According to one study, there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a
total of 270 large religious groups, and many thousands of unique faith groups. 1
Among this great religious diversity, there are probably hundreds of different
religious creation stories which describe how humans, other species of life, the
Earth, and the rest of the universe came to be.
The result is that major chaos
exists in the field of religion:
Religions differ greatly in
their concept of deity. Even a simple listing of some of the popular
concepts of deity
is overwhelming: Agnosticism, Animism, Atheism, Deism, Duotheism,
Henotheism, Monism, Monotheism, Panentheism, Pantheism, Polytheism, and the
Religions also differ in their beliefs about the afterlife, morality, the
role of women, etc. We list over two dozen such
areas of disagreement.
The role of security in religions:
There are many theories about the origins of
religions. Unfortunately, the first religions predated the invention of
writing, and so there is no concrete evidence for researchers to go on. Some anthropologists
have suggested that religions were created to give humans a feeling of security
in an inherently insecure universe. Primitive humans were the first species to be aware of
their own impending death. They were also frightened of harm from storms, lightning,
floods, hail, famine, etc. Fertility was critical -- both of the crops and
The first primitive religions gave people security and a sense
of control. By performing specific rituals, they felt that they could appease the Gods and/or
Goddesses and get them on the side of the believers.
This need for security and control continues today. This is particularly true
among followers of religions like Christianity,
Islam, and others that teach the existence of
after death in the form of Heaven and Hell. Many
followers of those religions that believe in a God who tortures people throughout all
eternity for not meeting his criteria tend to be very
concerned about meeting their God's standards. Many religious conservatives are worried that if their country allows sexual minorities, religious minorities, etc. to have equal rights that God will punish the entire nation through natural disasters.
The role of certainty and doubt in religions:
Faith groups differ on these topics:
Many faith groups teach exclusivism: that there
are two types of religions in the world:
"Top down" religions: Those that God has revealed to humanity.
"Bottom up" religions: False religions created by humans to justify
their beliefs in God.
They frequently teach that their own group is the only "top down" religion; their
God created humans and revealed a faith to them. They teach that all the
thousands of other faith groups in the world are "bottom up" religions; their
God(s) and/or Goddess(es) are false deities, created by humans. Most also often
teach that doubt is a great sin, because it leads to heresy and apostasy.
Followers must believe all of their faith group's teachings, or else their
immortal soul is in danger.
However, religion is becoming an increasingly hard sell. The Internet, mass
communications, religious diversity, and comparative religion classes have
together increased people's awareness of the lack of consistency among the
world's religious beliefs. Doubt is beginning to creep into their religious
life. After all, one's beliefs are almost entirely a matter of location. If a
stork is blown off course, and delivers a newborn to a family in Saudi Arabia
instead of South Carolina, that infant will undoubtedly become a devout Muslim,
convinced of the accuracy and revealed nature of Islam rather than a committed fundamentalist or other evangelical Christian.
At the other extreme, some religions teach
inclusivism. These tend to be more liberal/progressive faith groups who
have abandoned concepts like Hell and divine retribution, and who encourage
their membership to seek truth wherever it lies. Clergy in such faith groups
tend to view their roles as facilitators. They cherish doubt because they feel that it can
lead to a deeper spirituality.
Doubt is creeping into many people's consciousness. It can be marvelously
liberating in some cases; it can be a danger to their mental health and well being to others.