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What is Religion?

No one definition can encompass all the varieties of belief and practice that have been called religion. However, in general, a religion is an orientation toward some realm beyond everyday experience, such as the divine as opposed to the human, the sacred as opposed to the profane, or the eternal as opposed to the transitory. Practitioners of a particular religion generally share a common perspective on issues of ultimate significance: where we came from, where we are going, and how best to live in the meantime.


Religious ideas and practices permeate all dimensions of society. Religion, or opposition to it, affects the way that people think and act with respect to practically every domain of human experience.

 

  • It has affected the policies of nations, leading them to adopt religious monarchies, state churches, "faith-based initiatives," or separation of church and state.
  • It influences some people to practice pacifism and others to wage holy war.
  • It affects the positions that people take on ethical and political issues, such as abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, gay marriage, and euthanasia.
  • It affects some people's ability to accept scientific theories, such as evolution.
  • It dictates whether to have sex and with whom to have it.
  • It promotes a variety of dietary practices, such as fasting for Lent, keeping kosher, using Hallal meat, or practicing vegetarianism.
  • It produces certain economic activities, such as shopping for Christmas, closing banks on Sunday, or following Islamic lending practices.
  • It promotes certain physical regimens, such as practicing yoga or meditating to relieve stress or lower blood pressure.
  • It affects the way that some parents educate their children, for example in home schools, parochial schools, or church-related colleges and universities.
  • It has moved some people to treat the earth with respect as a goddess, and others to hold it in contempt.