What Is Religion?

Religion is a unified system of thoughts, feelings and actions which gives its followers a person or thing to worship, something sacred to believe in, a way of life to live by and rules for behavior. It teaches people that there is an unseen power that governs the universe and makes good triumph over evil, just over unjust, truth over lies, and that one must be willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. It is a source of morality, providing a set of guidelines for proper human behavior and serving as the basis for laws in modern society.

Although people differ in how they define religion, most agree that it consists of a belief in spiritual beings or forces, a code of conduct, sacred places and objects, ritual actions, sacred writings, and a group of clergy who lead believers in their spiritual lives. It also includes a concept of salvation or rebirth, a way to achieve ecstatic or transcendent experiences, and a sense of mystical union with the universe and its creator.

Some religions focus on proximate goals, such as a better, more productive, and more ethical life, while others focus on the ultimate goal of attaining perfection or gaining enlightenment. In the end, however, all religions share certain common traits, such as the importance of rituals and the use of myth and symbol; a group of divine beings or powers to worship; a spiritual community and place to pray or meditate; a sacred writing; a sense of ecstatic union with the universe and its creator; a hierarchy of clergy and priests who serve believers; and codes of recognition and behavior that establish racial and ethnic norms.

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