Best viewed in 800x600 HiColor(16-bit)+ res with
Netscape 3 while in a comfy chair, sipping a piña colada.
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bhuddists, Hindus, Shintoists, Taoists, Confucianists, Babists, Braminists, Gentoos, Bhebers, Gnostics, Jains, Lamaites, Magians, Mandaeans, Mohammedans, Moslems, Parsis, Sabaeans, Sikhs, Theosophists, Vedantists, Yogists, and Zoroastrians all believe in two things. No, not in a divine power, not in magic and the supernatural, not in miracles. Two very essential things.
First, they all believe in faith. Faith has been scientifically proven to aid in times of need.
Scientists had a collection of patients with identical conditions and told several religious people to pray for some of the patients, even from the other side of the world. The patients, who didn't know which were being prayed for, simply layed there, getting identical treatments. The result was that those being prayed for improved more than those without prayer. Note that there was no specified religion. No religion was needed at all; it was faith that was needed, religion simply focuses and draws faith.
The second essential of religion is more essential yet less desirable. Religion is power. It was initially created to explain the un-explainable, the birth of the heavens and the Earth, why miracles happen, and why things work they way they do. Or was it? No, religion is more. MUCH more. Religion was created for three purposes. First, to explain the unexplainable. Second, to control and focus faith (so that it wouldn't get out of control, and to control the public's beliefs). Third, to establish control over the people, to establish unquestioned government. Every major religion finds its origins in a nation. Every major religion has its own rules, laws, regulations, punishments, and requirements of the people. This second essential of religion is government. Government was created for three purposes: To explain things (often through sanctioned science or religion), to hold faith ("In God, We Trust"), and to establish control over people.
The second belief of religion explains why it is so difficult to separate church and state; they were both drawn for the same purpose, with only one difference: religion has a firmer grasp and controls more than the modern government does.
Religion = Government + Culture
So what is religion? Why is religion? Religion is power through government and faith. Religion is government taken a step further, adding culture and more powerful rules regarding the unknown and the feared (like faith in war, death, pain, etc). Hark! But is there a third part of religion? Yes. The third section is culture. A religion can be created to draw people together; UNITY. This is arguably the greatest aspect of religion. Perhaps culture and unity are the core behind religion, more important than explaining the unknown, more important than holding faith. Then why is this the third and last of the essentials to religion? Culture is the sum of the two previous portions of religion. Perhaps it is not a section but religion itself.
No, I consider it something that religion created accidentally (or the other way around). While it is an extremely important part of religion, it is created by the two core essentials to religion, faith and government. Wherever there is an aged government (usually over a few hundred years), there is religion, and culture. Often, people say that the culture created the religion (or the local sect of the religion). No, the culture usually does not create the religion, it demands religion, to hold its people together, to focus faith, to govern its residents, to heal the sick, and to protect the innocent.
By birth, I am a Jew. I don't accept Jewish laws, and I ignore a large number of Jewish traditions. However, it is important that I hang on to my Jewish heritage; my culture. Due to the long relationship between culture and religion, this is EXTREMELY difficult. Schools try to do it; they want to teach a religion's teachings, culture, and history, yet they somehow think that they can leave out the religion. Firstly, the history is mostly fiction, woven into the religion to show that a certain figure or belief is all-powerful. Secondly, the culture is also woven into the religion. It may be cultural to bow down to a god and sacrifice something to that god, but it would also be religious. Who can discern between culture and religion? Nobody but the interpreter; it is all in the eye of the beholder. I choose what I see as religion and what I see as culture. The teachings are all morals and ethics specific to the rules and laws of that specific religion and therefore do NOT belong in a public classroom.
Don't get me wrong, religion is a VERY powerful force. Disputes regarding religion have caused more wars than we know we have fought, far more than 99%. Faith is also an extremely powerful force, proven to preform miracles, but remember that religion is simply a machine for driving your faith and helping it surface and focus (to the views of the religion). Government is a complicated force, and powerful, too. Nowadays, the American government, in conjunction with modern science explaining the unknown, close friends, good means of communications (telephones, cell-phones, TV, the internet, radios, etc.), good sources of quality myths, novels, fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction, and multitudes of musics, there is increasingly less need for religion. Everything that religion offered is now offered elsewhere. Everything, that is, except for faith.
Faith is VERY difficult to find without religion or a religious figure. Sure, I have faith in myself, in that there is no superior being, in that the government won't collapse and will protect me, and in that I can trust my family and friends, but can that last through losing one of those things? Can I live without my friends, family, and favored possessions? Probably not, but the strength of religion is so much more powerful that it helps people in such positions live out their lives and recover from tragedies, it gives people something to lean their backs on. I could compare religion to a health plan, as when you need it, it is there, but I won't. I don't have the devotion. Religion needs to modernize, needs to relax, needs to find new niches to fill. Perhaps religion is just not for me. At least for now, I can make my own faith.