The Importance of Religion

Religion is a broad taxon that spans a great variety of practices. It is often difficult to discern what exactly distinguishes one religion from another and it may be easy to fall prey to the kind of sloppy thinking that allows us to use the term as a catch-all for everything from tribal totems to mercantile capitalism.

But at the same time, religions are the source of some of the most beautiful and enduring of human creations. From them come art and architecture, agriculture, music, dance, drama, and the explorations of the cosmos that issued eventually as the natural sciences. Religions are also, of course, the source of some of the most ruthless and inhumane of human behavior.

Anthropologists believe that the development of religion grew out of early humans’ attempts to control those parts of the environment that were uncontrollable, such as weather, pregnancy and birth, and success in hunting. In the first case, this was done through magic, by manipulating the environment directly; in the latter case it was done through religion, through rituals that appealed to higher powers or gods.

In other words, religions help us recognize the many different kinds of limitation which stand across the project of our lives and provide ways of dealing with them. For this reason, they are an important part of the human environment. They also provide a framework through which people can express their values and ideals, even in the face of the inevitable failures of their efforts.

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