Religion relates to human beings in a very broad way, affecting their worldviews and influencing their beliefs, practices, culture, morality, and approach to certain writings or people. It also impacts on society and is often the backbone of social welfare networks.
It deals with the concept of salvation, whether in a literal sense, with eternal life in heaven as in Christianity or nirvana in some Eastern religions, or in a symbolic sense, with overcoming suffering through good deeds, as in Islam. Religions also tend to have an imprint on culture, in terms of dress codes, food and drink, music and architecture, and ways of organising life together as families or communities.
Almost everyone on Earth is a religious believer in some form. Psychologists and neuroscientists, for example, argue that religion fulfils a basic emotional need in humans by providing meaning to a person’s life. In addition to these scientific theories, sociologists and historians have also developed theories of religion based on anthropology, history, theology, philosophy and science.
It is easy to criticise religions for the way in which they can cause intolerance, cruelty, bigotry, social oppression and self-opinionated nastiness, but they also remain, as that first definition of Marx recognised, the heart of what might otherwise be a heartless world. Moreover, they are an important source of the creative potential for human beings.