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|What exactly do we mean by "religion"? Dictionary definition is useful, but too limited. Not all religion is the same. There are, for instance, at least three varieties of religious experience within every religion we know of. (see William James and Royce)
There is the transcendental experience of the founder, whether legendary or historical. In this variety of religious experience, the transcendental experience is so intense that it is accepted as "higher knowledge" that is qualitatively different from that of the sensory world. The transcendental experience has been reliably reported in every human culture, though always in terms of the cultural background of the individual having the experience. Because the experience is subjective and not provable, some deny that the experience has any value as a means of knowing anything.
When the transcendental experience happens to an individual who is charismatic, persuasive, or in a position of high repute and the "tenor of the times" is seeking religious conviction, the founder's vision will attract a group of disciples. The disciples may never have the transcendental experience of the founder, but they begin the process of structuring the vision into a doctrine and world-view that will attract others. There may be a struggle between disciples over how the Master's teachings should be interpreted, and they may compete for the Master's mantle. The dogma that evolves from religious scholarship rarely strays far from the cultural context and assumptions about the nature of the universe and reality.
The people who define themselves by their doctrinal religion bring the third variety of religious experience to a religion. Ordinary people bring their prejudices, myths and superstitions into their religion, even though there may be little or nothing in the doctrines, nor the original vision to support them. People have many reasons for being religious. Belonging to a group with whom they are in fundamental agreement comforts them. They go to church for social acceptance and status, and for business contacts. They seek solace when suffering the inevitable reverses that accompany living. They want their family relationships consecrated from birth to the grave.. They want a palliative for the risks of living and the fear of death.
Some have said here that only the ignorant and dull-witted are religious. Not so, by a dam site. Religious people are statistically about the same as the non-religious population. In modern times people have challenged the religion of their ancestors more than in the past. Modern science, another form of religion (that is, perspective on the nature of the universe and the means of "knowing") has been growing since the middle of the 17th century. Observation and critical analysis of data has brought many Abrahamic religious contentions into question. That is a weakness in that family of religious thought, but that weakness is not universal to all religions. In the developed world of the early 21st century it is fashionable to reject anything that doesn't easily fit into the scientific method of knowing, and for good reason. Lights go on when we flick a switch, and under the right conditions mankind can kindle the surface of the sun right here on earth. The mechanical universe of Newton is satisfying, though with the advent of counter-intuitive Quantum Physics most people have no better reason to believe in advanced mathematics than they do to believe in miracles. Quantum Physics may only be another way of looking at the universe, perhaps a universe that is closer to traditional religious "truths" than not.
A second point to consider is that the study and understanding Mankind would be a practical impossibility if we failed to take into account the religious contexts of history. The impact of Christianity on the development of Western Civilization was a major, even pivotal, source of our history. Today's world conflicts are largely driven by the contending positions of Jews, Christians and Muslims. How can one understand China without also understanding Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism? Moral and ethical values taught by religion are important to maintaining civil society where individual desires are reined-in for the good of the group. To "know" Mankind, we must know those institutions, traditions and mores adopted by human tribes. To "know" almost any human trends and events, the student who neglects the religious environment may go wildly astray.
As a Buddhist I don’t believe in either a "soul' or "god" as most often described in the West. The Perceptive World is without substance, it is an illusion that we exist, and exist as part of a universe of multiplicity. That which dreams this world is indivisible and indefinable in terms of time and space. That from which the objective world springs is not exactly what someone in the Abrahamic tradition would call "spiritual". To us there is no dichotomy between "body" and "spirit" both alike are illusory.