Report on the Religious Life of Planet Earth
Somewhere in the flotsam of celestial material that makes up the arms of the Milky Way is a little planet called Earth. Home to roughly seven billion people, Earth plays host to a race that is both incredibly sadistic and unspeakably noble. One facet of this dichotomy stems from a concept known as religion. Religion is a set of spiritual beliefs shared by a group of people.
What does religion look like? It looks like religion. A central characteristic of religion is the belief in supernatural beings. Giant flying spaghetti monsters are generally forgone in favor of vaguely humanoid figures. These deities often hand down a moral code that practitioners must adhere to in order to avoid standing in timeout for eternity while everyone else enjoys the post-life after party.
These directives are often delivered in the form of scriptures, or religious texts. Scriptures feature predominantly in ...view middle of the document...
Traditional-secular societies don't work on their own, but religious beliefs tend to translate to social beliefs that encourage a sense of fair play. That's all fine. But the downside of superstitious and insular, parochial societies is that they may not play nice with one another. And that's the type of crap that gets humanity into trouble. Atrocities committed in the name of religion may only be the result of further intolerance; there's no denying that for a particularly passionate, radical or unhinged individual or group of individuals, the excitement of religious fervor is just enough to inspire a bombing, an inquisition, or some other form of extremism.
Most religions practice some form of worship; an act of religious devotion honoring some form of deity. In fact, ritual features pretty highly across the board - objects, places, people and times are all worshipped in some form across every religion. These sacred objects are often put on display to inspire religious feelings: Feelings that are often identified as guilt, adoration, and a overall sense of awe.
This actually led to some pretty neat forms of expression. The Renaissance, a period lasting between the 14th and 17th centuries, saw a surge in the amount of culture in the collective consciousness. Churches at the time weren't too happy with the blasé approach to nudity and the human form, but for most people the Renaissance not only enhanced faith, but the belief that humanity itself was divine. It may sound contrived, but these people had endured a few centuries of dark griminess, and were seeing the proverbial sun for the first time in years. All of humanity's mistakes and imperfections were beginning to be accepted as part of the divine plan. Life, for all of its ugliness, had a newfound sense of meaning.
At its core the function of religion is equal parts expression and accommodation. Expression in the fact that it allows people to communicate who they are and what they stand for - hopefully in a way that doesn't repress another group of people. Accommodation in the sense that it helps promote a sense of place and belonging both among people and in one's own life. It's a tool to feel a little less lost and lonely in a big, overwhelming world.