What is religion? There are many definitions for the term “religion” in common usage. On this web site, we define it very broadly, in order to include the greatest number of belief systems: “Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, and a philosophy of life.” Thus we include here all of the great monotheistic religions, Eastern religions; Neopagan religions; a wide range of other faith groups, spiritual paths, and ethical systems; and beliefs about the existence of God(s) and Goddess(es). We recognize that most people define “religion” in a much more exclusive manner.
Christianity: There are many definitions for this term as well. Again, we use an inclusive definition: “An individual or group is Christian if they sincerely, thoughtfully and devoutly believe that they are Christian.” This generates a lot of angry Emails from some visitors to this site who are insistent on excluding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholic Church, the Mormons and some other denominations as sub-Christian, quasi-Christian non-Christian, or anti-Christian.
We treat Christianity in greater detail than other religions, simply because about 75% of North Americans identify themselves with that religion. Christians outnumber the next largest organized religions, Judaism and Islam, by about 40 to 1 in the U.S. and Canada. We are not in any way implying that Christianity is superior or inferior to other religions. It is simply much more popular.
Destructive, doomsday cults: These are fortunately few in number, and are listed elsewhere.
Information for these essays was extracted from reliable sources, and believed to be accurate and reasonably unbiased. Where possible, they have been reviewed by a group (typically 3 or more) of persons who follow the belief before the material is placed online.
There are many, long established, major world religions, each with over three million followers. We have shown the five largest North American religions in bold:
Christian groups, denominations and families (Amish to The Way)
1 Neopagan Religious Faiths
Neopagan faiths are modern-day reconstructions of ancient Pagan religions from various countries and eras. They experience a high but diminishing level of discrimination and persecution in North America. They were once rarely practiced in public for reasons of safety. This is rapidly changing for the better.
Asatru (Norse Paganism) *
Notes: Many followers of Asatru regard themselves as “Heathens” rather than “Neopagans.”
Many followers of these religions refer to themselves as “Pagans.” We use the term “Neopagan” because it is less ambiguous. “Pagan” has a variety of unrelated meanings.
Other organized Religions
These are smaller religions, with a well defined belief in deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. Of the many hundreds of faith groups in the world, we have chosen these because of their historical significance, or because of the massive amount of misinformation that has been spread about them in North America:
Elian Gonzalez religious movement
Hare Krishna – ISKCON
Ifa, the religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa
Native American Spirituality
Rom, Roma, Romani, Rroma, (a.k.a. Gypsies)
Santeria Elian Gonzalez religious movement
Satanism; The Church of Satan
The Creativity Movement (formerly called World Church of the Creator)
The Yazidi branch of Yazd?ism
what is RELIGION?
The English word “religion” is derived from the Middle English “religioun” which came from the Old French “religion.” It may have been originally derived from the Latin word “religo” which means “good faith,” “ritual,” and other similar meanings. Or it may have come from the Latin “relig?e” which means “to tie fast.”
Defining the word “religion” is fraught with difficulty. Many attempts have been made. Most seem to focus on too narrowly only a few aspects of religion; they tend to exclude those religions that do not fit well.
It is apparent that religion can be seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of human kind. To limit religion to only one of these categories is to miss its multifaceted nature and lose out on the complete definition.” 1
All of the definitions that we have encountered contain at least one deficiency some exclude beliefs and practices that many people passionately defend as religious. For example, their definition might include belief in a God or Goddess or combination of Gods and Goddesses who are responsible for the creation of the universe and for its continuing operation. This excludes such non-theistic religions as Buddhism and many forms of religious Satanism which have no such belief.
Some definitions equate “religion” with “Christianity,” and thus define two out of every three humans in the world as non-religious.
Some definitions are so broadly written that they include beliefs and areas of study that most people do not regard as religious.
Some define “religion” in terms of “the sacred” and/or “the spiritual,” and thus require the creation of two more definitions.
Sometimes, definitions of “religion” contain more than one deficiency.
However, this definition contains an element of controversy, because it implies that religions, and thus perhaps deity/deities, are created by humanity and not the reverse. A less contentious meaning might be the sum total of answers to the problem of our relationship with the universe, we call religion.”
“Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a worldview.”
A worldview is a set of basic, foundational beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. Thus we would consider Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Native American Spirituality, Wicca, and other Neopagan traditions to be religions. We also include Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, Ethical Culture etc. as religions, because they also contain a “belief about deity.” Their belief is that they do not know whether a deity exists, or they have no knowledge of God, or they sincerely believe that God does not exist.
Some people do not consider their personal spiritual path to be a religion.
Many conservative Christians refer to Christianity not as a religion but as an intensely personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Many Native Americans believe that their spiritual beliefs and practices are not a religion in the normal sense of the term. They form a integral and seamless part of their very being, totally integrated into their life experience.
Agnostics and Atheists often do not regard their beliefs to be a religion. To most, Atheism and Agnosticism simply represent a single belief about the existence or non-existence of a supreme being. They do not necessarily include ethical matters.
The New Age is sometimes referred to as a religion. However, it is in reality a collection of diverse beliefs and practices from which a practitioner may select those that appeal to her/him. The individual often grafts these beliefs and practices onto an established religion.
“True religion is not about possessing the truth. No religion does that. It is rather an invitation into a journey that leads one toward the mystery of God. Idolatry is religion pretending that it has all the answers.”
“…just because you don’t bow on your knees and worship an idol or an invisible being, does not mean you are not a Satan worshiper. The worship of any other god (s) is the same thing. There are no other gods. They are demons and Satan is in control of them.
“Yes, Christianity is the one true religion. That may sound awfully dogmatic and narrow-minded, but the simple truth is that Christianity is the only true religion. Jesus said that He alone was the way to the Father (John 14:6), that He alone revealed the Father (Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22). Christians do not go around saying Christianity is the only way because they are arrogant, narrow-minded, stupid, and judgmental. They do so because they believe what Jesus said.
How many religions are there in the world from which to locate the “true” one?
According to David Barrett and team, there are 19 major world religious groupings in the world which are subdivided into a total of about 10,000 distinct religions. Of the latter, there were 270 religions and para-religions which had over a half million adherents in the year 2000 CE. Within Christianity, they have identified 34,000 separate groups (denominations, sects, individual unaffiliated churches, para-church groups, etc) in the world. “Over half of them are independent churches that are not interested in linking with the big denominations.” 1
Even considering a single religion, Christianity, within a single country, there are often thousands of individual “Christian confessions and denominations.
4,684 groups in the U.S.
3,364 in South Africa.
2,079 in Nigeria.
1,581 in Brazil.
1,327 in South-central Asia.
Among other English-speaking countries, there are:
828 groups in the UK.
469 in Canada.
267 in Australia
175 in New Zealand. 2
Differences in the beliefs and practices of various faith groups:
Probably the one area where religions differ the most is over the nature of deity. Various groups teach Agnosticism, Animism, Atheism, Strong Atheism, Deism, Duotheism, Henotheism, Monism, Monotheism, Panentheism, Pantheism, Polytheism, the Trinity, and probably some others that we have missed.
Perhaps the next greatest range of beliefs are about the fate of people after death: whether there is simple annihilation, some form of energy-less existence as taught by the ancient Hebrews, Purgatory as taught by the Roman Catholic Church, Heaven or Paradise as taught by many religions, Hell which is also taught by many faiths, Limbo, reincarnation, transmigration of the soul, nirvana, an alternative world much like Earth, and probably some other places or states that we have missed.
There is also a great range of beliefs and practices among different religions over other theological beliefs, ritual, organization, family structure, personal sexual behavior, and other topics. For example, differences exist on matters such as: abortion access, adult celibacy, animal sacrifices. appearance factors (shaving, jewelry), birth control usage, calendar, clergy celibacy, clergy gender, clergy organization, meeting day, documentation, family power sharing, family types, gender of deities, homosexual rights, meeting place, nature of deities, nature of humanity, new year date, number of deities, origin of the universe, prayer, pre-marital sex, role of women, sacred texts, suicide, surgical modifications to the body, special clothing, symbols, etc. More details
To our knowledge, no two religions teach the same message or expect the same practices from their followers. One would be hard pressed to find two faith groups within the same religion which have identical teachings and practices. If a “true religion” exists, then it would probably have to be one or a few faith groups within one of the 10,000 religions. All of the other religions and faith groups would be in error.
What do faith groups teach about their own status?
Most religious groups teach that their own beliefs and practices are the only true set, and that all other faith groups contain some degree of error. For example, the largest single faith group in the U.S., in Canada, and in the world is the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Times News Service, a year 2000 statement by the Church titled “Dominus Iesus” implies that “Churches such as the Church of England, where the apostolic succession of bishops from the time of St. Peter is disputed by Rome, and churches without bishops, are not considered ‘proper’ churches.” Only the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches are “churches in the proper sense.” They suffer from “defects.” Dominus Iesus further states that religions other than Christianity are considered to be “gravely deficient.” Their rituals can constitute “an obstacle to salvation” for their followers. 3,4
Other faith groups are either more inclusive or more exclusive than the Roman Catholic Church regarding the “truth” status of other faith groups.
Which, then, is the true religion?
Because religions are so different, only one could be the “true religion.” Perhaps none are. Within the “true religion” there may be more than one faith group that are sufficiently accurate in their beliefs and practices that all could qualify as “true.” The problem is how to find out which religion and which faith groups have this status.
Some methods of determining the “true” religion are conduct an opinion poll. Unfortunately, beliefs differ around the world: In Saudi Arabia, the government claims that 100% of the population is Muslim. So there is probably a very high probability that a given citizen picked at random would firmly believe Islam is the true religion and that theirs is the true faith group.
India is about 80% Hindu. There is a very high probability that any given citizen believes that their tradition with Hinduism is the true religion.
The U.S. is about 75% Christian. The population in the American “Bible belt” is significantly higher than that. There is a very high probability that any given citizen in South Carolina, for example, believes that their denomination within Christianity is the true religion.
It is obvious that one’s personal beliefs about the true religion is largely a function of the country in which one happens to have been born, the area of that country, and the beliefs of one’s parent(s):
Pray to God 5 and ask to be enlightened. The founder of the Mormon movement, Joseph Smith, did precisely this. Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ appeared to him side by side, and told him that none of the then existing Christian denominations were the true religion. He was instructed to create a new denomination to restore Christianity to its first century CE purity before it fell into heresy.
This method appears to be unreliable. When people pray to God for enlightenment, most seem to conclude that their own religion and faith group is the true one. If people could access the will of God on this matter, then a vast majority of the world’s population — the folks who pray — would realize that their faith group was not the true one. They would gradually migrate to the true religion. There would eventually be only one religion and one tradition within that religion left standing. Otherwise, people would be rejecting the will of God. All the other 11,000 religions and their tens of thousands of denominations or traditions would be phased out.
The OCRT, the group that sponsors this web site, conducted a pilot study to determine whether a person can assess the will of God through prayer. We used a controversial topic: whether God favors same-sex marriage for homosexuals and some bisexuals. The answer that we found was that people appear to be unable to assess the will of God through prayer.
Communication from God: God could initiate a direct communication to humanity. In order to be convincing, it would have to be totally unambiguous, clear and convincing. One example might be for God to rearrange a few thousand stars to spell out in the evening sky the name of the true religion. Unfortunately, at least within the Judeo-Christian traditions, God seems to be progressively withdrawing from humanity. He walked in person with Adam and Eve. Later, he only appeared in rare occasions as at Mount Sinai. Still later, he communicated with humans only through prophets. Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God and walked among humans in first century CE Palestine. However, he was seen by only a miniscule percentage of the human race. Now, access to God is through prayer.
Unless God were to take the initiative, it appears that there is no way for humans to determine which religion is “true.”