One word to describe religion

  • Question 222, from Tom

    How would you describe religion, why we do it?
    What is the point behind it? But on a universal religious preference. The challenge is that you have to describe all of that into one word.

    What is very interesting when studying religions is how universal many of the key themes are. It is difficult to know how religions started Рwhat prompted the first religious beliefs in human cultures Рbut there have been many hypotheses.There are a number of approaches to religion that seek to explain it as a social or psychological phenomenon that provides either a coping mechanism or explanation of events and circumstances in ways that make sense to human beings.

    So in one word? AWE.

    The world is quite big and humans are quite small. Human lives are relatively short and over soon. People¬†are often afraid of things they don’t understand, and so seek to explain them. There is an aesthetic principle at work – humans can appreciate ‘beauty’ in a natural event like a sunset or in sandstone columns carved by winds. The sky at night is full of stars. Rainbows cut a colourful swathe across the sky. A new-born baby seems like a wonderful gift. All these things create a sense of awe and marvel and wonder and that leads to looking for reasons behind it, which in turn leads to belief in unseen powers shaping what is seen, which over time with the application of reason and, maybe, revelation becomes a religious belief system. When religious beliefs become institutions they often seek to encapsulate that sense of awe by building monuments like henges and cathedrals, recapturing the impetus that drives people towards religion.

    For many Christians the universality of religious expression is testament to a shared, yet flawed, understanding of God that is apprehended through awe and a sense of the transcendent. This is reflected in the phrase in Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verse 11, that states God has ‘set eternity in the human heart’ – the ability to appreciate eternity leads to awe of the eternal God and this can be experienced outside the revealed Christian religion by all human beings.


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