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"Religion" refers to a set of core beliefs upon which people base their lives, usually involving a deep personal commitment, dedication, devotion, even variant degrees of worship, emotionally and mentally, of something or someone, which may or may not be a deity, or even God the Holy Trinity.

For Christians, the Bible teaches the triune nature of man, and Jesus said the greatest commandment in the Old Testament was to love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul. The Christian religion employs the use of logic and faith. Morality has often historically been based on religion, but many movements such as the secular humanists hold that morality does not depend on religion, and secular views of morality have existed as far back as ancient Greece.[1]

Criticism of classifying Christianity as a species of genus religion

There are scholars like Visser't Hooft who resist the notion of Christianity as a "species of the genus religion." He argues that Christianity is an "adequate and definitive revelation of God in history," that classifying Christianity as one expression of "a general phenomenon called religion is to set it in a framework which is foreign to its nature." In differentiating the world religions from the world of revelation, Jean Danielou says, "The worst misunderstanding of Christianity or of Judaism is to make them religions among other religions — the very error of syncretism."[2] Wilhelm Busch, a member of the Confessing Church during the era of Nazism, maintained that religions are human attempts to find God and they all have this in common: they have all gone astray in the fog and have not been able to discover God. The Jewish prophet Isaiah, according to Busch, understood that God is a hidden God, and that is why Isaiah cried out: "We cannot reach you. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down." Busch perceived as an amazing thing that God "heard that cry [and] tore through the blanket of fog and came down to us - in the person of Jesus Christ", thus "Jesus reveals God to us".[3] This view is often summarized by saying that "Religions are men’s unsuccessful attempts to reach God, Christ [or Christianity] is God’s successful attempt to reach men."[4] Some versions of the Bible (e.g. Contemporary English Version, GOD's WORD Translation, Good News Translation, Slovak Lutheran Translation) translate the Hebrew word חֻקּ֥וֹת (Transliteration: chuqqah, meaning: statute, of special ritual laws, figurative of a firmly established custom) from Jeremiah Chapter 10 as "religion"; and then the Bible claims such religions of nations are "worthless" (or, meaningless vanity) and compares them to idols "like scarecrows in a cucumber field". Then, further in verse 5, people are advised: "Don’t be afraid of them because they can do no harm, nor can they do any good."[5]

Definition of religion

Beyond this general definition, the word "religion" is used in several ways:

  • Formal definition: "The service and worship of God or the supernatural;"[6] Under this definition, atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism are not "religions.".[7]
  • Functional definition: "A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith"[8] By this definition, non-theistic belief systems such as atheism, humanism, and agnosticism could be considered religions. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States of America has acknowledged that "religion" does not need to include a belief in a god or gods, and included Secular Humanism as an example of a non-theistic religion.[9][10] In 2014, an Afghan citizen was granted asylum in Britain on religious grounds because he declared himself to be an atheist.[11] When in 1917 the atheistic Bolshevik Soviet in Petrograd organized a 'colossal demonstration' to 'illustrate the international solidarity of working classes,' visiting British Labour MP Morgan Philips Price described it as 'not merely a labour' or 'an international demonstration,' but also as 'really a great religious festival, in which the whole human race was invited to commemorate the brotherhood of man.'[12]
  • Mathematics as religion. Based on Gödel's Second Incompleteness Theorem, John Lennox explains that if a religion is something whose foundations are based on faith, then mathematics is the only religion that can prove its status as a religion.[13]
  • Organisational definition: Under this definition, the term refers to a particular religious organisation or movement, such as Catholicism, Methodism, or Lutheranism. These groups generally consist of a central creed or body of beliefs, an ethical component (i.e. a code of morals), a body of literature or holy texts or stories, and a set of individual and communal practices. Under this definition, a person might say, "I'm not religious, because I don't go to church—but I believe in God."
  • Practical definition: Under this definition, the term refers to a set of practices, rites, or rituals observed by followers. Under this definition, a person might say, "I'm not religious, because I'm not into rituals. My relationship with God is enough."

Ninian Smart's scheme for determining what is a religion

Roderick Ninian Smart, a Scottish writer and professor, defined a seven-part scheme of understanding both religious and secular worldviews.[14] These can be understood as narrative, experiential, social, ethical, doctrinal, ritual and material.

English Pastor Daniel Smartt defines atheism as a religion, using Ninian Smart's seven dimensions of worldview as a list of criteria. It is not necessary in Smartt's model for every one of these to be present in order for something to be a religion.[15]

  • Narrative - this dimension is concerned with stories which explain the origin of the universe and the human life. For Christians, there is the Book of Genesis.
  • Experiential - this dimension is concerned with personal or spiritual experiences. Many religious believers report experiences of being near to God.
  • Social - the social dimension of religion is concerned with religious leadership and community in congregations.
  • Ethical - this dimension is concerned with the ethical teachings of a religion. See: Religion and morality
  • Doctrinal - this dimension is concerned with the philosophical teachings of a religion, its claims about the ultimate nature of reality.
  • Ritual[16] - this dimension is concerned with rituals, the celebration of rites, ceremonies or festivals.
  • Material[17] - this dimension is concerned with the physical artifacts of a religion, such as buildings, monuments, art, etc., and with physical places considered sacred.

Growth of religion

See also: Growth of religion and Desecularization

Hong Kong Christians at Gateway Camp. In 2005, there were four times as many non-Western World Christians as there were Western World Christians.[18]

From a global perspective, and not necessarily in every region, religion is seeing a resurgence and scholars of religious demographics frequently use the term "global resurgence of religion" to describe the process of desecularization which began in the late portion of the 20th century.[19]

The theologian and Harvard University academic Harvey Cox asserted that grassroots movements such as fundamentalism and the Charismatic movement/pentecostalism are significant religious forces that are resistant to secularization forces.[20][21] In her book The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong wrote: "One of the most startling developments of the late 20th century has been the emergence within every major religious tradition of a militant piety known as 'fundamentalism'… this religious resurgence has taken many observers by surprise."[22]

On December 23, 2012, Professor Eric Kaufmann who teaches at Birbeck College, University of London wrote:

I argue that 97% of the world's population growth is taking place in the developing world, where 95% of people are religious.

On the other hand, the secular West and East Asia has very low fertility and a rapidly aging population... In the coming decades, the developed world's demand for workers to pay its pensions and work in its service sector will soar alongside the booming supply of young people in the third world. Ergo, we can expect significant immigration to the secular West which will import religious revival on the back of ethnic change. In addition, those with religious beliefs tend to have higher birth rates than the secular population, with fundamentalists having far larger families. The epicentre of these trends will be in immigration gateway cities like New York (a third white), Amsterdam (half Dutch), Los Angeles (28% white), and London, 45% white British. [23]

List of religions

Religions can be classified according to how many gods the religion recognises.

Monotheistic religions

Monotheistic ("one god") religions are followed by just over half of the world's population.[24]

Transtheistic religions

Polytheistic religions

Polytheistic ("many gods") religions believe in and worship multiple gods or spirits or other supernatural beings. Polytheism has declined since the rise of Christianity, but has seen a recent resurgence among pagan cults in developed nations.

Pantheistic religions

Pantheistic ("all is god") religions believe that all of creation or nature is divine.

It is also worth noting the existence of 'Panentheism' and the importance of distinguishing it from Pantheism. Panentheism is the belief that God is in all things and is chiefly manifest in Animism. Nonetheless, Pantheism and Panentheism have also been shown to feature in some outlooks generally defined as 'Monotheistic' (cf. Baruch Spinoza).

Non-theistic religions and philosophies

See also: Atheism is a religion

Non-theistic religions attempt to suppress belief in God or gods. Some consider the existence of God to be unknown or irrelevant, while strong atheism is the belief that asserts it is false.

Parody and joke religions

Several "religions" have been invented in an effort to denigrate or parody traditional religions. While most adherents of these "religions" are not serious believers, there are inevitably a few people who take the tenets seriously.

  • The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - A joke religion created to parody Christianity
  • Discordianism - More likely than the rest of these to be taken seriously, due to parallels with actual religions and a more unified philosophical view than the rest on this list.
  • Jedi - Based on the Star Wars universe, best known for the Australian census prank where large groups of pranksters claimed to be Jedi adherents
  • Last Thursdayism - Another joke religion aimed at parodying Christianity, specifically aimed at Young Earth Creationism
  • SubGeniism - Parodies both aspects of Christianity and Scientology

Faith in organised religion

The percentage of respondents answering they had a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in organised religion has decreased in the United States according to a Gallup poll taken in 2007. Only 46% of respondents selected either of the choices above. The numbers peaked at 68% in May 1975.[25]

Development of religion

Secular scholars and liberals, in order to justify their own postmodernist ideal that religious faith is a subjective issue, all religions are equally valid, there are no absolutes and consequently morality is relative, tend to take an evolutionary approach to the development of religion in human societies.

They usually suscribe to the idea that religion first started off as a primitive form of Animism or Spirit Worship, then evolved into polytheistic tribal/national religions, and then from one of these religions emerged Zoroastrianism which saw a gradual decrease in its number of gods until it eventually was transformed into a monotheistic religion, which in turn evolved into the well organized, theologically complex and philosophically deep monotheistic faiths of today such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

This idea regarding the development of religion continues to appear in liberal publications, despite the fact that it has little real substantiation and is merely an assumption by liberal scholars, who often hold a certain kind of prejudice towards organized religion.

In reality, the exact opposite viewpoint has more substantiating anthropological evidence. Namely, the viewpoint that Monotheism (faith in one sole creator deity) was the original form of religion, but gradually corrupted until it fragmented into various polytheistic religions, which in turn decayed further giving rise to pantheistic and atheistic religions.

For example, expert egyptologist Flinders Petrie suggests there is sufficient archaeological evidence to conclude that the religion of the ancient Egyptians, which is normally categorized as a typical polytheistic religion, was not originally polytheistic, but in fact a monotheistic faith, which only in the later years of the Egyptian empire shifted from monotheism to polytheism.

Similarly, doctor Steven Rangdon of Oxford University, based on his research of ancient Babylonian inscriptions, concludes that the ancient Babylonian religion like the ancient Egyptian religion was also originally monotheistic, and only in the later stages of the Babylonian civilization did it start to transform into a polytheistic and idolatrous religion. Interestingly, this was also the case with the ancient Sumerian religion. The Sumerians believed in over 5000 gods at the time of the end of their civilization. At the start of their history, however, they only worshiped one god, the god of the sky. It is more than likely that the Sumerian god of the sky is the same God of the heavens of the Hebrew Bible.

Interestlingly, this trend can also be seen in far Eastern religions. Shinto (神道), a native polytheistic religion of Japan which now believes in the existence of thousands of deities, was in fact originally a religion with only three gods. As time passed, however, the religion started to fall into a state of decay as believers started to arbitrarily create more and more new gods of their own. The further one goes back in Japanese history the number of gods in Shinto lessens significantly. In addition, some Japanese scholars, for example evangelical theologian Kubo Arimasa, postulate that it is possible that Shinto was in fact originally monotheistic, and the three originals gods described in the opening of the oldest known Shinto text Kojiki were, in fact, originally one creator God, identical to the creator of the Old Testament.

This monotheism → polytheism → pantheism religion curruption hypothesis is also in accordance with the scriptures of the Old Testament which tells explicitly that the origin of polytheistic, idolatrous and pagan religions was the rebellion of sinners who sought to free themselves from the laws of the true creator, the Lord Yahaweh.

Academic studies consistently challenge link between religion and war

See also: Irreligion/religion and war

Louise Ridley (assistant news editor at the Huffington Post UK) and others point out that academic studies and other research consistently challenge the link between religion and war.[26]

Religion in the military

Reverend William T. Cummings is famous for declaring There are no atheists in foxholes.[27] See: There Are No Atheists In Foxholes

See also: Religion in the military and There Are No Atheists In Foxholes states concerning religion in the military:

Religion in the Military. For more than 220 years, religion and religious leaders have provided a source of strength and faith for a total of 55 million Americans who have served in the military forces of the United States. The rigorous demands of military duties—separation from friends and family, training in remote locations, battle, and the possibility of violent death—have mandated support for those who serve and who may potentially lay down their lives for their country.[28]

Atheism is a religion and its implications

See also: Atheism is a religion

The British atheist Sanderson Jones is a founder of the Sunday Assembly "atheist church" movement.[29]

Atheism is a religion and this has implications in terms of the disciplines of religion, philosophy, Christian apologetics and law.[30] In addition, although many atheists deny that atheism is a worldview, atheists commonly share a number of beliefs such as naturalism, belief in evolution and abiogenesis.[31]

If the view that there is no God (or are no gods) is a religion, it is argued its expression is constitutionally protected in the United States.[32] The government cannot force atheists to recant and adopt the opposite belief.

In his BBC documentary The Trouble with Atheism the award-winning journalist Rod Liddle indicates:

Some atheists have become rather dogmatic. Terribly certain in their conviction that there is no God and anyone who thinks there is is a deluded and dangerous fool. ,,,atheists are becoming as intransigent about their own views as the people they so despise.

Atheism is becoming a religion of its own. It already has its gurus and its revered sacred texts... It has its magnificent temples within which lie mysteries and unknowable truths.[33]

If atheism is not a religion, then the expression of atheistic ideas is still covered by the First Amendment, but only by the free speech and free press clauses.

The implications go deeper, affecting public education. If atheism is a religion, then the atheism adhering to the methodological naturalism of physical science cannot be given excessive government support. That would violate the establishment of religion clause. So, evolution education would have to allow students freedom to dissent from the "orthodox" pseudoscientific view that human beings evolved from earlier forms of life without any intervention from God. It should be noted that biology courses only require knowledge of the theory of evolution, its mechanisms, and the evidence supporting it, rather than belief that evolution occurred.[34]

In 2013, a trend of atheist churches began and atheist church services were reported on in the New York Times, The Blaze and other major news outlets.[35]

See also


  1. Humanism A new Religion. Simon and Schuster. pp. 64–69.
  2. Alan R. Tippet (1975). "5:Formal Transformation and Faith Distortion", Christopaganism or Indigenous Christianity?. South Pasadena, California: William-Carey Library, 104, 117. ISBN 0-87808-423-1. 
  3. Wilhelm Busch (2001). Jesus Our Destiny. Inter Publishing Services, 11. ISBN 0-86347-024-6. 
  4. Inspirational Quotes. Retrieved on 31 Jul 2018.
  5. Jeremiah 10:3. Retrieved on 31 Jul 2018.
  6. "Religion" in Merriam Webster dictionary.
  7. Religious Groups Participating in Religious Congregations & Membership Study 2000. [1]
  8. "Religion" in Merriam Webster dictionary.
  9. "Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God, are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others.". Torcaso v. Watkins, (1961)
  10. "A federal court of appeals ruled ... Wisconsin prison officials violated an inmate's rights because they did not treat atheism as a religion." Court rules atheism a religion WorldNet Daily
  11. Afghan Atheist Wins Asylum In Britain On Religious Grounds. DPA. Retrieved on 14 January 2014. “...The legal team submitted the case to the Home Office under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which aims to protect people from persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership in a particular social group.”
  12. Hellen Rappaport (2016). "9 Bolsheviki! It Sounds 'Like All that the World Fears'", Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917. Windmill books, 171–2. ISBN 978-00995-92426. 
  13. John C. Lennox (2009). God's undertaker. Has science buried God?. Oxford, England: Lion Hudson, 53. ISBN 978-0-7459-5371-7. “He proved that one of the statements that cannot be proved in a sufficiently strong formal system is the consistency of the system itself...we can only believe...” 
  14. Dimensions of the Sacred, page 2
  15. "Atheism vs Religion", Daniel Smartt
  16. "Atheism: A religion", Daniel Smartt,
  17. "Atheism: A religion", Daniel Smartt,
  18. Is Christianity taking over the planet?
  19. The return of religion
  20. Publisher's Weekly Review of The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics by Peter L. Berger
  21. Kirkus Reviews- FIRE FROM HEAVEN: Pentecostalism, Spirituality, and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century by Harvey Cox
  22. Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, p. 9
  23. 97% of the world's population growth is taking place in the developing world, where 95% of people are religious, Tuesday, April 30, 2013
  25. Christian Examiner, Sept. 2007, Vol 25, No 9, Pg. 24
  26. Does Religion Really Cause War - And Do Atheists Have Something To Answer for? by Louise Ridley, assistant news editor at the Huffington Post UK
  28. Religion in the military,
  29. Atheist Church Split: Sunday Assembly And Godless Revival's 'Denominational Chasm', Huffington Post, 2014
  30. Is Atheism a religion? by Daniel Smartt, Published: 4 May 2010(GMT+10)
  31. The Supreme Court has said a religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being. In the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, the court described "secular humanism" as a religion. Court rules atheism is a religion
  32. BBC Documentary The Trouble With Atheism BBC Horizon Documentary
  33. See Kenneth Miller's testimony in Selden v. Cobb County', available at [2], p. 178

See also

External links