Essay THOUGHTS ABOUT RELIGION
ESSAY: THOUGHTS ABOUT RELIGION
Garth T Read
Religion is one of the human responses to the realities and mysteries of our existence within a vast and infinite universe.
In very general terms all of our responses to both the realities and the mysteries of existence, reflect a mix of practical, intellectual and emotional concerns. For example we all have to get on with the very practical necessities and concerns of day to day living. Equally, from a very early age we formulate questions about how, when, where and why things are as they are or about what they could or should be. Likewise, our ever deepening awareness of life can evoke feelings of curiosity, awe, wonder, smallness, inadequacy, anxiety and so on.
A religious approach to life will, necessarily, embody all of these kinds of responses. However, it is important that we try to identify what might be the distinguishing characteristics of a religious response to the realities and mysteries of life. I suggest that there are at least three things that, collectively, characterise a religious response to life’s realities and mysteries.
The first is an intellectual response that asks ultimate or unanswerable questions about such things as the origin, purpose, meaning and destiny of all life. These questions are described as “unanswerable” because they can never be given an answer that is unquestionably and finally demonstrated as true for all people. Religions, however, major on ensuring that these kinds of questions continue to be asked. Each religion gains its distinctive character from the “answers” that it offers to people willing to consider these “unanswerable” questions.
Embedded in these religious “answers” to ultimate questions is a profound sense of transcendence. This may include images of a supernatural reality that is beyond, outside or deep within all life. Traditionally and in most of the major religions, this is linked to a belief in God, The Divine, The Great Spirit or some other supernatural entity or force. However, for some religions the idea of transcendence may focus more on a conviction that the significance of each individual life extends far beyond the confines of its own location in time and space.
At a more practical level, a religious response to life’s realities and mysteries combines an awareness of the fact that human beings are not perfect with a belief that we can do better. In other words, each religion offers a set of broad principles designed to promote a way of life that is believed to help people, both individually and collectively, to constantly improve their character, behaviour and overall wellbeing. This transformative drive may not be unique to religion, but it is also a necessary component of any legitimate religious way of living.
Adopting a religious stance for living or continuing in a culturally conditioned religious lifestyle requires an act of faith. In this context ‘faith’ is not synonymous with religion. Of course in the expression ’my Faith’ the reference is to the particular religion that the speaker belongs to. However, the act of faith by which people adopt or affirm a religious identity combines notions of choice, decision making, trust and commitment. It refers to the capacity we have to make value judgments about what we consider to be our highest priorities, our driving passions and our deepest convictions. Faith, understood in this way is a necessary human faculty that we use when formulating our beliefs about what is true, good, valuable, beautiful and just. Faith is also the means by which we make value judgments about appropriate behaviours and about the lifestyle options that are available to us.
All religions share these common characteristics. However, simply because of the nature of these shared characteristics, their expressions in particular times and places are quite diverse. Consequently, there never has been just one religion influencing the lifestyle ambitions, behaviours and commitments of people living on this planet. The religious scene of the world is and always has been multifaith.
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