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Religion - Good, Bad, Indifferent?

What is Religion?

Religion is an organized system of belief in and worship of some supreme being that for want of a better name is generally called God. Other common features of religion include belief in some form of afterlife, a moral code or set of rules for our physical existence, and a hierarchy of human representatives to administer God's will here on earth.

The Secular Significance of Religion

The Web site provides statistics on the numbers of followers of the world's major religion. Its 2005 figures show 33% of the world's population (2.1 billion people) are Christians, 21% (1.3 billion) are Muslims, 14% (900 million) are Hindus, with 6% (376 million) Buddhists.

The head of state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (ie the current king or queen) is automatically appointed head of the powerful Church of England. Two of the world's most powerful men, George Bush and Tony Blair are very publicly Christian. As of January 2006 the US Supreme court consisted of 5 Catholics, 2 Jews, a Protestant and an Episcopalian (

The Good and Bad of Religion

As with most things in this world religion has both positive and negative aspects.

The positive side of religion is that it encourages us to recognize the Spiritual nature of ourselves. This is too often lost in the ever-increasing materialistic demands of contemporary society. If religion causes us to take time out to attend a service, or spend a few moments in private prayer, it serves to remind us of what we really are - essentially Spiritual entities. For that brief period the our materialistic impulses are subdued and our true self assumes primacy.

In providing a moral code religion encourages us to be "nicer" to one another. A framework of rules also spurs ever-greater human achievement as people are more likely to make effort when they know the rewards of their efforts shall be protected by law. Both these consequences tend to create a more pleasant earthly experience for all.

But of course religion is not all sweetness and light. Pick up any news paper or tune into any news channel and observe how religious belief/bigotry is the cause of so much hatred and violence around the world. Look at the so-called "war on terror" which is essentially Christian versus Muslim, or the long-running conflict in Northern Ireland between the Catholic and Protestant factions of Christianity.

Those whose teachings gave rise to the religions behind these troubles would be horrified at how their words were twisted by men in pursuit of their own agendas. No religion teaches hatred, violence or destruction. Where religion is (ab)used in this way it has been distorted and corrupted and should be shunned.

A less obvious criticism of religion is that it can provide a comfort zone in which the Spiritual development of the individual can stagnate. Rather than seeking to develop our uniqueness we too easily follow the words of some learned priest or whatever, who though s/he may have studied greatly and be hugely sincere, is still incarnate like ourselves. Listen carefully to religious teachers, as many as possible, but only you yourself may decide which path suits you. There are many roads to Rome, but only one from your present place and time.

The Truth in All Religions

Religion can be a confusing business. Not only are there numerous religions, but also numerous branches within each. It would take more than a lifetime to even know, never mind contemplate, them all. So we mostly adopt the faith in which we are brought up. And there is nothing wrong in that, because all religions at heart teach the same message of love, peace, tolerance and understanding. But don't be blindfolded to faiths other than your own. Challenge yourself by at least listening to what they have to say. The strongest thread has many strands, and each has its place. Don't be afraid also to question your chosen faith, and in particular its human representatives.

Seek that which is common to all faiths, and that which is unique to the individual that is you. In so doing you will learn and grow, which is the highest achievement.

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