Religion is a controversial subject that has been debated for centuries now. Some have fought over whether irreligion should be avoided and belief in a certain religion should be encouraged. Some have even disagreed on the argument of whether there is a superior religion or not. And if there is indeed a superior religion, is it to be based on the total number of people who believe in a certain religion like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism? This essay will discuss the definition of religion and the top three religions based on population.
Religion may be defined as an organized community of different groups of people who believe and worship a divine being – or beings – which they regard as sacred, divine, and in charge of a particular aspect of their life or as a whole. What the divine being/s represent are different from religion to religion and they are regarded as superior to humans. Religion also involves origin stories about why something is the way that it is, how it came to be, and some type of gathering or practice involving each member of their faith or religion.
The first part of the definition or religion involves the community that people formed through shared belief and understanding of their beliefs. An organized community of different groups of people means that an individual religious group needs to believe in the same set of beliefs, values, and practices as the other members of the group. Each individual member shall not be in discord with one another for religious groups shall observe harmony and peace.
To be part of this definition, each religious affiliation must be organized. Certain types of rules or bylaws to base their practices and beliefs upon needs to be present. For instance, Christianity's set of basic rules to follow is the Ten Commandments. From there, every person of Christian faith is guided on their beliefs. This could be anything from their belief on the ethics of abortion, to whether or not you may have sex before marriage, to quitting your job. In the end, each religion has written what their particular faith and its members should believe in.
This leads into the second part of the definition regarding those who are part of a certain religion have a divine being to believe in and worship. The origin stories explaining why things are the way they are may also be included here as all religious groups from Christianity and Buddhism, to African tribes in Kenya and belief of ancient Greeks, all have some form of a divine being that humans praise and worship.
The Christians believe in their one God, the Muslims believe in Allah, the Buddhists believe in Buddha, and so on. The different tribes around the world believe in either one or many gods. Those who believe in one divine being, think of the same divine being as the one who is responsible for forming the world as it is today. Those who believe in many gods believe the same thing, but each divine being has their own stories and is responsible for different things, like the early Greek gods Apollo, god of the sun, and Poseidon, god of the sea. The belief in a divine being, whether one or many, begins the second half about origin stories and myths.
Each religion has a number of stories that they pass on to their offspring and other people via word of mouth or sacred text. This means that religious people coming from different religions all believe in a different creation story and how the world will come to its end. These stories are what people told each other about how the universe, the earth, and living beings are created. This stories sometimes include anything from why a certain historical event happened the way it did, to why a tree grows the way it does.
Myths were used to explain what could not be proven in the early days. With the scientific advances today, scientists have proven a great deal of things, but one that they are still unsure of is the beginning of the earth, and that is the reason why different theories and religion-based stories are prevalent and is still circulating up until today. However, to make it easier for some, religions often provide their followers with parables in which they are to learn for themselves or with the guidance of their leader about how to apply their religious beliefs in real life and even to how to live their lives.
The last portion of the definition of religion is just as important as the others, yet many may tend to overlook it. Different religions have activities that sometimes defines them or makes them identifiable. If someone asks another person, "What religion are you?" and that person responds, "Catholic," is he or isn't he? To be truly part of a religion, a person must not only believe in everything in that faith and claim that they are a part of it, but they also need to participate in their respective religious community in some way.
Christians have their Sunday church, and Muslims have their Five Pillars to follow. If a person claims that he is a Catholic because he believes in the faith, but he does not go to church nor pray the rosary, can that person truly be considered a Catholic? It is almost like tricking someone into believing that you are quite knowledgeable and skilled in a particular aspect only to find out that you have only been reading about it and is the reason why you are able to talk about it. This is why participation is important: to be able tell others physically, vocally, spiritually, and mentally that you are part of that faith. Also, the more you participate, the more you learn about your faith. So by participating, you become part of that community. For those who are non-religious, this definition is as simple as it gets.
Christianity is the religion that is most widely practiced in the world. In 2015, Pew Research statistics have shown that those who are part of the Christian religion make up 31.2% of the population which translates to 2.3 billion people across the globe (2017). The religion centers on a single God which is has three parts. This three parts are known as the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s essence and teachings revolve around the previously mentioned Ten Commandments and the acts and parables of Jesus Christ during his time on earth.
The origin story that the Christians believe in is found in the Old Testament of their Holy Bible. However, their religion pretty much revolves on Jesus Christ, whom they believe that God the Father has sent to earth to cleanse the world of sin and save the world. Apart from resurrecting three days after he was crucified, the Christians also believe that Jesus Christ’s return to earth, also known as the Second Coming, will signal what they believe as the Rapture. The Rapture is the belief of the religion that those who believe in God, dead or alive, will ascend to the Kingdom of God in heaven.
The cross and the ichthys is a known symbol of the Christian community. Christians usually gather on Sundays, the day they call Sabbath, to praise and worship God. Aside from that, Christmas and Easter Sunday are two significant days for this religion as they believe these days to be the birth of Jesus Christ and the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, respectively. Christians consider Jerusalem to be their Holy Land.
Today, the religion of Christianity is divided into three different branches, although they still believe the same God and use the same scripture. However, these branches are governed by different people and interpret and understand the Holy Bible differently. These three branches are: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.
Islam is the second most widely practiced religion in the world making up of 1.8 billion Muslims or approximately a quarter of the world’s total population. The roots of this religion is linked to the Prophet Muhammad who was born into the most powerful tribe in Mecca or what is known today as Saudi Arabia. The Muslims believe Mohammad to be descended from both Moses and Jesus Christ and has been chosen by God as the official recipient and messenger of His Word through the angel Gabriel.
The word Islam means submission to the will of God which is quite obvious in the way that Muslims dedicate themselves into following the holy teachings found in the Qur’an. Like the Christians, Muslims worship only a single God which is Allah. The followers of this religion believes that they should dedicate their lives to following the teachings and commandments of Allah and that they have free will but everything that they do is in need of Allah’s permission – much like the Christians’ belief in free will but also relying in God’s designated plan for each individual.
Aside from the Qur’an, another holy book of the Muslims is the Hadith. The religion of Islam’s symbol is the crescent and the cross. Muslims pray five times a day, to be done wherever they are at the moment. Be it at the Mosque, their workplace, at home, or at a public place. They carry a prayer rug to use as a clean space while they pray. They also have different postures when praying, but prostrating is the most commonly associated position in terms of the Islamic way of praying as this is how the Qur’an instructed it to be. Also, Muslims face the direction of what their religion believes to be as the most sacred place, the Kaaba Shrine in Mecca.
Aside from this intricate way of praying, the Islam religion also follows the five pillars of Islam which they believe as essential to their faith. These are: shahada, salat, zakat, sawm, and hajj. And the two major holy days they observe are the Eid al-Adha and the Eid al-Fitr which marks the beginning and end of Ramadan, the religion’s holy month dedicating to fasting and it also celebrates how Prophet Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to Allah.
Hinduism is the primary religion in India. It is the third largest religion in the world next to Christianity and Islam making up of 1.1 billion people or 15.1% of the world’s population. Aside from that, it is also known to be the world’s oldest religion as its history dates back to 4,000 years. Compared to Christianity and Islam, Hinduism’s exact origins cannot be traced and instead of being based on a sole messenger of God or set of prophets delivering the teachings, different sets of beliefs, traditions, and philosophies are combined to form Hinduism.
Those who are part of the religion Hinduism, however, indeed worship gods. They do not believe in a single god but instead worship many gods and goddesses and believe them to be in charge of different responsibilities. The gods of the Hindu trinity are in connection to the creation preservation and protection, and destruction and recreation of everything in the universe are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, respectively. Apart from those three gods, Hindus also worship different gods for love, compassion, wealth, etc. They also have a supreme God who reigns over all things, Brahman.
Hinduism strays from the definition of religion being an organized community of people who shares the same faith and god/s. As Hinduism is a collection of beliefs, traditions, and philosophies of people, it sometimes referred to as a way of life and not a religion. They believe in the continuous cycle of life which they call samsara – unlike other religions who believe that one’s life ends once they have entered the afterlife – and includes reincarnation.
Hindus also believe that their purpose in life is to recognize what is good and do it. They believe that the choice they make in striving to achieve dharma – their code that emphasizes good conduct and morality – will affect their karma. And so, if one dedicates himself to achieving dharma and for that continually receives good karma, is well on their way to self-actualization.
Puja, the Hindus’ worship, mostly takes place in the temple or Mandir. There is no specific day of the week for them to go and worship as they can visit the Mandir anytime they please. Hindus may also build and maintain a shrine dedicated to a god or a number of gods in their home and worship there. During puja, they usually present gifts they consider sacred and pleasing to the gods such as oils and flowers.
Every religion has all four points that are given in its definition: an organized community of people, divine being/s to believe in and worship, origin stories and set of things to believe and abide in, and a way for each individual member of the religion to participate and be included in the community. Since there are so many religions out there apart from the three major religions of the world, a person trying to find which is the right fit for him should choose which resonates with him. One whose stories, myths, lessons, and laws that you can relate to and have no trouble believing in. By reading and believing, you will start to understand a religion’s divine being and their followers’ practices.
Religion may be one of the words that are most difficult to define. It may seem simple after reading this essay, but is it really? After all, it has been debated by many great minds time and time again for many centuries now. Maybe the real subject of importance in the topic of religion is one’s unshakeable belief and not what one believes in. Maybe the debate over religion should be ended for ultimately, religions seem to advocate for common things: love, unity, goodwill, and peace.
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Hackett, C., & McClendon, D. (2017, April 5). Christians remain world’s largest religious group, but they are declining in Europe. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/
History.com Editors. (2019a, September 30). Hinduism. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/hinduism
History.com Editors. (2019b, October 8). Christianity. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/history-of-christianity
History.com Editors. (2019c, October 8). Islam. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/islam