What is Religion?
Most people in the world identify with a religion, but what this means varies from place to place and culture to culture. However, there are some characteristics that are found in most religions. Many seek to explain:
- How and why the universe and world were created.
- What happens when people die.
- How to live a good life.
- What gods exist and how they influence human life.
- How and why these gods should be worshipped.
One or Many Gods?
However, even though religions have common characteristics, they are not all the same. Some religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam are monotheistic which means a belief in one, single, supreme god. Most of the other religions in the world are polytheistic meaning their followers believe in many gods. Hinduism is polytheistic, as were the religions of the ancient Maya, Aztecs, Greeks and Romans.
Symbols, Stories and Sacred Texts
Religions are part of culture. They involve a set of beliefs that are passed on from one generation to another. For thousands of years, these beliefs were learned by listening to oral stories, poems and music and by watching or participating in dance and drama. A key part of this was attaching special meaning to certain symbols, such as the Christian use of the crucifix to represent the death and resurrection of Christ. Some religions also have written texts, called sacred texts, that teach about the religion. These include the bible, for Christians and the Koran for Muslims.
People with No Religion
It has been estimated that about 20% of people do not believe in a god. These people are non-believers and are sometimes called atheists. However, non-believers still seek answers to some of the same questions such as how the universe was created and how to live a good life. Instead of seeking answers from religion, non-believers might rely on science and philosophy
Tolerance and Respect
One of the ways of living a good life is to interact positively with people who hold different beliefs than the ones we do. We should engage with people no matter how they look, dress, behave or think. We should recognize that all belief systems, whether based on religion or not, can contribute much to our understanding of the world.