Students of sociology agree on the fact that religion exists in every society however primitive or advanced. But they do not offer a unanimous definition of religion.
Anthropologist Radcliffe Brown said: “Religion is everywhere an expression in one form or another of a sense of dependence on a power outside ourselves, a power of which we may speak as a spiritual or moral power.” He stressed the definiteness of rituals and the social obligation to perform them.
Durkheim, one of the pillars of sociology, wrote that religion is a unified system and practice relative to sacred things that is to say things set apart and forbidden; beliefs and practices which unite into a single moral community called a church all those who adhere to them.
From these definitions we notice that religion offers dependence to those who follow it at the same time it is treated with fear. As regards dependence this is authenticated by the great Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest American presidents. He said: “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go, my own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.”
This statement by Lincoln gives us a clue to how people began belonging to a religion. It was when each individual in a community could not explain a certain event he had experienced, and when he sought an answer from someone else he found that the other fellow was just as puzzled. Then people began to think that outside and beyond themselves there was something that was influencing events in each individual’s life and in the community. Another great American expressed himself the same way — Benjamin Franklin. He said: “I have lived for a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proof I see of the truth that God governs the affairs of men.”
I am not here to waste time trying to prove that there is supernatural thing called God who created heaven and earth. Neither those who like St. Thomas Aquinas who provided proofs for the existence, nor those — who like the 20th century British philosopher Bertrand Russell who have rejected belief in a God — can be said to have given irrefutable evidence of the existence or non existence of God. I have lived a long time and have been aware that there is a thing called air, and yet I have never seen it. It is from what it does that there is a thing called air.
Similarly, I believe in the existence of God because I see certain things whose origin I cannot explain and nobody has explained them satisfactorily.
We must therefore merely discuss the function of religion. Does it really matter not to belong to any religion? You may choose not to belong to any religion but you may still be indirectly involved in it since you are part of the society.
The functions of religion are both collective and personal. Religion provides belongingness, man is a social animal. He does not feel safe in isolation but as part of a community. As a member of a particular religion or denomination you find yourself related to some people but not to those who do not share your religion or denomination. Religion is at once a unifying and divisive element in society. Fortunately in Christianity we do not hear of religion wars anymore but we still hear of violence between sects and against Christians.
When a disaster has occurred in the community, priests, pastors and mullahs lead the community in prayers to God. For instance failures of rains, prayers restore hope to the community.
Religion has great influence on personal lives of some people. This is because life has many challenges for the individual — illnesses, family losses, deprivation of all sorts and struggle for success. All these require extra source of energy.
Individuals resort to prayers. In earlier times practical people offered sacrifices to spirits of their ancestors to intercede with the Deity. Many people say private prayers when faced with difficulties. The fact that they believe there is someone or something in the invisible world who can rescue or bless them gives them psychological stability.
With the advances made by science some people explain religion miracles as mere superstition and they claim that there is no God and that sooner or later people will not bother about religion.
Some of the truly great scientists have been highly religions. A good example was Louis Pasteur who fervently defended belief in God. Albert Einstein said: “Science without religious is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Isaac Newton was able to explain movements in the solar systems, gravity and all that but did not explain who made the first push. How did the thing we see on the earth and above come about. The mystery makes man feel inadequate by himself and so he surrenders to the invisible power.
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