Religion

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(from religare, to bind, bind together). In broad terms it can be said that r. is based on the belief in spiritual beings. However, this does not apply fully to the original Buddhists, nor to the Confucianists, for whom r. is a code of conduct and a style of life. Religions express what exists in their respective landscapes of formation (*), in the descriptions of their gods, heavens, hells, etc. They burst onto the scene in a given historical moment, and it is usually said that at that moment God “reveals” himself to humanity. But something has taken place during that historical moment for such “revelation” to be accepted. Before this scenario, an entire debate begins concerning the reigning social conditions at that time. While this way of viewing the religious phenomenon has its importance, it does not explain the inner register that is had by the members of the society that is moving toward a new religious moment. If r. is based on a psychosocial phenomenon, then it is appropriate to study it from that perspective as well (*Religiosity). One may speak of the “externality” of religions when one studies the system of images projected in icons, paintings, statues, buildings and relics (proper to visual perception), or in canticles and prayers (corresponding to auditory perception), or in gestures, postures and bodily orientation (proper to kinesthetic and cenesthesic perception) (*Perception). From the point of view of the “externality” of a r. one may study its theology, its sacred books and sacraments, as well as its liturgy, its organization, its holy days and the prescriptions of age or physical condition for believers to carry out certain practices. Finally, likewise from the point of view of religious “externality,” it is interesting to note how frequently errors are committed in both description and prognosis. In this light, almost nothing that has been said about the religions still applies today. If some thought of r. as a sedative for political and social activism, today they are faced by the powerful momentum of r. in these areas; if others imagined religions as imposing their message, today they find that the message of r. has changed; those who thought that the r.s would continue forever, today find themselves doubting their “eternity”; and those who assumed that the r.s would soon disappear are now witnessing, to their amazement, the eruption of religious forms that are overtly or latently mystical. Nothing that used to be said about religions remains valid today, because both apologists and detractors of r. had positioned themselves externally, without taking note of the internal register, the system of ideation of human societies ―and, logically, without understanding the essence of the religious phenomenon, everything about it may seem marvelous or absurd, but almost always unexpected. The universal religions are usually considered as universal those that have originated in a more-or-less delimited territory, or in a specific ethnic group, and subsequently spread to other geographical areas or ethnicity. However, what is characteristic of universal religions is their momentum toward the conversion of new members without territorial, linguistic or ―in general ― cultural limitations. Examples of these universal religions are, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. It should be noted, however that they all appear initially as heresies in a cultural milieu where a local religion predominates. Over time, moreover, different heretical movements likewise emerge within these universal religions, giving rise to diverse sects (Lamaism, Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism, etc.; Catholicism, Protestantism, the Orthodox Church, etc., within Christianity; Sunni, Shia, etc., within Islam). Apart from the great division between universal and local or national religions, the existence is recognized of a system of beliefs and practices that are more-or-less universally disseminated and considered as falling within animism or shamanism. The fact that these religions have not systematized literature does not invalidate the fact and the character of their category as r.s. For N.H., whether or not one subscribes to a specific r. ― just as whether or not one adheres to atheism ― may be reduced to a problem of individual conscience. In any case, N.H. cannot have as the starting point of the development of its theory or practice, the belief or non-belief in religious questions. The point of departure for the entire conception of N.H. is the comprehension of the structure of human life. This point leads to important differences with the humanism that antedate N.H.