Religion goes back to the beginning of civilisation itself, when it was perhaps formed to consolidate all people within an acceptable framework to ensure the continuance of culture– which it achieved by laying down certain guidelines, and condoning a way of life that preserved the tradition or beliefs of a philosophy.
The perception of their physical environment and their experiences as indomitable actions of nature enthused humans to grasp the answers behind the mysteries of their existence and that of a Creator, to question the relationship between living beings and the eternal Divine and to dig deeper into who they were. Hence, philosophy and theology birthed from our speculation on these matters. Early philosophers and thinkers disseminated their findings either orally or through poetic metaphorical descriptions, and supplemented them with imaginative examples. This ranged from thoughts and discussions about the ideal organisation of society to the creation of universe to the nature of the eternal Divine. With the formalization of these discussions as scriptures and holy texts, religion was conceptualised. As a result, the relationship between the atomic and the cosmic occupies the central position in almost all religions. For instance, the Jaina philosophy shares with Buddhism and Hinduism the aim of striving, within its own metaphysical presuppositions, for absolute liberation (moksha or nirvana) from the factors which bind human existence. Religion can also exist without the concept of the Divine, for instance, Buddhism does not believe in a higher power, and instead focuses on liberation from suffering, or ‘dukha‘.
With religion, came the idea of a life based on practices reflecting ethical and moral behavior. Evolution of society and the associated practices necessitated the formalization of certain norms, social systems, and the authentication of various matters which were required for an ordered society. Mythologists suggest that if some value or practice was considered morally and ethically crucial, it was brought under the realm of religious rites and enforced as prescribed behavior. Religion therefore, became a means of preserving values too.
However, as the relationship between man and the Divine was propounded, people sought material gain from the latter, be it protection, victory in wars, wealth, longevity, sons, cattle, and other forms of wealth and success– simple prayers were made for securing these ends. But as this materialism grew in men, a way to regain regain harmony with the Divine emerged as well. While some religions emphasizes offering regular prayers, practicing asceticism and profound love towards the Divine, others suggested elaborate ceremonies, which paved the way for ritualism. Rituals and ceremonies, thus, became important components of spirituality. Religious literature therefore, started taking the form of guidelines to achieve desired ends.
A religion survives due to its community of believers and philosophers, as they play a very essential role in proliferation of their religious philosophy– this can easily be substantiated with events currently happening in the world in the name of religion. Religion has influenced the domestic, social, economic and political spheres of our life.
This century is part of an era of rationality, reason, logic, scientific temper, which are questioning the entrenched practices and norms as provided through religion. Bigotry and fascism in the name of religion that have led to persecution, inhuman treatment, irrational practices and misery in the past are being dismantled, and being replaced by secularism.
Thus, religion may be defined as a system of behaviors and practices, beliefs and world views, texts and ethics, emphasizing the relationship of the atomic with the cosmic. In its purest essence, it is something that was devised to unify people under some sort of framework and is something that evolved over time according to the exigencies of every period.
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