The word Religion has many meanings. Many today use it in a disparaging sense to refer to all manner of superstition. Some use it to describe any firmly held belief that is taken without proof. It can also mean a broad set of beliefs, a specific set of rituals or simply the belief in God or many gods. Having said that I shall plunge ahead without a firm working definition hopeful that something useful to the reader will emerge.
This section is actually about the comparison of various religious traditions apart from Christianity albeit from a Christian perspective. Perhaps this too needs a bit of clarification as well. C. S Lewis tells us that:
On this sort of attitude hangs the whole notion of original monotheism where we posit that the underlying truths of God were once known by all and so it would not be surprising to find that some have survived the creativity of man in religious traditions apart from Christianity. We see, after all, in the Bible stories hints of others, apart from those in the main story line, who have some clue as to God, God's will and even God's laws.
The other fact that is important to note is:
The Christian perspective is more common for those of us in the west than many would think because Christianity has so deeply influenced western culture. When most in the west think of religion they think of Christianity or more likely some caricature of it. Generally our knowledge of other religions is superficial at best as I have discovered in trying to prepare this material.
Understanding the purpose of religion in human society is problematic for many having first discounted the supernatural all together. Some say that religion simply represents a set of common morals that serve as the organizing principals that form a society. If religion were only a set of conventions, it would indeed be a product of man's intellect. While it is true that many of our external religions practices are the product of men's innovations there does seem to be a core set of morals that are common to all human societies. The Christian would say that this is the image and likeness of God that is part of our created nature. This also plays into what Christians call general revelation. The notion that God is known to all through His creation.
If we try to examine the commandments for different religions traditions we do find similarities. This has prompted many today to think that all religions teach pretty much the same thing. This is untrue as the different religious schools actually view the world quite differently. Even concepts that on the surface seem much the same turn out to be quite different in the context of various religions as we see from their treatment of scripture.
Human societies have not developed in isolation. The interaction of various schools of thought have led to many synchronistic systems that further confuse the discussion and further shows the role that man has in formulating his various religious traditions.
All this begs the question: what should we believe? The Roman author Pliny the Younger (c. 63-116) notes:
The Roman empire was a cosmopolitan place in Pliny's day as the Greek, Syrian and Assyrian empires had been before it. The very notion of an empire leads to an intermixing of societies and thinking. It leaves neither the conquer not the conquered quite the same. Pliny's comment has a modern ring. From the rise in the popularity of the New Age smorgasbord approach to religion to the educated elite's open distain for it. Yet religion is important in our politics if not our daily lives. So we see that little has changed from Pliny's day.
Because the study of religion, especially by secular folks, often looks only at the surface issues of practice and ritual it really says little about our notion of God or the relationship that we can have with Him. Much of the study of religion therefore misses what I would consider the primary point. This statement is coming from a Reformed Christian perspective where a relationship with a personal God is the primary aim, this would not be the case in many of the other traditions where God (or the gods) is viewed as distant, unapproachable or even unimportant.
This section takes several different approaches to looking at the topic of religion. The Timeline is intended to provide an historical framework for the discussion. Unlike most other religious traditions, Christianity is tied to historical events, rather than philosophical speculation. The historicity of the people places and events is important to the message and an important apologetic. On the Origin page there is a discussion of three major theories of the origin of religion generally. The World Religions page contains all too brief summary of world religions. The Schools pages are works in progress and attempt to be more detailed than the World Religions page. The Spiritual Quotient page presents a theory for why the spiritual realm is obvious to some and not to others.