An understanding of world religions follows an understanding of the definition and origins of religion. Mankind is drawn to follow many religions for numbed comfort, but the question an enlightened person should first is: Why? We will next explore faith, religion and their connection. From there we will see how the religious paths of the world can be properly explored by those of differing beliefs.
The dictionary definition of “faith” is:
Main Entry: faith
Inflected Form(s): plural faiths /'fAths, sometimes 'fA[th]z/
Etymology: Middle English feith, from Old French feid, foi, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust -- more at BIDE
Date: 13th century
1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs
Faith is when one believes that God exists and that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Faith is a response to God. Take for example praying, if someone is praying to God they obviously believe in Him and are responding to their belief in His existence. Faith is believing He hears your prayers and that they will be answered.
Faith is also a way of living life; it is an "all the time" thing and not just a "some of the time" thing. You either have faith or you don't; meaning that it is a gift of God and it is your responsibility to realize that and act accordingly. We are all given this gift; however, some people choose to acknowledge it, and utilize it, while others choose not to. Those individuals who see that God gave them this gift, and who use it everyday, have a closer relationship with God; allowing them to have less worries, because they truly believe that God is helping them, and that only with God's help will they accomplish their tasks presented to them over the course of a day, every day of the year.
Faith can be seen in individuals through their actions. A person's faith shines through the most when their faith is being tested; for example, during times of stress. People can either get real stressed out or they can believe that God exists and that He will help them. The saying, "just put it in God's hands," is something that would be said by someone who has a lot of faith, either when they are in need of His help, or when giving advice to someone who needs His help and does not seek it.
Faith is the foundation of religion, and as it definition indicates, is the belief that underlies a religion. Without faith a religion is merely another set of rules and regulations, a dogma that echoes a belief that God that is dead without realizing the fall.
The definition of “religion” is:
Main Entry: re·li·gion
Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back -- more at RELY
Date: 13th century
1 a : the state of a religious b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : CONSCIENTIOUSNESS
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
Religion is a practice and observance of beliefs supported by faith in the Divine. While faith is inherently ecumenical, that is, its greater precepts cross the boundaries of culture and geography, religion can be very much tied to the tribe and society in which it is practiced. In this, the practice of religion presents a framework for individual and/or group observance of divine truths, and recognition of faith. The group observance is shaped by their environment, history, traditions, and language.
A religion provides practical tribal answers to these basic answers:
. Who is the deity of God?
. What is the origin of life?
. Why is evil, and what is its source?
. How does one attain salvation?
. Why is there undeserving suffering?
. How is faith expressed in mundane life?
Religion is formed by a tribal or societal unit. The history of the society – good and bad - defines how a religion answers the basic questions. A society that has conflict as a part of its past and present will be war-like in its view of the divine. A society that has been persecuted will hold beliefs, and grudges, based on their past treatment.
Because religion adapts the behavior patterns of the group that practices it, religion can take on “human” characteristics. A group that is persecuted at some point in their history may be very sensitive to persecution (Pagan and Christianity), and may develop either an egotistical outwardness or an inferiority complex (or both). A group that conquers other groups easily may believe that their tribal gains are equal to their spiritual life, and therefore their religion is better than everyone else’s’ religion.
The outcome of this insight is two-fold. A person studying comparative religions must keep the historical in mind, and the believer should listen to the message of the faith, and not believe all of their society’s mundane projections onto their religious life.
Faith and Religion Meet
The intersection of faith and religion is the point at which a personal relationship with the Divine exists. Faith provides the acknowledgement that God exists, and religion provides the structure for service and worship.
In this intersection several personal choices are made for, or made by, the believer. One of the most important is the definition of a deity, or deities. A deity is a god or goddess, or one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful. Religious beliefs can hold that God can have one deity, deities, or no deities at all. Some religious beliefs dictate the deity, and others leave the choice open to the believer.
The primary purpose of a deity, especially for those religions with a personal deity, is to act as a bridge between the infinite unknown of God and themselves. Our finite minds cannot grasp even small fraction of the Universe, but we believe that God created all of it. To fit the infinite into our finite, an intercessory is called upon. Not all religions have this personal deity who connects the believer to God. The impersonal deities instead provide a face and name to the infinite, and give the believer direction for divine recognition and worship.
In general, faith in a deity brings the deity to life. Those deities that have no believers are regulated to the dusty halls of myth, while deities with believers are vibrant expressions of God, and have power in the world.
An example of this in popular fiction of today is a past Star Trek episode, from the original series, that featured the gods of Greece. They were in actuality superbeings, and they left Earth after belief in them waned. This is a theme that shows up often, more recently in T.V. shows like Hercules that present the supposition that gods die when there is nobody to believe in them. This is a very powerful archetype of thought, and extends to our own mundane ideas, and the realms of personal magick/manifestation.
Faith provides the energy, religion provides the framework, and the result is a spiritual force that works on the behalf of the believer. The joining of these into the word “religious faith” now refers to some that is alive and is a tool for divine worship and recognition.