December 18, 2008

Human Nature: Religiosity

Religiosity means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, the 'quality of being religious.'  Religion is defined, by the same dictionary, as 'a set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader,' while Random House defines religion more extensively as 'a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.'

With respect to human nature, I wish to use the word religiosity in the sense of our affinity, if any, for religious belief or religious feelings.  A place to begin this short review is the World Factbook (a CIA publication), which provides the following distribution of religious and non-religious adherents:

            33.32%            Christians
            21.01%            Muslims
            13.26%            Hindus
            05.84%           Buddhists
            00.35%           Sikhs
            00.23%           Jews
            00.12%           Baha'is
            11.78%            other religions
            11.77%            non-religious
            02.32%           aetheists

Wikipedia provides similar statistics, with minor variations, along with other information about classifying modern and ancient religions.  The EMuseum at Minnesota State University offers an online introduction to the study of world religions (not a class, but a series of links), while a site named ReligionFacts (just the facts, ma'am) offers a point and click technique linking you to numerous books and references for 37 different religious belief systems.

Religion is an explosive issue, so it is not my intention, at this time, to delve into the specifics of any belief systems.  Religion versus religion is an explosive issue.  Religion versus agnosticism is an explosive issue.  Religion versus aetheism is an explosive issue.  Religion versus science is an explosive issue.  Why is that?

But it does seem that our propensity, or our affinity, for religious belief is part of our human nature.  And a deep part, at that.  Why else would humans become so aggressive, so spiritually territorial, if you will, over differences in religious beliefs?  Feelings sufficiently powerful to motivate us to kill each other over these differences, as numerous periods and numerous episodes in human history seem to show.  Conversely, religion is frequently credited for its redeeming, uplifting, saving, rescuing, redirecting and reorienting effects, as personal stories too numerous to recount also seem to show.

This seeming contradiction is reflected in Random House's two-part definition of the idiom to  'get religion' as meaning:

            a.    to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious
                   beliefs and practices.

            b.   to resolve to mend one's errant ways.

I might be inclined to add a third element, or part, to the definition, along the lines of 'to experience a deep spiritual or emotional connection with a spiritual power, force or entity greater than oneself.'   But perhaps that thought is already contained within part a, if not part b, of the current definition.

One other thing also seems certain.  The CIA's World Factbook could not include an analogous list, like the one above, for any other species on the planet other than humans.  Why is that?

 * * *
See previous postings in this conversation:
            - Human Nature: Selfishness
            - Human Nature: Maelstrom or Multi-threaded

1 comment:

  1. "But it does seem that our propensity, or our affinity, for religious belief is part of our human nature. And a deep part, at that. "

    See also _Breaking the Spell_ by D. Dennett -- Dad gave it to us last year's Christmas and I'm not done yet or I'd send it to you


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