The Importance of Religion

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Religion is human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence.

It also commonly includes concerns about one’s life after death, or about the destiny of others in general. This relation and these concerns are sometimes reflected in religious texts or beliefs about gods and spirits, but more often are expressed in ways that respect a person’s relationship to or attitudes toward the natural world or other human communities.

The essential element in all relig- ious activity is the feeling of dependence on an objective power, whether this is perceived in terms of ghosts, a personal God, or an eternal energy. The consciousness of this power or factor, and the feel- ing that it is there, gives rise to desire and obedience.

Regular practice of religion is good for individual health, including increased longevity and lower rates of many killer diseases. It can help people deal with stress and other emotional problems, as well as stabilize moods and reduce depression.

Socially, religion provides a strong antidote to the many social ills of our society. It helps people get out of poverty, encourages marriage and family life, inoculates against suicide and drug abuse, and promotes such positive effects on mental health as less depression (a modern epidemic), more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.

The only way to understand the importance of religion is to differentiate it carefully from other institutions and phenomena. The term “religion” is a species, like the genus homo, and its definition must be formulated with the same care as that of any other species.