WHAT IS RELIGION?
Sooner or later, we all face the question of the relevancy of religion in our life. Whether we have been raised in a religiously oriented culture, or a secularist or atheistic atmosphere, we ask ourselves about religion. We wonder what it is, why it is, whether it is necessary, whether it is really for us. And eventually, we all take a stance concerning religion.
Why is this so?
Perhaps the first reason is sociological. People experience religion around them, see it in action, and wonder why it is part of hum experience. Depending upon their personal experience, they have a favorable or unfavorable impression. They decide that religion is for them, or they decide that it is not for them. They live their lives accordingly.
The second reason seems to be experiential. People who have been brought up in a particular religion wonder about it. They ask what it really means, where it came form, why they belong to this religious community rather than that, how their religion compares with others, whether it is "true," and whether they should seek another or abandon the practice of any religion.
Another reason that people wonder about religion in their lives might be called "influential." They see many people who practice no religion, experience a disdain for religion in certain segments of society, are unable to answer serious religious questions, and begin to wonder if religion is really a psychological crutch, the figment of someone's imagination, an invention, a racket or a superstition left over from "unenlightened" days. They are influenced in their thinking by the predominant view concerning religion held by those who have the greatest impact on their lives.
But perhaps the most important reason that people ask themselves about religion and its role in their own lives is that thoughtful people wonder about the meaning of life. They search for answers to questions about life that go beyond the immediately obvious, the tangible, the measurable, the observable, the scientific. They are searching for answers to the mysteries of life: where did it come from, where is it going, what is its purpose? For them as we shall see, religion provides answers.
THE ULTIMATE QUESTION
However much people may differ from each other in time or place, they share a fundamental need to lead a meaningful life and to give expression to what makes life meaningful for them. Their acts may be as different from each other as night and day. Their beliefs may be at opposite ends of the theological scale. The moral acts sanctioned within one people's way of life may be, in many respects, unacceptable to another people. Whatever the variations, however, at the core of it all, at the center of people's religious sense, there lies encounter with Mystery.
The Mystery of Life confronts people at various times in their lives. When they experience the power, the beauty, or the magnitude of the universe, they wonder where it came from, what its purpose is, what it means, and where it is going. When they read about Unidentified Flying Objects, they ask: are they real? where are they from? how do they travel? are the creatures in them super or sub-human? how do they subsist or exist? ;how are they related to earth's creatures? When a man and woman experience the joy of true love, they wonder about its source, its meaning, its purpose, and its uniqueness. When a husband and wife experience the mystery of pregnancy and the wonder of birth, they ask themselves what shaped this tiny form, what force created this miracle, what life is expressed in this helpless baby. But the Mystery of Life confronts people most of all when they are in the presence of death. For most people, death is the a great mystery: the unexpected, the unknown, the point where Mystery is master. Death raises the ultimate question: "What is Life? and that question demands an answer.
In responding to life’s mysteries, people in various places at various times have formulated different answers. But, whatever the answer, it was resolved in response to a decisive question: Where did life come from?
Some have found their explanation in many gods (many Personal Forces) at war with each other - or, at best, in a constant balance of power situation. Others have rooted the universe in One God, but they differ in whether they consider this One god a Person or an Impersonal Force. Some have found their answer in no-God; they explain life in terms of the harmonious unfolding of material possibilities into more complex forms with greater possibilities (leaving the question of the origin of the possibilities unanswered). They conclude that, since the existence of God cannot be "proved" f(that is, with scientific, measurable data), there is no God. And in their attempts to picture people'[s place and role in the universe, some have limited people's destiny to what they can contribute to the world o this side of the grave. Some have sensed that there is more to people than one lifetime can contain have variously expressed this vision in a hope for reincarnation f(many earthly lives), or in one or another form of existence in some kind of eternal life. Still others have preached that people's role and place in life is meaningless -- a tragic mistake, a trick of fate, a barbarous cruelty form which people are delivered by a merciful death.
Whatever the answer, however, it is a response to Mystery. It is a response to the search for an answer to the Mystery of Life. This response is what we call religion.