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The Relevance of Religion on Modern Man

The Relevance of Religion on Modern Man: A Philosophical Re-Appraisal


From the time immemorial, man has been certified as a religious being. History of philosophy is replete with different religious ideologies. These religious theories or doctrines have been adopted and are being practised by different societies in this modern era. Among major objectives of these Religions in the society is to foster or promote peace and goodwill in the society which serve as the basis of the other morals. Therefore any Religion that teaches or supports violence is not an authentic Religion (cf. Rev. Fr. Dr. Ukoro Theophilus Igwe, sermon). As a matter of fact, on the practical plane, it can be said that religions involves different worldviews. That is to say, that any given claim to Religion is, to some extent, a belief or a creed or Religious doctrine advanced from some specific primitive Religious belief. Furthermore, there may be as many Religious beliefs as there are Religious doctrines. From every indication, there is always a contradiction between two different Religions. That is the reason why Religions are asserted from one and the same point of view. For instance, if one plus one is equal to two (1+ 1 = 2) to Christian Religion, In Islam one plus one may be equal to three (1+1=3). On a more clear distinction, if Christians belief that Jesus Christ is the true son of God, while Islam may deny the same fact and assert that Muhammad is the true son of God. Believe then is held true in different points of view. Religion can then be said to involve a point of view. Therefore regarding your religious denomination as final implies persuasion, rather than dogmatism. It is a sad fact but a well documented fact in the history of Religions that many other religious noble men have felt themselves called upon to spill the blood of other men because their victims were unwilling to acknowledge what were alleged to be “Religious truth”. Religion grew out of humanity’s awareness or recognition of a ‘more’ that gives meaning and significant to life. Religion is the response to the presence and appeal to an unseen world that evokes awe, reverence, and confidence. Religion grew out of our response to God. The search may be a complementary one, in which we are searching for God and God is seeking for our voluntary commitment[1]. This dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter one made up the concept of Religion. Chapter two is a detailed analysis of man as a Religious being. In chapter three we undertake philosophical critique of Religion. Chapter four is the threat of secularization. Having laid a formidable ground into the examination about the question which has concerned Religion on modern man, chapter five then is our critical evaluation and conclusion.



1.1     Definition of Religion

          The word “religion” derives from the Latin words: ligare (to bind), relegare (to unite, to link together), and religio (relationship).[2]

          From its etymological derivation, the word “religion” is essentially a relationship, a link established between two persons, namely, a human person and a divine person believed to exist.[3] The society then is the concrete reality which has become symbolized as God. God here is not a supernatural reality, but is epitomized in our togetherness in the society, as well as the demands it makes on us as social beings.[4]

The nature of religion is vast and complex the subject-matter can be approached from a bewildering variety of viewpoints. As a result, there are a great variety of anthropological, sociological, psychological, naturalistic, and religious theories of the nature of religion. That is why there is no universally accepted definition of religion and quite possibly there never will be.[5]

          Along with art, philosophy, and science, religion has been one of the dominant interests of humanity. Religion is not easy to define or describe because it takes many diverse forms among different people and nations of the world. Although there is no universally accepted definition, throughout history, humanity has exhibited a sense of the sacred. Hence, religion has to do with the sacred. Religious individuals feel that they have an unconditional commitment to whatever they regard as the sacred ultimate, that is, the source and best of existence, the supreme foundation of all truth, reality, and goodness beyond human senses.[6]

          Finally, one of the most widely accepted definitions of religion is the one offered us by Emile Durkheim:

which sees religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is, community called all those who adhere to it.[7]

Three important elements are embedded in any worthwhile definition of concept of religion. These are the pattern of worship, the format of beliefs, ideas and definitions and organization pattern or the structural element of religion.[8]

1.2     Religion as a Concept

Is religion primarily a set of beliefs? What part do knowledge and intelligence play in religion? As we examine the history of religion, it is evident that the “I believe” element has been prominent. Some individuals have been put to death for not believing what others thought they ought to believe. Religion has been interpreted as a belief by some. Intellect and explanation are essential, they say, to any high religion. Religion must be intellectually respectable or it will lose its appeal. Theology or the articulation of beliefs about a sacred ultimate is valuable in any religion. However, can religion be intellectual belief without emotions?[9]

          This concept of religion is regarded as a controlling influence on one’s life, making one to feel very strong about it. Being religious has to do with connecting oneself with a particular religion: religious beliefs/faith.[10] Religion grew out of human social and psychological needs. It is a part of the struggle for a fuller life and a more adequate adjustment to the world. It is part of the ever present quest for life that expresses itself in food, shelter, and spiritual values.[11]

          Religion grew out of humanity’s awareness or recognition of a “more” that gives meaning and significance to life. It is the response to the presence and appeal of an unseen world that evokes awe, reverence and confidence. To state it theologically, religion grew out of our response to God. The search may be a complementary one, in which we are searching for God and God is seeking our voluntary commitment.[12]

          Religion includes the development of the religious acts or rites through which humanity has sought to come into harmonious relationship with God .Even forms of prayer have tended to progress from simple appeals for help to more elaborate prayers with the emphasis on praise, fellowship, communion, and meditation. Institutions or organizations have developed to provide fellowship for worshipers and to carry out a programme of ritual, education, pastoral care, and social service. The Scriptures or sacred literature and creeds have arisen in connection with most religious groups.[13] This forms the basic notion of religion. However, there are other varied notions of religion which I shall try to examine below.

Religion as a Feeling

          Is religion largely a matter of feeling? What part does feeling play in religion? Probably, the most thoroughgoing case for the interpretation of religion as feeling was set forth by Schleiermacher, a German theologian of the nineteenth century. For him, pure religion is pure feeling, a feeling of absolute dependence on God. We know from history and from contemporary life that emotional elements have been evident in religion, yet some people say emotions are not enough and can lead us astray unless they are accompanied and guided by the intellect.[14]

Religion as Organisation

          The mere mention of religion sparks hostility in many people. Often their grievances are directed against inadequate or condescending replies received in answer to questions directed to clergy and religious educators and oftentimes, cite a lack of effective pastoral care. Sometimes, they observe hypocrisy among professed believers. There is frequently an apparent preoccupation with fund-raising among religious institutions. Rigid moral rules sometimes have discouraged natural human pleasures. Some people perceive a focus on this world as merely preparatory for the next. Others experience impersonal and boring worship. Some are subjected to brainwashing methods and offered simplistic outlooks on life’s issues. However, the angry feelings often blur the distinctions among religions in general – the official beliefs of a religion, the organizational structure of a particular religion, and a poorly taught or practiced religion. If individuals are offended, they might ask themselves: “Am I angry with the very notion of religion?” “Am I alienated by all forms of organized religion?” “Am I feeling betrayed by poorly taught and practiced religion?” “Do I demand perfection from religious people and organizations?”[15]

          A common response by disenchanted men and women reflects varying degrees of anger against all organized religions: “I don’t need a structure in order to pray to be a good person”. Most persons responding this way may not have considered that organization is essential, not for the sake of structure, but for enhancing relationship among believers, for the development of leadership, for education, and for continuity.[16]

Religion as Life

          When it is the reaction of a person’s whole being to a highest loyalty, religion is not segregated from the rest of life. Religion is felt and thought – it is not limited to anyone, time or place. It is not just ceremonies, doctrines, or organization, even though these may all be aids in stimulating and expressing religious thought.[17]

Religion as Rituals

          Participation in formal religious observances can nurture beliefs, feelings, organization, and daily living. People observing religious rituals can fail to grasp its meaning and merely watch the ceremony. Without some preparatory explanation, a ritual may appear to use un-intelligible language and peculiar actions. Unfortunately, some individuals equate religion with ritual as seen and heard. A ritual which is comprehended and appropriated by the participants dramatizes their beliefs, feelings, organization, and daily living. It is not an isolated hour separated from the other moments of one’s existence. If religion were only ritual, religion would be confined to ritual observances and such a limitation seems too restrictive for a definition of religion.[18]

1.3     The Origin of Religion

The question of the origin of religion among the human race still remains one of the perplexing mysteries confronting man. Men who have attempted to solve this problem through scientific research realized that the result had inevitable antinomies. Like all other questions of origin, the origin of religion is more a matter of speculation than of investigation. To make it seem less extreme, it will at all events be admitted that speculation is involved in a problem for which an entirely satisfactory solution cannot be found only by historical investigation. We may trace a particular religion to its faint beginnings, we may even be able to determine the features which the most primitive forms of religion present, but we shall be far from presenting accurately, with facts, an answer to the question: “How did religion emerge?” With regard to this, we shall limit our discussion on three theories about the origins of religion. They are the traditional view, the philosophical view and the theological view.[19]

The Traditional View

          According to the traditional view, religion is said to have started from the ancient times and is as old as man. Evidence of this view of religion is attested to by the issue of death. The reason for this is because of the definite evidence of the Stone Age man’s interest in the phenomenon of death. The Neanderthals who lived from 100,000 to 25,000 years ago buried their dead with ceremony, putting flint instruments and other things into the grave. Others surround their dead with ornaments, weapons, food, etc. They may have believed in an afterlife, given the manner in which the dead were buried.[20]

The earliest recorded evidence of religious activity dates from only about 60,000 BC.[21] Some anthropologists and historians believe that religion has been practiced since people first appeared on earth. These experts think that pre-historic religion arose out of fear and wonder about natural events, such as the occurrence of such phenomena as storms, earthquake and the birth of babies and animals. To explain why some died, people credited supernatural powers greater than themselves or world around them. Therefore, religious activities were mainly centred on the most important elements of their existence like food, shelter, property or their tribe. It may be stated without qualification that no culture, however primitive and backward, has been found to lack ideas about divinity, spirit, human survival and supernatural forces along with corresponding rites. In line with this, Sir Edward Taylor in Primitive Culture held that religion began with man’s universal spirit animating all things. However, the helplessness of man in the midst of natural disaster and catastrophe, the immunity man feels despite modern preservation and protection techniques, as well as man’s ability to explain most of the forces of nature, have all contributed to put man in worry. Thus, these perplexities spur man to seek answers to them. Yet man is confronted with a lot of limitations. Sooner or later, man had to posit, or rather discover the existence of a reality, who as it were, can give answers to the mysteries of existence and be able to provide man with the security that man could not. This is the starting point of the homo religiosus – the religious man.

          Religion is the outcome of human history being drawn into the sphere of the divine transcendent being. In the book The Golden Core of Religion, Alexander Skutch offers some insight:

we are religious because we love life and cling passionately to our conscious existence. Religion is life’s ceaseless effort to preserve and perfect itself, become at least self conscious, fore-seeing and in consequence; fearful amid the thousand perils that basset it. It was said of old and has been reiterated by modern students of religion, that fear made the gods, but this is a half truth. We fear only when that which we wish to preserve is threatened… Religion begins at its natural starting point; the instinct of self-preservation, which has been called the first law of nature. Its function has been to deepen or broaden this natural impulse.[22]

Consequently, according to Frazer, the earliest man thought that by magical procedures – initiating natural process or utilizing “the law of sympathy”, they could comply with their desires. It was when such procedures did not work that they invented religion. Nevertheless, in the words of Tower,

During the thousand of years in mankind’s history, man’s search for God has led to many pathways. The result has been the common diversity of religious expressions found world wiled, from the endless variety of Hinduism to the monotheism of Judaism, Islam, and Quantendon and to the oriental philosophy of Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism.[23]


The Philosophical View

          However, these are various notions about the origin of religion. Christians and many other religious groups pose man as a creature of religion.[24] According to this view, religion generated out of deep philosophical and unspecified psychological fear. Truly, fear stands as the source of all religion and hence the old saying, “timor fecit deo”, (fear creates God). This description is made possible because its proponents see God as a conspiring being.

          Many scientists like Democritus, Darwin and others are of the view that religion began with man and would end with man in the final analysis. Scientists with this idea include L. Feuerbach who opines, “man… is the mystery of religion”.[25] Furthermore, Karl Marx argues that the origin of religion is based on the economic exploitation of the masses in the capitalist system. He agrees with Feuerbach that God is nothing other than a projection of man’s best qualities, and man’s self alienation, the idea that became Sartre’s main point in his philosophy.


Theological View

          Theologians would not have difficulty in believing in God. In fact, the idea of the reality of God is so fundamental and primary in theology that they would themselves easily conclude that only “the fool would say in his heart that there is no God” (cf. Psalm 10:4; 14:1; 53:1). Jewish, Christian and Moslem theologians, for a long time, assured Divine Revelation as a necessary factor in the rise of religion; either in the form of primitive relations vouchsafed to all mankind or of a special revelation to certain people singled out for the purpose. This view has usually taken the form of a belief in the primal monotheism of divine origin. It is now usually held that the doctrine of revelation has explained the origin of religion in far too intellectual and mechanical a fashion, as if religion began with the importation to man of a set of ideas, ready-made and finished ideas poured into a mind conceived as a kind of empty vessel. This view renders man to be passive in religious formation rather than active. Nevertheless, some other theologians traced the origin of religion to the nature of humans, which makes man incurably religious. Thus, religion for them is neither invented by man nor by the society as a panacea against forces of nature. Rather, they contend that religion is at the root of human nature. In line with this, P. Rosanno, an Italian theologian, has this to say:

At the basis of religion is the religious man, before objective religious formation comes the personal and subjective dimension of religion…[26]

St. Augustine, on the other hand, says that man has as his nature, an irresistible desire to seek the infinite, which renders his heart restless. Hence he says in his Confessions, “you have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.[27] Man, being restless about the various happenings in his life – the experiences of uneasiness, dissatisfaction and insecurity and seeing that there is no finite being to solve his problems, tries to look to a being that is infinite. This is what St. Augustine means by the restlessness of the human heart, as a result of why man turned to religion.

1.4     Kinds of Religion

Religion as a whole preaches peace and goodwill. There are monotheistic (belief in one God) and polytheistic (belief in more than one god) religions. Many of the world religions we have today are monotheistic and they include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, et cetera. However, we are going to look into the first three which are among the major world monotheistic religions.



          Judaism – is one of the major religions in the world practiced by the Jews. The centre of the Jewish belief lies on the faith in one God, who has made humans and the earth and all that it contains.

          In the ancient times, this belief set the Jews apart from their neighbours, who believed that the crops, rainfall, illness, childbirth and death were controlled by different gods. Although Moses Maimonides’ analysis of the thirteen fundamentals of Jewish belief was not without criticism by modern scholars, it has come to be accepted as something like the official creed of Judaism. These thirteen fundamentals of Jewish belief include:

  1. God exists and is the creator of all things,
  2. God is one,
  3. God is incorporeal,
  4. The words of the prophets are to be believed,
  5. God is eternal, andMan is obliged to worship him alone.
  6. Moses is the greatest among them,
  7. The Torah was revealed by God to Moses, and
  8. He rewards or punishes people for their good or evils respectively.
  9. It is unchangeable.
  10. God knows all things, and
  11. The coming of the messiah, and
  12. The rising of the dead.[28]

The first five fundamentals of belief concern God. These form the central belief of Judaism expressed in the Hebrew Bible: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”.[29] The next four fundamentals concerns man’s relation with God where he communicates to man through the medium of prophecy. The tenth and eleventh fundamentals emphasize God’s knowledge of the deeds of mankind and his concern about them. The last two fundamentals of belief concern the end time.



Christianity was found by Jesus Christ to save mankind. Christians believe that He came to the world as God-sent, and, Christianity teaches that humanity can only achieve salvation only through Jesus Christ. After his death, the followers of Christ spread his teachings and one of most outstanding of them was St. Paul. Despite series of persecutions by Romans, Christianity still grew. Upon the acceptance of Christianity in the Roman Empire and the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in 300 AD, Christianity widely spread throughout the empire.[30]

In 1500 AD, a religious movement called the Reformation divided western Christianity into several bodies; Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, to mention but a few. From thence, Christianity continued to spread and today, what we have is number of divided churches.[31]


          Islam was founded in the early 600 AD in Arab by Mohammed. However, Muslims do not accept Mohammed as the founder of Islam but Allah (God) himself. Mohammed was the messenger of Allah, whom Allah sent to deliver the message of salvation to mankind in a vision. Mohammed claimed to have seen several visions. These visions occurred while he was meditating in a cave at mountain Hira. When he had these visions, Allah commanded Mohammed to preach his (Allah’s) message to the people. He then began preaching in Mecca. Upon opposition in Mecca, he fled in order to avoid being killed. Later, he came back for war with his army and conquered Mecca and later made it the centre of Islam and the sacred city.[32]

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[1] W. P. Alston, ‘Religion’ in P. Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1967, pp. 141-142.

[2] J. I. Omoregbe, Comparative Religion, Lagos: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Ltd., 1999, p. 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] C. C. Adibe, “I Am Who I Am”: An Essay on God, His Existence and Relevance to Human Society (Perspective in Thomistic Philosophy), Enugu: Snaap Press Ltd., 2003, p. 87.

[5] H. H. Titus, et al, eds., Living Issues in Philosophy, 8th ed., California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1986., p. 427.

[6] E. Durkheim, quoted in H. H. Titus, Ibid., p. 426.

[7] C. O. Nwanuobi, African Social Institutions, Nsukka: University of Nigeria Press, 1992, p. 165.

[8] Ibid.

[9] H. H. Titus et al, eds., Op. Cit., p. 426.

[10] Sally Wehmeier et al, eds., Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 7th ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 1231.

[11] H. H. Titus et al, eds., Op. Cit., p. 430.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p. 431.

[14] Ibid., p. 427.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 428.

[19] J. I. Omoregbe, Religion and Philosophy, New York: The Curtis Publishing Company, 1968, p. 5.

[20] Ibid. ,p. 8.

[21] C. P. Kottak, Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity, 10th ed., New York: McGraw Hill, 1974, p. 205.

[22] A. Skutch, The Golden Core of Religion, London: George Allen and Union, 1970, p. 9.

[23] E. Hillman, Many Paths: A Critical Approach to Religious Pluralism, New York: Macmillan, 1989, p. 11.

[24] J. I. Omoregbe, A Philosophical Look at Religion, Lagos: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Ltd., 1993, p. xiii.

[25] L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, edited by J. Hick, New York: Harper and Row, 1957, p. 30.

[26] P. Rosanno, Man and Religion: Fundamental Themes for a Dialogical Understanding, Rome: Edtrice Ancora, 1970, p. 28.

[27] Augustine, Confessions, Middlesex: Penguin Book Ltd., 1961, Bk. I, Chap. 1, p. 31.

[28]New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1967, p. 8

[29] Deuteronomy 6:4

[30]P. C. Thomas, A Compact History of the Popes, Mumbai: Pauline Publications, 2007, p. 21.

[31] Ibid., p. 137.

[32] The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, prepared by an editorial staff at the Catholic University of America, Washington, p. 305.


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