Religion: humanity’s blessing or curse? A survey of recent blogs and opinion editorials indicates that this is no flippant question but rather a serious and relevant issue of our times.
The U.S. State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom released this week makes for bleak reading. Violent repression of religious believers the world over, whether at the hands of governments or of unchecked thugs, is creating personal tragedies for millions of faithful. This oppression also threatens social institutions that play such an important role in fostering peace and stability.
Thus begins a recent article from the Wall Street Journal. This opinion article entitled “The Global Religion Crisis” goes on to describe the violent actions across the globe taken against particular religious groups. We see this in the news frequently—tensions between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East, strict Muslim governments exiling (or executing) Christians, suppression of religious groups in China and North Korea, a recurrence of anti-Semitism in Europe, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, our age has seen tragic violence committed in the name of religion. Tragically, many have named religious motivations for cruelty, injustice, oppression, and acts of hatred.
Although there has been much hubbub in the United States in recent years calling for an end of religion (in part due to the divisiveness and violence it can cause), globally, humans still provide to be very religious people. A study by Pew Research Center shows that more than 8 in 10 people worldwide identify themselves with a particular religious group.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines religion as “an organized (personal or institutionalized) system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods” or “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” At the heart of religion is a search for god or some higher power, expressed by particular practices or lifestyle thought to be pleasing to god or in some way aiding this search.
Although such lists vary and many world religions, because of their structure, are hard to track numerically, most lists agree on these top world religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Sikhism, Judaism, Baha’i, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism. Certainly, other religions could be added to this list—and some would even argue that some, such as Taoism or Confucianism, are more like philosophies and should be removed.
An extensive study done by the Pew Research Center, “The Global Religious Landscape,” reflects the number of adherents of the top world religions as well as the distribution of those religions both globally and demographically. Their findings, backed by many other surveys and censuses, show the top world religions (in order of number of followers) currently to be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. They also found that 1 in 6 people worldwide claim no religious affiliation, which places those with no religious affiliation as the third largest “religious group.” Almost three-fourths of people worldwide live in a country in which their religion is the majority. For more information about the Pew study and more of its findings, check it out on their website.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What do you consider to be your religious beliefs? Do you identify yourself with a particular religion? Are you a “seeker”? Do you think religion is a waste of time?
What has shaped your own religious understanding and beliefs (or lack thereof)? How does your religious perspective shape your life?
Why do you think religion seems to be such a divisive and violent issue? What do you think could/should be done to remedy this?
Religion can be the cause for much controversy and even the cruelest of violence. This does not mean it should be completely done away with. Religion can also contribute to much good done in society, efforts of reconciliation, help with the poor and sick, and a means of personal peace.
We at CYS believe that religions around the world should come together to promote peace and understanding in the face of bloodshed, division, hatred, and violence. This cannot be achieved without much conversation and taking the time to understand other religious beliefs.
The search for deeper meaning in life is worthwhile and can produce much good fruit. It is valuable to know what you believe about God, the world, human life, truth, etc—and to be able to communicate those beliefs well. May you be blessed on your journey.