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The word religion comes from the latin word ligare: to join, or link, classically understood to mean the linking of human and divine. What constitutes a religion is subject to much dispute in the field of theology and among ordinary people. We might begin by defining religion as a system of beliefs based on humanity's attempt to explain the universe and natural phenomena?, often involving one or more deities or other supernatural forces. Religious adherents tend to gather together to celebrate holy days and to pray?, but solitary practice is also usually just as important. Most religions also have a code of laws to be followed, like the Ten Commandments of Old Testament, and some have specific texts they hold as sacred, and totally different from other writings.

Religions are systems of belief which typically deal with


Origin of religion

The origin of religion in general and for particular religions is usually controversial, since religions often claim to have been derived directly from information supplied by god(s) to chosen human messenger(s). Followers of the religion (by definition) accept the claims, either literally or in a metaphorical, or partial fashion. Although followers of a religion, although they may hold strong belief, may also be interested in looking at possible human origins for religious events, together with non-religious enquirers.

Religion was practiced long before the invention of writing, as paintings and pottery shows in images. Indeed, heavy deposits of pollen in Neanderthal graves suggest that even these early humans buried their dead along with flowers. Stories ('texts') passed orally between people and from one generation to the next. Religion may well have originated in stories created to account for the great questions of life, for comfort, to keep records of a people's history, and for entertainment. Stories in traditional societies unite adults and children in community, although it is possible that atheists (those who believe there is no Deity) or agnostics (those who believe we cannot know if there is a Deity) always existed as well. Evidence of very early human prehistory is scanty and it is best not to over interpret archaeological remains: for example it is generally thought that bones painted with red ochre (a red mud thay may link to blood colour to symbolize life) and buried with personal possessions, suggest a belief in an afterlife. It could also be because using the dead person's possessions was believed to be bad luck. For a more contemporary example, consider a future archaeologist digging the remains of a Star Wars fan's bedroom and the possible erroneous interpretations of such a find.

Evidence for early civilisation's religious ideas can be found similarly in elaborate burial practices in which valuable objects were left with the deceased, intended for use in an afterlife or to appease the gods. This custom has clearer motives as it is usually accompanied by tomb paintings showing a belief of afterlife. It reached a spectacular form with the creation of the pyramids of Giza? and the other great tombs of ancient Egypt; the Sumerian royal burials, and other prehistoric (pre-written records) monument builders.

Religions created in modern times are often reasonably well documented (e.g., Scientology.) Minor religions have been called 'cults' and still are, while many scholars use the term New Religious Movement? (NRM). Reasons for the creation of religions are many, including a range from idealism to a desire to obtain wealth and power over others; the two may combine in interesting ways. It's easy to speculate that similar forces were at work in the creation of earlier religions. Once a religious community increases in size and gains widespread recognition, it has to negotiate with the governing social group, the State. At this point material or political ambitions are more likely to be dominant.

Hostility to religion can have various reasons. Karl Marx famously defined religion as a social opiate, and from outside it certainly appears to operate as such, but wholesale condemnation overlooks the great numbers and scale of visionary inspirations that religions provide for compassion, practical charity and moral restraint. When wars are aggravated or caused by religious issues they tend to be worse in their atrocities. Yet Abram Maslow's? research after World War II showed that Holocaust survivors tended to be those who held strong religious beliefs (not necessarily temple attendance etc). Humanistic Psychology went on to investigate how religious or spiritual identity links with longer lifespan and better health. Humans may particularly need religious ideas because they serve various emotional needs such as the need to feel loved, the need to belong to homogenous groups, the need for understandable explanations or the need for justice.