of a god or gods and the activities that are connected with the worship of them”, or it could be “one of the systems of faith that are based on the belief in the existence of a particular god or gods”. Obilor, on his side, defined religion as “The whole complexes of attitudes, conviction and institutions through which we express our deep fundamental relationship with reality and not excluding the created order”.
The English anthropologist E.B. Tylor (1832-1917), for example, believed religion was rooted in spirit worship. He noted how frequently religions see “spirits” as having some control over natural forces and how commonly religions see those who die (the ancestors) as passing into the spirit world. Fear of the power of all these spirits, he thought, made it necessary for people to find ways to please their ancestors. Religion offers such ways, thus allowing the living to avoid the spirits’ dangerous power and to convert that power into a force that worked for the good of human beings. Rudolf Otto a German theologian argued in his book, the idea of the Holy that religion emerges when peoples experience that aspect of reality which is essentially mysterious. He called it the “mystery that causes trembling and fascination” (mysterium tremendium et fascinans). In general, we take our existence for granted and live with little wonder, but occasionally something disturbs our ordinary view of reality. For example, a strong manifestation of nature, such as violent thunderstorm, may startle us. Is an aspect of reality that is frightening, forcing us to tremble (tremendum) but also feels fascination (fascinans). The emotional result is what Otto calls numinous awe.
It appears that different authors have each provided us with definitions of religion based on their respective fields of study. Of all of the valid definitions and theories clearly propounded above, one can obviously infer a definition from their area of consensus, which is; Religion as a relevant terminology, is an institution that proffers solutions and give insights to the major needs, concerns and questions of human beings, both in the world here and also in the perceived afterlife.
Carl Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. London: Collins. 1972. 222.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Collier. 1962. 377.
Molly, Micheal. Experiencing the World’s Religions. London: Mayfield Publishing Company. 2001. 3.
Otto, Rudolf, The Idea of the Holy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963). 62.
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