World Population by Religion
According to a recent study (based on the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion) by The Pew Forum, there are:
2,173,180,000 Christians (31% of world population), of which 50% are Catholic, 37% Protestant, 12% Orthodox, and 1% other.
1,598,510,000 Muslims (23%), of which 87-90% are Sunnis, 10-13% Shia.
1,126,500,000 No Religion affiliation (16%): atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion. One-in-five people (20%) in the United States are religiously unaffiliated.
1,033,080,000 Hindus (15%), the overwhelming majority (94%) of which live in India.
487,540,000 Buddhists (7%), of which half live in China.
405,120,000 Folk Religionists (6%): faiths that are closely associated with a particular group of people, ethnicity or tribe.
58,110,000 Other Religions (1%): Baha’i faith, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism and many others.
13,850,000 Jews (0.2%), four-fifths of which live in two countries: United States (41%) and Israel (41%).

Religion and Public Life
One of the most debated issues facing America today is the role that faith and religion should play in society. The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project seeks to promote a deeper understanding of the issues raised by the intersection of religion and public affairs.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project acts as a research organization, a clearinghouse for gathering and sharing information and a “town hall,” providing a neutral venue for discussion. Launched in 2001, the forum delivers timely, impartial research to political leaders, journalists, scholars and public interest groups.
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project has four areas of research:
Religion and politics—the influence of religion and religious organizations on political behavior, including voting and campaigns.
Religion and the law—church-state controversies such as recent Supreme Court battles over the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance and school vouchers.
Religion and domestic policy—public policy debates on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research and faith-based initiatives.
Religion and world affairs—the role religion plays in the international arena, with a focus on U.S. foreign policy.
As a non-advocacy organization, the project does not take positions on issues. It is a project of the Pew Research Center, a Pew subsidiary and a nonpartisan “fact tank” based in Washington, D.C., that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.
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Religion and World Affairs
Trends suggest that religion’s public impact has increased worldwide, with major policy and security implications for the United States and the world. Changes in religious demography, such as the rapid growth of Christianity in the global South and increased Muslim immigration to Western nations, also shape public attitudes and government policies.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project seeks to contribute to a deeper public understanding of religion’s influence on U.S. foreign policy, global political change and global security, through a variety of resources including reports, briefing papers, fact sheets, transcripts of its events and the latest news from media sources. Its goal is to deliver timely, impartial information to national opinion leaders, including lawyers and legal scholars, government officials and journalists.

The project’s 10-country survey on global Pentecostalism illuminated the growth and influence of an important international religious movement. The project’s research provides new insights into how religion shapes international politics, by exploring, for example, the Muslim-Christian divide in Nigeria’s elections.
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project does not take positions in policy debates. It is a project of the Pew Research Center, a Pew subsidiary and nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, D.C., that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.
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Religion and the Law
The appropriate relationship between religion and government has been a source of almost continuous debate since the country was founded. This debate frequently moves into the judicial arena, with recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on such issues as school prayer, state-funded vouchers for religious schools, state financing of theological education and the placement of Christmas crèches, Ten Commandments monuments and similar displays on public property.
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project seeks to make sense of confusing and sometimes conflicting rulings. It provides a variety of resources that examine the relationship between religion and the law, including reports, transcripts of its events, polling data and the latest news drawn from media sources nationwide. The goal is to deliver timely, impartial information to national, state and local opinion leaders, including lawyers and legal scholars, government officials and journalists.

The project tracks the abortion debate, providing legal backgrounders on key cases that have come before the Supreme Court. Its publications also have explored topics including right-to-die legislation and issues of conscience in providing health care.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project does not take positions in policy debates. It is a project of the Pew Research Center, a Pew subsidiary and nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, D.C., that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.
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Religion and Social Welfare
The creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001 brought the work of religious organizations to the forefront of the discussion over how America should best care for its needy.
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project examines the relationship between religious groups and human services providers and government, as well as public opinion on the topic.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project looks closely at public opinion regarding the extent to which faith-based groups should participate in the delivery of federally funded social services and whether government policies should reflect religious values. The project provides a variety of resources that examine the relationship between religious organizations and social service providers and government, including reports, polling data, transcripts of its events and the latest news from media sources nationwide.

These resources are designed to deliver timely, impartial information to national, state and local opinion leaders, including government officials and journalists.
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Religion and Public Schools
All three branches of the federal government, as well as many state and local governments, have attempted to clarify the increasingly contentious issue of the appropriate relationship between religion and public schools.

Some of the most divisive issues have been school prayer; the teaching of evolution and creationism; vouchers; the use of school space by religious groups; the recitation of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance; and teaching about religion. The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project delivers timely, impartial information on these and related topics to opinion leaders, including government officials and journalists, through reports, transcripts of its events, polling data and the latest news gathered from media nationwide.

Project reports have explored how the classroom has become one of the most important battlegrounds in the broader conflict over religion’s role in public life and the history of the controversy over teaching evolution in public schools.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project does not take positions in policy debates. It is a project of the Pew Research Center, a Pew subsidiary and a nonpartisan ‘fact tank’ in Washington, D.C., that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.
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Religion and Politics
The United States has a long history of conflict between the tradition of separating church from state and an equally powerful inclination to mix religion and politics. Great political and social movements—from abolition to women’s suffrage to civil rights to today’s struggles over abortion and gay marriage—have drawn upon religious institutions for moral authority, yet the views of various faiths have also caused conflict.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project studies the myriad ways that religion spills over into political debate in America, and vice versa. The forum offers a variety of resources that probe this complex relationship, including reports, polling data, transcripts of its events and the latest news compiled from media nationwide.

These articles and transcripts are aimed at delivering timely, impartial information to national, state and local opinion leaders, including government officials and journalists.

Polling by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project has explored the ways in which religion shapes Americans' attitudes about issues as well as examined the divide in public opinion on whether churches and other religious institutions should become more involved in political life. The project has an extensive online resource, Religion & Politics ’08, that features candidate profiles, state statistics and analysis of religion’s impact on the 2008 campaign.
The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project does not take positions in policy debates. It is a project of the Pew Research Center, a Pew subsidiary and nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, D.C., that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.
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Religion and Coming Out Issues for Asian Pacific Americans
Many people find strength and support from their faith as they struggle to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. At first, this might sound impossible since many organized religions teach that homosexuality and gender variance are wrong or immoral. This has a powerful impact on LGBT Asian Pacific Americans, due to traditional connections among family, culture and religion within that community. The beliefs of Asian Pacific Islander religions may not be any more homophobic than others, but the interconnectedness of culture and religion means that any homophobia related to faith can have a devastating effect.

One way to combat that homophobia and its effects is by joining and participating in LGBT Asian Pacific American social groups. While you may not be ready to start a dialogue with your priest, reverend, or imam, a good start would be to have a discussion about religion within the group. Groups such as Asian and Pacific Islander Queers United for Action in Washington, D.C., South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York and Queer Asian Spirit provide a safe and comfortable environment to discuss these issues.

Progress is also being made within certain denominations. LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church, which comprises many Asian Pacific Americans, such as DignityUSA, have been working to educate people of their faith.

When a family member comes out, however, some Asian Pacific American families choose to find a place of worship that is more welcoming to LGBT people. “After our daughter’s disclosure, we felt uncomfortable at our Japanese-American church,” said Ellen Kameya, co-founder of API PFLAG Family Project. “We then found a United Church of Christ that had recently taken up the issue of welcoming gays into the congregation and found the support we needed. The ministers urged us to live our Christian faith by reaching out to the GLBT community, which is often marginalized by some churches.”

The presence of LGBT-supportive clergy can send a powerful message to Asian Pacific Americans who are coming out. While there may not be many Asian Pacific Islander-affiliated houses of worship that call themselves gay-friendly, the support of their leaders sends an important message. Straight allies within a congregation also send a powerful signal to LGBT Asian Pacific Americans who want to maintain their faith.

“One reason I have become involved (in LGBT advocacy) is my faith,” said Betty Kobata, a straight ally and member of the West Valley United Methodist Church in Chatsworth, Calif. “As a member of the faith community, I always believe that God’s love is inclusive and embraces everyone regardless of our differences. We need to educate ourselves and better understand what it means to be gay in this society.”

Some LGBT Asian Pacific Americans find that the religion they grew up with isn’t as homophobic as they first thought.
“I was raised as a Hindu and today consider myself to be loosely religious,” said Prateek Chaudhary, a former medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Many Hindus find that their religion isn’t necessarily an obstacle to coming out, especially those who study Hindu mythology, which includes references to same-sex relationships and alternative gender roles.”

Other LGBT Asian Pacific Americans have found support and strength from LGBT organizations specific to their chosen faith. One such group is Al-Fatiha which seeks to provide a supportive and understanding environment for Muslims who seek to reconcile their sexual orientation or gender identity with Islam.
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The Social Problems of Religion
RELIGION achieves its highest social ministry when it has least connection with the secular institutions of society. In past ages, since social reforms were largely confined to the moral realms, religion did not have to adjust its attitude to extensive changes in economic and political systems. The chief problem of religion was the endeavor to replace evil with good within the existing social order of political and economic culture. Religion has thus indirectly tended to perpetuate the established order of society, to foster the maintenance of the existent type of civilization.
But religion should not be directly concerned either with the creation of new social orders or with the preservation of old ones. True religion does oppose violence as a technique of social evolution, but it does not oppose the intelligent efforts of society to adapt its usages and adjust its institutions to new economic conditions and cultural requirements.
Religion did approve the occasional social reforms of past centuries, but in the twentieth century it is of necessity called upon to face adjustment to extensive and continuing social reconstruction. Conditions of living alter so rapidly that institutional modifications must be greatly accelerated, and religion must accordingly quicken its adaptation to this new and ever-changing social order.

1. Religion and Social Reconstruction

Mechanical inventions and the dissemination of knowledge are modifying civilization; certain economic adjustments and social changes are imperative if cultural disaster is to be avoided. This new and oncoming social order will not settle down complacently for a millennium. The human race must become reconciled to a procession of changes, adjustments, and readjustments. Mankind is on the march toward a new and unrevealed planetary destiny.
Religion must become a forceful influence for moral stability and spiritual progression functioning dynamically in the midst of these ever-changing conditions and never-ending economic adjustments.
Urantia society can never hope to settle down as in past ages. The social ship has steamed out of the sheltered bays of established tradition and has begun its cruise upon the high seas of evolutionary destiny; and the soul of man, as never before in the world’s history, needs carefully to scrutinize its charts of morality and painstakingly to observe the compass of religious guidance. The paramount mission of religion as a social influence is to stabilize the ideals of mankind during these dangerous times of transition from one phase of civilization to another, from one level of culture to another.
Religion has no new duties to perform, but it is urgently called upon to function as a wise guide and experienced counselor in all of these new and rapidly changing human situations. Society is becoming more mechanical, more compact, more complex, and more critically interdependent. Religion must function to prevent these new and intimate interassociations from becoming mutually retrogressive or even destructive. Religion must act as the cosmic salt which prevents the ferments of progression from destroying the cultural savor of civilization. These new social relations and economic upheavals can result in lasting brotherhood only by the ministry of religion.
A godless humanitarianism is, humanly speaking, a noble gesture, but true religion is the only power which can lastingly increase the responsiveness of one social group to the needs and sufferings of other groups. In the past, institutional religion could remain passive while the upper strata of society turned a deaf ear to the sufferings and oppression of the helpless lower strata, but in modern times these lower social orders are no longer so abjectly ignorant nor so politically helpless.
Religion must not become organically involved in the secular work of social reconstruction and economic reorganization. But it must actively keep pace with all these advances in civilization by making clear-cut and vigorous restatements of its moral mandates and spiritual precepts, its progressive philosophy of human living and transcendent survival. The spirit of religion is eternal, but the form of its expression must be restated every time the dictionary of human language is revised.

2. Weakness of Institutional Religion

Institutional religion cannot afford inspiration and provide leadership in this impending world-wide social reconstruction and economic reorganization because it has unfortunately become more or less of an organic part of the social order and the economic system which is destined to undergo reconstruction. Only the real religion of personal spiritual experience can function helpfully and creatively in the present crisis of civilization.
Institutional religion is now caught in the stalemate of a vicious circle. It cannot reconstruct society without first reconstructing itself; and being so much an integral part of the established order, it cannot reconstruct itself until society has been radically reconstructed.
Religionists must function in society, in industry, and in politics as individuals, not as groups, parties, or institutions. A religious group which presumes to function as such, apart from religious activities, immediately becomes a political party, an economic organization, or a social institution. Religious collectivism must confine its efforts to the furtherance of religious causes.
Religionists are of no more value in the tasks of social reconstruction than nonreligionists except in so far as their religion has conferred upon them enhanced cosmic foresight and endowed them with that superior social wisdom which is born of the sincere desire to love God supremely and to love every man as a brother in the heavenly kingdom. An ideal social order is that in which every man loves his neighbor as he loves himself.
The institutionalized church may have appeared to serve society in the past by glorifying the established political and economic orders, but it must speedily cease such action if it is to survive. Its only proper attitude consists in the teaching of nonviolence, the doctrine of peaceful evolution in the place of violent revolution — peace on earth and good will among all men.
Modern religion finds it difficult to adjust its attitude toward the rapidly shifting social changes only because it has permitted itself to become so thoroughly traditionalized, dogmatized, and institutionalized. The religion of living experience finds no difficulty in keeping ahead of all these social developments and economic upheavals, amid which it ever functions as a moral stabilizer, social guide, and spiritual pilot. True religion carries over from one age to another the worth-while culture and that wisdom which is born of the experience of knowing God and striving to be like him.

3. Religion and the Religionist
Early Christianity was entirely free from all civil entanglements, social commitments, and economic alliances. Only did later institutionalized Christianity become an organic part of the political and social structure of Occidental civilization.
The kingdom of heaven is neither a social nor economic order; it is an exclusively spiritual brotherhood of God-knowing individuals. True, such a brotherhood is in itself a new and amazing social phenomenon attended by astounding political and economic repercussions.
The religionist is not unsympathetic with social suffering, not unmindful of civil injustice, not insulated from economic thinking, neither insensible to political tyranny. Religion influences social reconstruction directly because it spiritualizes and idealizes the individual citizen. Indirectly, cultural civilization is influenced by the attitude of these individual religionists as they become active and influential members of various social, moral, economic, and political groups.
The attainment of a high cultural civilization demands, first, the ideal type of citizen and, then, ideal and adequate social mechanisms wherewith such a citizenry may control the economic and political institutions of such an advanced human society.
The church, because of overmuch false sentiment, has long ministered to the underprivileged and the unfortunate, and this has all been well, but this same sentiment has led to the unwise perpetuation of racially degenerate stocks which have tremendously retarded the progress of civilization.
Many individual social reconstructionists, while vehemently repudiating institutionalized religion, are, after all, zealously religious in the propagation of their social reforms. And so it is that religious motivation, personal and more or less unrecognized, is playing a great part in the present-day program of social reconstruction.
The great weakness of all this unrecognized and unconscious type of religious activity is that it is unable to profit from open religious criticism and thereby attain to profitable levels of self-correction. It is a fact that religion does not grow unless it is disciplined by constructive criticism, amplified by philosophy, purified by science, and nourished by loyal fellowship.
There is always the great danger that religion will become distorted and perverted into the pursuit of false goals, as when in times of war each contending nation prostitutes its religion into military propaganda. Loveless zeal is always harmful to religion, while persecution diverts the activities of religion into the achievement of some sociologic or theologic drive.
Religion can be kept free from unholy secular alliances only by:
1. A critically corrective philosophy.
2. Freedom from all social, economic, and political alliances.
3. Creative, comforting, and love-expanding fellowships.
4. Progressive enhancement of spiritual insight and the appreciation of cosmic values.
5. Prevention of fanaticism by the compensations of the scientific mental attitude.
Religionists, as a group, must never concern themselves with anything but religion, albeit any one such religionist, as an individual citizen, may become the outstanding leader of some social, economic, or political reconstruction movement.
It is the business of religion to create, sustain, and inspire such a cosmic loyalty in the individual citizen as will direct him to the achievement of success in the advancement of all these difficult but desirable social services.

4. Transition Difficulties
Genuine religion renders the religionist socially fragrant and creates insights into human fellowship. But the formalization of religious groups many times destroys the very values for the promotion of which the group was organized. Human friendship and divine religion are mutually helpful and significantly illuminating if the growth in each is equalized and harmonized. Religion puts new meaning into all group associations — families, schools, and clubs. It imparts new values to play and exalts all true humor.
Social leadership is transformed by spiritual insight; religion prevents all collective movements from losing sight of their true objectives. Together with children, religion is the great unifier of family life, provided it is a living and growing faith. Family life cannot be had without children; it can be lived without religion, but such a handicap enormously multiplies the difficulties of this intimate human association. During the early decades of the twentieth century, family life, next to personal religious experience, suffers most from the decadence consequent upon the transition from old religious loyalties to the emerging new meanings and values.
True religion is a meaningful way of living dynamically face to face with the commonplace realities of everyday life. But if religion is to stimulate individual development of character and augment integration of personality, it must not be standardized. If it is to stimulate evaluation of experience and serve as a value-lure, it must not be stereotyped. If religion is to promote supreme loyalties, it must not be formalized.
No matter what upheavals may attend the social and economic growth of civilization, religion is genuine and worth while if it fosters in the individual an experience in which the sovereignty of truth, beauty, and goodness prevails, for such is the true spiritual concept of supreme reality. And through love and worship this becomes meaningful as fellowship with man and sonship with God.
After all, it is what one believes rather than what one knows that determines conduct and dominates personal performances. Purely factual knowledge exerts very little influence upon the average man unless it becomes emotionally activated. But the activation of religion is superemotional, unifying the entire human experience on transcendent levels through contact with, and release of, spiritual energies in the mortal life.
During the psychologically unsettled times of the twentieth century, amid the economic upheavals, the moral crosscurrents, and the sociologic rip tides of the cyclonic transitions of a scientific era, thousands upon thousands of men and women have become humanly dislocated; they are anxious, restless, fearful, uncertain, and unsettled; as never before in the world’s history they need the consolation and stabilization of sound religion. In the face of unprecedented scientific achievement and mechanical development there is spiritual stagnation and philosophic chaos.
There is no danger in religion’s becoming more and more of a private matter — a personal experience — provided it does not lose its motivation for unselfish and loving social service. Religion has suffered from many secondary influences: sudden mixing of cultures, intermingling of creeds, diminution of ecclesiastical authority, changing of family life, together with urbanization and mechanization.
Man’s greatest spiritual jeopardy consists in partial progress, the predicament of unfinished growth: forsaking the evolutionary religions of fear without immediately grasping the revelatory religion of love. Modern science, particularly psychology, has weakened only those religions which are so largely dependent upon fear, superstition, and emotion.
Transition is always accompanied by confusion, and there will be little tranquillity in the religious world until the great struggle between the three contending philosophies of religion is ended:
1. The spiritistic belief (in a providential Deity) of many religions.
2. The humanistic and idealistic belief of many philosophies.
3. The mechanistic and naturalistic conceptions of many sciences.
And these three partial approaches to the reality of the cosmos must eventually become harmonized by the revelatory presentation of religion, philosophy, and cosmology which portrays the triune existence of spirit, mind, and energy proceeding from the Trinity of Paradise and attaining time-space unification within the Deity of the Supreme.

5. Social Aspects of Religion
While religion is exclusively a personal spiritual experience — knowing God as a Father — the corollary of this experience — knowing man as a brother — entails the adjustment of the self to other selves, and that involves the social or group aspect of religious life. Religion is first an inner or personal adjustment, and then it becomes a matter of social service or group adjustment. The fact of man’s gregariousness perforce determines that religious groups will come into existence. What happens to these religious groups depends very much on intelligent leadership. In primitive society the religious group is not always very different from economic or political groups. Religion has always been a conservator of morals and a stabilizer of society. And this is still true, notwithstanding the contrary teaching of many modern socialists and humanists.
Always keep in mind: True religion is to know God as your Father and man as your brother. Religion is not a slavish belief in threats of punishment or magical promises of future mystical rewards.
The religion of Jesus is the most dynamic influence ever to activate the human race. Jesus shattered tradition, destroyed dogma, and called mankind to the achievement of its highest ideals in time and eternity — to be perfect, even as the Father in heaven is perfect.
Religion has little chance to function until the religious group becomes separated from all other groups — the social association of the spiritual membership of the kingdom of heaven.
The doctrine of the total depravity of man destroyed much of the potential of religion for effecting social repercussions of an uplifting nature and of inspirational value. Jesus sought to restore man’s dignity when he declared that all men are the children of God.
Any religious belief which is effective in spiritualizing the believer is certain to have powerful repercussions in the social life of such a religionist. Religious experience unfailingly yields the “fruits of the spirit” in the daily life of the spirit-led mortal.
Just as certainly as men share their religious beliefs, they create a religious group of some sort which eventually creates common goals. Someday religionists will get together and actually effect co-operation on the basis of unity of ideals and purposes rather than attempting to do so on the basis of psychological opinions and theological beliefs. Goals rather than creeds should unify religionists. Since true religion is a matter of personal spiritual experience, it is inevitable that each individual religionist must have his own and personal interpretation of the realization of that spiritual experience. Let the term “faith” stand for the individual’s relation to God rather than for the creedal formulation of what some group of mortals have been able to agree upon as a common religious attitude. “Have you faith? Then have it to yourself.”
That faith is concerned only with the grasp of ideal values is shown by the New Testament definition which declares that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.
Primitive man made little effort to put his religious convictions into words. His religion was danced out rather than thought out. Modern men have thought out many creeds and created many tests of religious faith. Future religionists must live out their religion, dedicate themselves to the wholehearted service of the brotherhood of man. It is high time that man had a religious experience so personal and so sublime that it could be realized and expressed only by “feelings that lie too deep for words.”
Jesus did not require of his followers that they should periodically assemble and recite a form of words indicative of their common beliefs. He only ordained that they should gather together to actually do something — partake of the communal supper of the remembrance of his bestowal life on Urantia.
What a mistake for Christians to make when, in presenting Christ as the supreme ideal of spiritual leadership, they dare to require God-conscious men and women to reject the historic leadership of the God-knowing men who have contributed to their particular national or racial illumination during past ages.

6. Institutional Religion
Sectarianism is a disease of institutional religion, and dogmatism is an enslavement of the spiritual nature. It is far better to have a religion without a church than a church without religion. The religious turmoil of the twentieth century does not, in and of itself, betoken spiritual decadence. Confusion goes before growth as well as before destruction.
There is a real purpose in the socialization of religion. It is the purpose of group religious activities to dramatize the loyalties of religion; to magnify the lures of truth, beauty, and goodness; to foster the attractions of supreme values; to enhance the service of unselfish fellowship; to glorify the potentials of family life; to promote religious education; to provide wise counsel and spiritual guidance; and to encourage group worship. And all live religions encourage human friendship, conserve morality, promote neighborhood welfare, and facilitate the spread of the essential gospel of their respective messages of eternal salvation.
But as religion becomes institutionalized, its power for good is curtailed, while the possibilities for evil are greatly multiplied. The dangers of formalized religion are: fixation of beliefs and crystallization of sentiments; accumulation of vested interests with increase of secularization; tendency to standardize and fossilize truth; diversion of religion from the service of God to the service of the church; inclination of leaders to become administrators instead of ministers; tendency to form sects and competitive divisions; establishment of oppressive ecclesiastical authority; creation of the aristocratic “chosen-people” attitude; fostering of false and exaggerated ideas of sacredness; the routinizing of religion and the petrification of worship; tendency to venerate the past while ignoring present demands; failure to make up-to-date interpretations of religion; entanglement with functions of secular institutions; it creates the evil discrimination of religious castes; it becomes an intolerant judge of orthodoxy; it fails to hold the interest of adventurous youth and gradually loses the saving message of the gospel of eternal salvation.
Formal religion restrains men in their personal spiritual activities instead of releasing them for heightened service as kingdom builders.

7. Religion’s Contribution
Though churches and all other religious groups should stand aloof from all secular activities, at the same time religion must do nothing to hinder or retard the social co-ordination of human institutions. Life must continue to grow in meaningfulness; man must go on with his reformation of philosophy and his clarification of religion.
Political science must effect the reconstruction of economics and industry by the techniques it learns from the social sciences and by the insights and motives supplied by religious living. In all social reconstruction religion provides a stabilizing loyalty to a transcendent object, a steadying goal beyond and above the immediate and temporal objective. In the midst of the confusions of a rapidly changing environment mortal man needs the sustenance of a far-flung cosmic perspective.
Religion inspires man to live courageously and joyfully on the face of the earth; it joins patience with passion, insight to zeal, sympathy with power, and ideals with energy.
Man can never wisely decide temporal issues or transcend the selfishness of personal interests unless he meditates in the presence of the sovereignty of God and reckons with the realities of divine meanings and spiritual values.
Economic interdependence and social fraternity will ultimately conduce to brotherhood. Man is naturally a dreamer, but science is sobering him so that religion can presently activate him with far less danger of precipitating fanatical reactions. Economic necessities tie man up with reality, and personal religious experience brings this same man face to face with the eternal realities of an ever-expanding and progressing cosmic citizenship.
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Understanding the Problems with Religion
Let's start by asking a question: Does it matter? In this book we have proven, conclusively, that God is imaginary. God does not answer prayers, God did not write the Bible and Jesus is not God. In other words, the God of popular religion is completely imaginary.

But does it really matter? What difference does it make if half of the people in the United States want to believe in an imaginary being? What does it hurt?

Let's ignore the danger that can be found in the ashes of 9/11/2001, and the subsequent events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Madrid and London. There are many zealous and misguided Muslims who believe that, through Jihad, they must kill non-Muslims -- Christians and Jews in particular. And there are many Christains who, ignoring Jesus' teachings, wish to retaliate in kind. Let's ignore that.

Let's ignore the ill effects of religion around the world over the last several decades. We have Muslims killing Christians (and vice versa), Jews killing Muslims (and vice versa), Protestants killing Catholics (and vice versa), Shiites killing Sunnis (and vice versa), etc., etc. All of it is completely pointless, because all human gods are imaginary. But let's ignore all of that killing and destruction.

Let's also ignore all of the insanity that religion has brought us through the ages -- the crusades, the witch hunts and all the rest.

And let's ignore all the people that religion oppresses -- the women, the people who have been enslaved, the people who happen to be homosexual, etc. Let's ignore it because it is all water under the bridge.

Even today in the United States -- a modern, advanced nation -- religion creates problems. The delusion created by Christianity is so extreme and so pervasive at the moment that we have Supreme Court justices and politicians who publicly claim that God handed down the Ten Commandments to us in the Bible (see chapter 13). These justices and politicians are speaking about a book that openly advocates slavery and misogyny along with many other notions that are beyond absurd. Yet no one can question their claims in public because it is far too dangerous (see next section for details).

To have otherwise intelligent Americans babbling on about an imaginary God like this is dangerous, if for no other reason than this one: If so many people are this delusional in the area of religion, it makes you wonder where else they harbor equally significant delusions in their thinking. In addition, religion in America is now actively restraining scientific research and social progress. The problem that American scientists are having with stem cells is just one of the many manifestations of the problem today.

There is also growing evidence that the delusion of religion causes significant social dysfunction. Statistical research is revealing the problems that go with religious delusion. For example, a recent article in the Journal of Religion and Society points out that religion is correlated to the significant social difficulties that we can see in America:

In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. [ref]
The prevailing view is that religion is harmless even if it is delusional. That turns out not to be the case. America is the most religious country of those studied in the developed world. America also has the biggest problems in terms of things like homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion.
Religion is delusion. A planet full of delusional people is not healthy.

A secondary problem

Religion causes a secondary problem as well. Religion creates significant free-speech and free-thinking issues both here in the United States and around the world. Let me help you to understand what I mean when I say that, and offer a solution to the problem.

Let's imagine that any normal, intelligent American were to stand up in public today and say something like this: "I do not believe that an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God wrote the Bible or the Ten Commandments. The reason why I don't believe it is because the Bible openly advocates slavery and misogyny in both the Old and New Testaments. God could not love slavery or hate women." See section 2 for details on his statement.

It is time for Americans, both religious and non, to openly discuss the evidence showing that God is imaginary. Let's stop hiding the discussion, or attacking it. Let's talk openly. Let us have an honest, open, rational, civil conversation about all of the evidence that we have seen in this book. If we have that debate in an open forum, the majority of us will reach agreement that God is imaginary.
Within seconds of making this honest, completely rational statement, that American will be branded as an atheist.

In today's America, being branded as an atheist is poisonous. It is as poisonous as being branded during the McCarthy era in the 1950s. Imagine someone who has been branded as an atheist trying to run for public office in America today. Many christians are so polarized and so sensitive right now that they will crush anyone with an opinion contrary to their own. Once branded as an atheist, the candidate is attacked in the public forum.

Then look at the rest of the world. In many Islamic countries, women cannot freely choose how they dress, much less what they do, where they work or how they behave. They often cannot even drive a car. The repression of women's freedom in Islamic countries is well known, and ridiculous.

There really is only one solution. It is time for Americans, both religious and non, to openly discuss the evidence showing that God is imaginary. Let's stop hiding the discussion, or attacking it. Let's talk openly. Let us have an honest, open, rational, civil conversation about all of the evidence that we have seen in this book.

If we have that debate in an open forum, the majority of us will reach agreement that God is imaginary. The reason why we will come to that conclusion is because the evidence, as presented in this book, overwhelmingly favors it.

We must also recognize as a society that there is no such thing as an atheist. We must end the branding and the name-calling. Click here for details.

Understanding why people create religions

What I am proposing to you in this book is both quite profound and quite baffling. It is this: Everything that we associate with religion is imaginary. God, the Bible, Jesus, the resurrection, prayer, the Ten Commandments, the creation story, your soul, everlasting life, heaven... every bit of it is the product of human imagination. The same goes for Allah, the Koran and so on. As a species we have believed all of this religious dogma for centuries, and most of us believe it today to some degree. And yet... it is all fiction. It is just as fictional as were the gods of the Egyptians, the Romans and the Aztecs. We have seen 25 chapters of clear, unambiguous evidence and all of it supports this conclusion. There is zero evidence of any kind indicating that God is real.

If it is so obvious that God is imaginary, then why might half of the American population profess belief in God? We have asked this question throughout the book because the whole situation is fascinating. Why would we, as a species, create all of this mythology and nonsense over and over again through the millennia? We must do it for a reason.

If we can understand the reasons and deal with them rationally rather than through the silliness and mythology that is religion, we actually can do ourselves a great deal of good.

There are two important reasons why humans fabricate all of our religions:

People invent God as a way to cope with death. Many humans are terrified by death for some reason. They invent religion as a way to deal with their terror.
People invent God as a proxy for goodness. People want a way to promote "goodness" and eliminate "evil" in their societies. In the past, inventing an imaginary God has been perceived to be one way to facilitate that process.
Death and goodness are important to people. They touch on fundamental human emotions. If we can separate death and goodness from the mythology of God so that we can understand them and work with them in a positive way, we can actually do something very helpful. We can create a rational world for ourselves that is focused on benefiting mankind.

Once we understand why we create religion, we can begin creating the social structures that will replace religion. The remainder of the book discusses this process.
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3 Problems with Religion… and Solutions!
A few nights ago, I invited three of my friends over for dinner. At some point, the topic of religion came up and the conversation that ensued was very interesting, given the diversity of religious backgrounds represented in the room, but also incredibly challenging. Firstly, there was me, a Baha’i who had been brought up as a Christian in an Eastern Orthodox church with a strong – and very, very old – religious tradition of its own. And then there were my three friends – one of Druze heritage, another with a somewhat secular Anglican upbringing, and the last of Jewish descent. All three of them, however, are self-professed “militant atheists” with a profound disdain for religion that was only kept in check that night by their long friendship with me and their unwillingness to offend me (too much).

For the first ten minutes of the conversation, I found myself feeling incredibly relieved that my role as dinner hostess was keeping me occupied in the kitchen, where I could hear the conversation but be spared the unpleasant task of having to be the sole defender of religion! For the next ten minutes (after I ran out of dinnerware to fiddle around with), I sat with them, feeling a mixture of amusement, discomfort, defensiveness, guilt and indecision as to what the prudent thing to say was. However, as I kept listening, I felt more at ease, realising one very important thing: for the most part, I agreed with them!

It became quickly apparent, as the conversation unfolded, that my friends and I had many values in common and that much of their discomfort with religion came from a strong commitment to the very principles that I cherish as a Baha’i: justice, compassion, honesty and integrity – just to name a few. The only point of difference between us, however, was that while they felt dismayed and despondent about the problems that religion has caused in the history of humanity, I remained optimistic about the transformative power of religion.

There’s no denying that many wrongs and injustices have, in the history of human existence, been perpetrated in the name of religion. However, as we discussed the numerous issues that exist, I realised that so many of the principles of the Baha’i Faith go to the very heart of these issues, thus restoring religion to what it was intended to be – a blueprint for the spiritual and material progress of humanity.

Here are 3 common reasons people put forward for rejecting religion… and 3 responses based on the Baha’i teachings.

Problem 1: Religion is outdated.

Religion is outdated, I often hear my friends remark. Many of the laws that were appropriate for societies 2000 years ago have absolutely no place in today’s world. And if we were to try and adapt them to today’s environment, they go on to point out, how would we possibly agree on how to make the necessary adaptations? We can’t possibly agree on what to change and what to keep – who decides?

Agreed, agreed, and again, agreed!

Human society is drastically different in 2011 from what it was in the time of Jesus or Muhammad or Krishna. There are however, a number of spiritual principles that have remained just as relevant in every society, such as the principle of universal love contained in the Golden Rule. Baha’is believe in the concept of progressive revelation which states that over the history of humanity’s existence, God has sent Divine Teachers to reveal a code of laws that are relevant to the needs and capacity of the society to which it was revealed . This accounts for the differences in social laws that can be found between religions, which cater to the differing needs and social structures of human society over the ages.

The world that we live in today, just like human society of the past, has its own unique needs and circumstances. It is for this reason, that a renewal of religion is needed. Baha’is believe that Baha’u'llah, as the Divine Teacher sent for this particular period in humanity’s existence, has revealed an entire volume of teachings and laws that are relevant to the needs of the world that we live in today.

Problem 2: Religion is just about indoctrination and manipulation.

Again, it is true that in the past, there have been numerous occasions in which religion has been used to cause divisiveness, hate and violence. Religious education has come to mean little more than a process of indoctrination in which children are taught to blindly accept religious dogma in order to form a religious identity in which they see themselves as irreconcilably distinct from people of other faiths and cultures. Over the centuries, religious leaders in positions of influence have often abused their power and position, seeking to serve their own selfish interests by playing on the fears and ignorance of their congregations. It is little wonder that people are so suspicious of organised religion!

There is one important principle in the Baha’i teachings that acts as a protection against this form of corruption: independent investigation of the truth. Baha’u'llah has spoken of the need to acquire knowledge through one’s “own eyes and not through the eyes of others”. There is no clergy in the Baha’i faith – the duty of seeking out knowledge and learning falls on the individual believer.

Problem 3: Religion just causes war and hatred.

It is a sad and undeniable truth that religion has, far too often, been the cause for war. Apart from the destruction to human life and society that religious conflict has caused, this fact is particularly devastating because it defeats the purpose of religion! ‘Abdu’l-Baha said:

Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it would be better to be without it… Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.

In my understanding, a large part as to why religious conflict is so widespread is because of the manner in which so many societies practice and understand their religious traditions. Religious diversity is, in itself, a beautiful thing, which becomes dangerous when the followers of various religious begin to see their religious beliefs as competing and mutually exclusive. It’s the mentality of “If I’m right, you must be wrong. If you’re right, I can’t be right as well”.

The Baha’i understanding of progressive revelation reconciles the seemingly irreconcilable between the world’s different religions, without detracting from the diversity that exists in the practices and traditions of each religion. By understanding that all religions come from the same source, and that each religion was just as perfectly suitable and complete for the society it was revealed to as the other, it is possible to truly appreciate the divine origin of each religion without denying the divine origin of another.

It is undeniable that there have been numerous problems associated with religion in the history of human civilization. However, these problems, in my mind, only underscore the entire concept of progressive revelation and emphasise the importance of the renewal of religion.
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