Characteristics of Religion
The quest for answers to the meaning of life is universal. It is not surprising then that the world’s major Religious Traditions share many characteristics. Using the characteristic headings from the Oxford Studies of Religion text book: -Name each of the characteristics of religion. -Write a comprehensive definition for each characteristic. For each characteristic, give TWO detailed examples from the Christian tradition, and ONE detailed example from another tradition. 1 ? – 2 pages) Religion provides us with a set of beliefs, values and attitudes, a focal point for developing ritual as well as a variety of social networks therefore giving us a purpose to our lives. Religion comprises of four main characteristics, including beliefs and believers, sacred texts and writings, ethics and rituals and ceremonies. All religions are sustained by beliefs and its believers. It is often the belief in one or many Gods that defines a religion.
It may not only be the belief in one deity, such as the Christian and Islamic faiths, but could be the belief in more than one divine being, as seen in Ancient Greek Polytheism. Christians believe that there is only one God, and he created everything, all that is seen and unseen, from cats and dogs to the air we breathe. Alternatively, in Ancient Greek Polytheism, there were many Gods, each responsible for a certain part of nature. For example, Poseidon, was the God of the Sea and it was believed that he controlled everything to do with the sea from waves to sea creatures.
Another example of Christian belief is that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of God, was crucified, suffered death and was buried. In most religions, believers derive majority of their basic beliefs from the sacred texts and writings specific to their religion. Sacred texts are texts which both dictate beliefs and are of central importance to a certain religion or religions. All religions have sacred texts from which they get their basic beliefs. There are three main types of sacred stories.
These include myths which are often about the formation of the universe, legends that often include sacred and key figures and parables which generally have layers of meaning that believers try to shape their lives around. Often, these texts are believed to be supernaturally inspired. For example, majority of the writings in the Christian Bible, are about or by people who are directly in contact with God. The Bible is a point of reference for Christians to the regulations of their religion, for example the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes.
The Bible is split into two books, the New and Old Testament, both of which are considered sacred. Whilst the Bible is the main source of writings for Christians, the Qu’ran, which is about the length of the New Testament, include most of the divine revelations received by Muhammad from his first encounter with the angel Gabriel, until his death. Another example of a sacred Christian text is the Didache. This sacred text, also known as the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, was written in the first century and persuades its readers to choose Life over Death.
The Didache was considered from entry into the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The sacred text and writings of religions often provide its believers with a set of ethics and a way to live and behave as well as traditions to follow within the religion. Ethics are the rules of conduct based on ideas of right and wrong and are recognised to belong to a particular class of human actions or a particular group. Central to any religion, their purpose is to determine right from wrong and to clarify what believers should do freely and what they should refrain from doing.
Ethics usually vary from religion as they generally originate from sacred texts, ancestors etc and dictate what is morally correct in society. The main sources of ethics for Christians are the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The Ten Commandments list ways in which Christians should pay respect to God and those around them. For example, the first commandment is “I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before Me… ” The Beatitudes give Christians a way to live as individuals.
For example, the Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” instructs Catholics to be free of selfish intentions and to perform acts free of personal gain. For Buddhists, the Five Precepts are the main code of ethics for Buddhists and comprises of withholding from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. Rituals and ceremonies are the practices relating to beliefs. They are usually in place to affirm values and make the religion more substantial.
Rituals and ceremonies are usually formal or structured actions. An example of this in the Christian religion is the mass. Generally, in most Churches, Christians gather on a Sunday to celebrate mass. Every Sunday, most Christian Churches complete the same structure of mass, possibly with different readings or songs but generally the same structure every week. For the Jewish boys, the Bar Mitzah is a substantial part of the young man’s life where he becomes a ‘man’ and is therefore required to follow God’s commandments.
The Bar Mitzvah involves a ceremony which is performed at a certain time in the boy’s life, usually around the time of puberty. Another example of ritual in the Christian faith is baptism. Baptism is the admission into membership of the Christian Church through the pouring of water on one’s head, and the cleansing of one’s soul. There are four main characteristics which define a religion, these are as above; beliefs and believers, sacred texts and writings, ethics and rituals and ceremonies. These four characteristics work together to make the religion dynamic and enable it to be a way of life.