RELIGION DEFINITION AND EXAMPLES
The definition of religion is not easy to unbundle. Most scholars who tried to define religion ended up giving narrow or compartmentalised definition (subjective or functional). The noun religion is derived from a Latin word “religio”. According to the Merrian Webster’s collegiate “religion” means to restrain, sanction or tie back. The fourth century AD Christian writer Lactantinus believes that the word is derived from “regare”meaning to fasten or to bind. He states that we are all tied to God and bound to Him. He believed that religion is a recovery of the original link with God that sin had sundered. With all the views scholars put together, there is a consensus that religion is a relationship of a god or God (deity) with his loyal subjects portrayed through people’s everyday life, respect of one another and general understanding of the universe around them. It is a life expressed through the observance and respect for what is sacred and the reverence for the God or gods. As a result, this essay shall evaluate using examples the definition of Religion.
There are great scholars such as Immanuel Kant and Mathew Arnold, who defined religion as follows, Kant, maintains that, “a rational religion must consist the heart’s disposition to fulfil all human duties as divine commands”. Mathew Arnold asserts that, “the true meaning of religion is morality touched by emotions”. For this reason, religion should give emotional support to people. Whereas, Alfred describes religion as “the art and the theory of the internal life of man, so far as it depends on man himself and what is permanent in the nature of things”. Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness, that is, an encounter with an interior light within oneself.
In addition, it is a special form of awareness of the surrounding world, which is based on the belief in the existence of one (or more) of the gods. It includes a set of moral and ethical conduct, which are usually reflected in the sacred texts. Religions emerged in the form of different beliefs that appeared almost simultaneously with the emergence of mankind. Despite lacking a clear organization like modern religions, it has always played a prominent role in different societies (Kucheman, Cark 1972). Religion can also be seen as rituals or actions in order to establish contact. There are quite a number of religions that are practised such as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity just to mention a few.
Even though, we usually see religion as the belief in one or more gods, this is not always the case. In Buddhism, for example, there are no deities. However, like other religions, Buddhism strongly asserts the existence of a spiritual reality, which is separated from everyday life of the material world. Religion usually centres on the existence of benevolent Supreme Being by whose grace humanity can attain a world of eternal happiness. Mbiti (1969) defined rituals as a set form of carrying out religious ceremony. Rituals take place during community celebrations and festivals for the purpose of thanksgiving, purification and communion. The performance helps to link humanity with the divine.
Consequently, perhaps, those who, by their own assurances, believe in the existence of the spiritual world should be called religious people. However, this is not necessarily true: religion, at least partially, can be institutionalized gathering in the shadow of their communities of those who join similar or common beliefs. Religion can also be understood as a cultural system of behaviours and practices, which include religious views, sacred texts, sacred times and places, ethics, beliefs of humans about God or gods, spirits, ancestors, life and death and hereafter. Faith in a supreme power or being referred to mostly as God, Allah or Yahweh, forms the fundamental foundation of almost every religion across the globe.
However, the presence of the community is only one side of religion. Religious practices include; rituals, celebrations, commemoration of deities, sacrifices, religious festivals, rites, initiation, funerals, meditation, prayer, music, art, religious clothes and dance. They are the fundamental aspects of humans’ everyday life in relation to their God and to one another. The religions’ sacred history and narratives are preserved in sacred scripture, symbols or Holy life or through oral tradition. Among others lay faith – personal beliefs and feelings of reverence and veneration; the cult – rites and church premises, collective prayer, and so on, norms – moral rules and prohibitions, as well as notions of sin and holiness.
Marxism suggests a scientific definition of religion. Exploring the laws of development of human society, the classics of Marxism-Leninism revealed the social essence of religion. We have convincingly shown that religion is, for example, politics, law, morality, science; art is a form of social consciousness (Bauer, Andrea 2006). Each of the forms of social consciousness reflects a certain aspect of the life of society. Politics, for example, reflects the relations between classes, states, nations, morality – the moral qualities of people.
The definition of religion also includes representations, a system view of the world, expressed in the so-called “holy books” containing various myths, regulations and instructions, as well as by word of mouth of the mythical images, visions, paintings, based on a belief in the supernatural. The etymology of the Latin word religio is disputed. Some have tried to connect religio with other Latin terms (relegere, religare,). Paul Tillich describes religion as ultimate concern. Therefore, religion is intrinsically good. It is that from which everything else is derived and by which everything is to be valued. Subjectively, the object of ultimate concern is God. Nonetheless, Religion is the area or dimension of the sacred, divine, and holy.
Actions are very important in religion. Theologians say that the supernatural world cannot be known by human reason, it is necessary to believe in it, despite the arguments of science and reason, reject the existence of God. Therefore centuries elaborated and corresponding patterns of human behaviour, customs and traditions passed down from generation to generation, performing religious rites and rituals following different regulations. All these actions are called worshipping (Wellman, James, 2008).
From time to time, people go freely to perform their religious duties, ceremonies and rituals. They even fast, inflict pain on their bodies, deny themselves the pleasures and comforts of this life, go on pilgrimage at great expense, cross national boundaries and oceans in order to take the religious message to the people and do other things, all for the sake of religion. These are done voluntarily, freely, willingly and happily in most cases, even though occasionasionally force or pressure may be put on people. People often decide freely to join a particular religion. It is generally accepted that there are many religious systems in Africa (Magesa 2002: 16: J. S Mbiti 1990:1). It must be, therefore, that there is something valuable in religion to make people do all these things of their own will.
Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world, originating as the beliefs and practices of the Israelites. It traces its heritage to the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants. Judaism is a tradition grounded in the religious, ethical and social law as prescribed in the Torah- the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, written by Moses. The Jews believe in the supremacy of One God, Yahweh who has no partner or equal that is Monotheism. (Mono meaning one and theism from the Greek word Theo meaning God. The Jews believe in sacred narratives, divine beings, monotheism (one God Yahweh), human nature and the purpose of existence, suffering and the problem of evil and the afterlife and salvation. All this forms the fundamental beliefs of the Jewish people.
When talking about religion, the existence of specific groups of people – clergy should also be considered. Together with the faith, they constitute a special community or religious organization called the Church. For example, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and so on. The clergy is promoting beliefs and worship. However, the existence of the clergy cannot be regarded as an indispensable element of religion: there are religious organizations that do not have a permanent priesthood (Wellman, James 1998). Christianity religion is a monotheistic (one God) religion founded in the first century A.D based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ who serves as the founder and the principal leader of the religion. The religion is based on the life, teachings, the death and resurrection of Christ who is viewed as the promised Messiah just to mention a few. All this was a fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies.
Thus, religion and belief is what connects the human with the divine world and gives the person a special state of inner warmth, tranquillity and confidence because he does not feel alien to the divine forces that surround it. He does not feel thrown out in front of the meaninglessness of life. Life becomes meaningful with its purpose to union with God. It becomes clear and positive. One can say that religion is one of the universal cultural mechanisms of regulation of human activity, it is through the actions of religious system which organizes daily life, with the help of the development of doctrine structures in the world, that makes one think about the basics and the meaning of life.
Above all, the term religion is one of those very common words that are often hard to define. It is often being used but few people have a very well-developed idea of what they mean when they use it. In the same line of thought, some societies do not draw a clear line between their culture and what scholars would call religion, as Smith would argue. Though Whitehead would put an insightful thought saying that religion is not an unambiguous good. Some argues that religion does not exist in the first place – there is only culture, and religion is simply a significant aspect of human culture. As a result, Smith (1982: xi) who once wrote:
There is no data for religion; it is solely the creation of Scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy.
Another negative attitude the majority of the religions are exclusive to their beliefs, they encourage intolerance against the people of different faith. This is perhaps the most unmistakable display of hypocrisy as the idea of religion being a force for peace and reconciliation is opposed with the violence and wars allegedly fought in the name of God. For example, killing in the name of Allah. The sense of righteousness always seen in the religious movements leads to superiority which seemingly allows for any act, as long as it can be justified with the loyalty to the divine. Pencarska (2013) also said the minority of religious extremists have been known to practise terrifying and repulsive acts of hostility and sadism to promote their goals, in the ways that are exploited by the ones in power, reinforcing the negative stereotype in the media which portrays religion as a narrow-minded and dangerous cult.
According to Cox religion can also be described into five categories: Theological, Philosophical, Sociological, Anthropological and Psychological. Theological definition means believing in God and supernatural beings and it examine the general ideas and principles upon which religion is based. It takes the truth claims that religious people make and tests them for logical coherence and meaning. Philosophical, this is the relation of man to his own being, what he does in his solitary. Sociological is the opinion of a community, a cooperative quest for a completely satisfying life and conservation of values. Anthropological is recognition of all duties as divine commands. Finally, psychological, studies the behaviour for example studying the roles of instinct, culture and function of thought, intelligence and the language. According to Argyle and Beithalahmi (1975) psychology of region is the study of religiosity. Individuals are believed to have instinctual minds they are not aware of, such as needs for safety and security.
Religion also includes representation such as holy books containing various myths, regulations, instructions and as well as by word of mouth of mythical images, visions, paintings, based on a belief of supernatural. Another element of religion are sentiments of the faith. Religion can possess both thoughts and feelings of people. Theologians argue that man is born with the religious feelings, for example a ready ability to communicate with the supernatural, to feel the power of God, to see and feel his actions. Science denies the allegation saying religious ecstasy, fanaticism and feeling of believers perversion of healthy human psyche that occurs under the influence of religious belief. For example religious feelings is that, are directed at the fictional, supernatural objects, rather than actually existing ones.
One of the scholars, Pencarska (2013) said religion has been a significant aspect of our society and culture since beginning of human civilization. The origin of religious belief in our ancestors remains uncertain. Yet according to anthropologists the world religions started as the movements of enlightenment and revitalization for communities seeking more comprehensive answers to their problems. The easiest way to define religion is to refer to it as a “belief in, or the worship of a god or gods”. The majority of the regions are exclusive to their beliefs and in some cases, whether openly or subtly, encourage the intolerable against the people of different faith. This perhaps is the most unmistakable display of hypocrisy as the idea if religion being a force for peace and reconciliation is opposed with violence and alleged fought in the name of God.
Also, Kwame (2002) once said, religion helps people to communicate in two directions. First there is social communication. People meet together for a common purpose, for example to pray together, to sacrifice together, and so on. They also meet indirectly through having common myths, legends, values, traditions, morals and view of the world. Because of religion, they are able to understand one another, to communicate ideas and feelings and to act more or less as a social unit, even if there may be other differences. At least in theory religion gathers people together both in action and in religious commitment. This can be thought of as the horizontal direction of religious communication. Therefore, because of religion, humanity is able to understand one another, communicate ideas, feelings and social unity.
Probably the greatest value of religion is to teach people to be humble because of their great limitations. It tells man that they are created, and that however much they may celebrate life, it is short, temporary and flowing like a river. Religion teaches people to be dependent on their Creator. Even though African Religion puts men at the center of the universe, it also shows them very clearly that they have their limitations. This is what drives them to their rituals, prayers, ceremonies and trust in God. Even the greatest achievement of man is limited, and does not last forever. It is at this crucial juncture of man’s limitations and humility that the poem titled “If God should go on strike” becomes very relevant to our existence on this planet.
In conclusion, one asserts that religion act as a light and guide to people as they go through life and reflect on it. Part of any religious system is its moral values which regulate and harmonizes human life. It is religion which informs on what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, what is just and what is unjust, what is a virtue and what a vice is. Religion has many moral values within the family and with the community. No society can exist without morals. Religion enriches people’s morals, for the welfare of the individual and society at large. Hence, building the relationship between humanity and the world around.
Religion and belief play an important role in connecting the human with the divine world. Life becomes meaningful with its purpose to union with God. It becomes dear and positive. One can say religion is one of the universal cultural mechanisms of regulation of human activity. It is through the actions of religious system organized daily life, with the help of the development of doctrine structures the world. Thus, making humanity think about the basics and the meaning of life.
Bauer, Andrea, “Marxist view: In the beginning was the World,” April 2006
Kucheman, Cark,” Religion, Culture, and Religious Socialism,” The Journal of Religion, Jul 1972
Magesa L. African Religion: The moral Traditions of Abundant Life. Maryknoll, Orbis New York. 1997
Magesa L Christian Ethics in Africa. Acton Publishers. Nairobi 2002
Mbiti J.S. African Religion and Philosophy. Heinemann 1990.
Smith, J.Z., 1998. Religion, religions, religious. Critical terms for religious studies, 1998, pp.269-284.
Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Los Angeles: Roxbury Company, 2002
Wellman, James, “Religon, Ideology, and Belief,” Oxford Scholarship Online, Sep 2008