The Nature and Role of Religion in Human Life

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Tylor and Frazer are two of the early researchers about religion. Their research was done in order to develop theories that give details about the nature of religion. The two claimed that religion is a systemized animism and magic. They defined religion as being a belief in spiritual things and beings; therefore, making it a systemized animism. They argue that religion exists just to help people understand the occurrence of events that otherwise could not be explained. According to the researchers, religion relies on the unseen and hidden forces (Cengage).

Tylor and Frazer adopted an evolutionary view of religion, whereby they argue that humans progressed from primitive religion to thought that is more rational. According to them, religion came about among primitive people as a way to try to explain the world that is around them. They used magic as a way to control the forces of nature. Religion came about much later as people prayed to God. The more humanity progressed, some primitive practices linger (Cline).

Practices such as magic and pseudo-science are still practiced in some parts of the world up to date. Religion and science, according to them, are false sciences of urological minds formed for the understanding of forces of nature. According to Tylor and Frazer, religion is just an outmoded way of explaining the universe (Cengage).

Sigmund Freud argues that religion is an illusion, a mass neurosis and exists in response to deep emotional conflicts and weaknesses. Karl Marx, on the other hand, defines religion as the opium of people or masses, and is dependent on material and economic realities in a particular society. According to the two, religion is not simply what its believers are convinced to believe. They believe that religion creates other worldly benefits and losses behind the scenes. In their opinion, they predict that there is no future for religion and that the people will finally wake up from the intoxication of the so-called religion.

Both of them tend to look for an explanation to the origin of religion in the material world. According to Marx, religion did not precede the existence of humanity and that of the world. He explains that religion is not the reason for the existence of things, and rather categorizes religion as the consequence of the material conditions. Therefore, according to Marx, religion is just among the ideas that individuals create as response to the material conditions. These ideas serve to strengthen the existing relationships between the different economic classes that exist (Cline).

Freud’s explanation of the origin of religion is associated with the feelings every individual has. He argues that as humans we cannot change the reality that is unknown to us; instead, we tend to change our way of thinking to accommodate the beliefs. Individuals, therefore, try to persuade the nature by rituals, sacrifices, and prayers. Human beings long for the feeling of security, which is impossible to find in their adulthood; therefore, turning to God as the father figure of adulthood (Cline).

Some injustices and inequalities of the modern day world cannot be justified by reason. Those who suffer need some hope to cling on to cope with them. Consequently, they are made to believe that there is some greater form of justice. They believe that their suffering will be consoled after this life. According to the researchers, religion is created to serve as a police to offer security and be the defender to ensure stability (Cline).

Th two philosophers believe that religion will disappear with time. Marx believes that serves to strengthen the existing social and economic order. However, he does not believe that infrastructure should be defended. Freud pictures the injustices as the consequences of civilization, and in his opinion civilization should be defended.

Both Clifford Geertz and Emile Durkheim were involved in the study of a particular religion in depth, but came out with different conclusions about the definition of religion. Durkheim stresses on the important role of the social, while Geertz emphasizes on the important connections and comparisons that can come up through an intensive study of a particular religious culture (Cline).

Geertz is concerned about developing a theory of religion based on his view that religion is distinctively a part of the cultural system. To analyze religion as a cultural system, he defines culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed I symbolic forms in which way men communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge and attitudes towards life” (Petrey).

Geertz goes on to define religion as simply a system of symbols, which act to establish powerful moods and motivations in men by formulating concepts of an order of existence and clothing them such that the moods and motivations seem unequally realistic. In his definition, he treats religion as a vital component of cultural meanings. He further argues that the symbols, carried by religion, help to explain the human existence by giving it an ultimate meaning. Therefore, according to Clifford his religious sphere has a special status beyond normal life (Cline).

Emile Durkheim defines religion as a means of social organization. According to Durkheim, religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices that are relative to sacred things, which are things set apart and forbidden. He focused on the importance of the concept of sacred and its relevance to the welfare of the society. Durkheim claims that religious beliefs are the social realities expressed in a symbolic manner without which religious beliefs have no meaning. He also reveals how religion serves in social functions.

Considering all the three pairs of analysts and researchers, Tylor and Frazer view religion in a more positive way, unlike the others, who in one way or the other, want to criticize the existence of religion. According to the two, religion is merely the belief in supernatural beings. It is true that religion is only a belief in a greater power, and we use religion in order to explain the existence of some things in life (Petrey).

The theory adopted by Tylor and Frazer is viewed as evolutionary. Their views tend to find way in many popular scholarly or pseudo-scholarly works on religion. I believe that their assumptions and reasoning make more sense than the other theories discussed. For instance, the act of Mosaic monotheism replacing primitive tribal religions, or the Christian truth replacing the outdated Mosaic laws, proves some sense in the reasoning of both Tylor and Frazer (Petrey).

The Upanishads form the core of the Indian philosophy’ and are a collection of writing from original oral transmissions. It has six fundamental concepts. The Brahman is the divine reality underlying all things and describes how things are in the final analysis that is when we see the reality without illusion: it is the universe itself (Reppert).

Atman is called the self or soul, and is considered the deepest one. MMaya is illusion in that it actually means magic. It means that something is real, but is not what it appears to be. Karma is the moral law of cause and effect. One’s future incarnations are determined by this. Samsara is the cycle of birth and rebirth. When one is continuously reincarnated, it is considered a bad thing and has to be stopped. Moksha is the liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth, and is considered an ultimate human goal. This concept involves getting beyond one’s ego and personal limits to achieve something (Reppert).

The Vedic religion, on the other hand, applies three assumptions: one of the assumptions is that the time has come for a more general survey of this religion; the second assumption is the existence of a basic concept; and the last, being that out of it something sensible can be said. According to the followers of reincarnation, they believe that they are non-physical non-dimensional beings and that they existed long before they were born (Kuiper 107-9).

The Buddhists, nonetheless, believe in the existence of the four noble truths. One, life means suffering. According to them, to live means to suffer. Once you are in the world, you must suffer because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world itself. Human beings have to endure physical and emotional suffering in their lifetime. Happy moments will come and will surely pass, and so will the people we love. The origin of suffering is attachment. According to them, suffering starts once we are too attached to things, especially transits things, which do not include only physical objects. The reasons why we suffer are desire, passion, and pursuit for prestige and wealth. One can also be attached to the idea of self, which is a delusion (O'Brien).

The cessation of suffering is attainable, through ‘nirhodha’, which means the unmaking of cravings and attachments. This noble truth builds on the idea that attaining dispassion will be the end of suffering. It puts off all manner of attachments, meaning that suffering can be overcome by simply removing the cause. Attaining dispassion will result in the state of freedom from all worried and troubles (O'Brien).

The last noble truth is the path to the cession of suffering. This is surrounded by the idea that there is a course to the conclusion of suffering. It is the middle way between hedonism and asceticism. This path can extend over many lifetimes through which our rebirths are subject to conditions like cravings, ignorance, delusions, and the effects disappear gradually (O'Brien).

The four noble truths support the idea that Buddhism is a philosophy. An observance of meditation and investigation does not entirely depend on anything supernatural. This disqualifies it from being a religious since a religion is made of beliefs of the existence of a greater power that controls humanity. Unlike most other religions, Buddhism is less dogmatic. There have been arguments as to whether it is a religion or a philosophy, and there are points to support either of the two, but considering the four noble truths, it tends to be more of a philosophy than a religion. Buddhism is very mystical and this makes it to be more of a religion (O'Brien).

Religious Buddhism can be reconciled with philosophical Buddhism. The four noble truths of Buddhism are the guidelines to the religion. In order to learn and understand Buddhism one must put away all the assumptions. The doctrines and teachings should not be accepted in blind faith; even though, they are very crucial tools of morality.

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