What is Religion? There are many religions and it seems obvious that they are belief systems – some more or less complicated than others. As belief systems they are not subject to proof as knowledge; rather they are faith based – their truth could only be objectified transcendentally. Not being provable also means not being disprovable. Characteristically religion is theistic though there can be atheistic religions. The theoretical underpinning of religion is dogmatic and deductive, which is to say it is not evidence based on nature as empirical fact. Religious dogmas may very well explain nature as eternal or created – they may uphold the natural world as positive and good or as negative and evil. Usually will is more prevalent than mind since actions and events are thought to be based on beings, sentient or otherwise. In so far as events are felt to be objective there is a fatalism assumed. The interplay of fatalism and will is a major dialectical theme in religious consciousness and its expression. As such morality tends to play a major role in religious explanations.
What makes discussing “religion” difficult is that to do so already assumes a standpoint outside religion while on religious criteria it is not really possible to do so. There can be no outside religion based on religion. Ultimately one will have to end up having philosophical and scientific theory to properly discuss religion as such. As a term, as a distinct idea, “religion” only comes to light after the discovery of philosophy and before the development of science.
As a phenomenon religion predates both philosophy and science at the point that men try to understand the causes of natural happenings – natural events such as storms or earthquakes – human events such as the outcome of wars, famines and other forms of pestilence. Pre-philosophically there is no “religious” – just transcendental (divine) – explanation. Various imagery may be used – both from nature and from human imagination. Other beings are sought both positive and negative. Stories are told, thanks is given.
Interestingly the major religions, Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian, Jewish, Indian, Zoroastrian and Chinese moral systems predate the birth of philosophy – while with Christianity, which postdates this birth, the distinction of the term “religion” as a distinct activity first comes to light.
Philosophically the most intriguing and important question is whether there are a limited finite number of possible religions and whether there is one religion that can comprehend and encompass them all.