2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious movements, traditions and organizations
A religion is a set of beliefs and practices, often centered upon specific supernatural and moral claims about reality, the cosmos, and human nature, and often codified as prayer, ritual, or religious law. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and religious experience. The term "religion" refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.
In the frame of European religious thought, religions present a common quality, the "hallmark of patriarchal religious thought": the division of the world in two comprehensive domains, one sacred, the other profane. Religion is often described as a communal system for the coherence of belief focusing on a system of thought, unseen being, person, or object, that is considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine, or of the highest truth. Moral codes, practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and scriptures are often traditionally associated with the core belief, and these may have some overlap with concepts in secular philosophy. Religion is also often described as a " way of life" or a Life stance.
The development of religion has taken many forms in various cultures. "Organized religion" generally refers to an organization of people supporting the exercise of some religion with a prescribed set of beliefs, often taking the form of a legal entity (see religion-supporting organization). Other religions believe in personal revelation. "Religion" is sometimes used interchangeably with " faith" or " belief system," but is more socially defined than that of personal convictions.
|Religion by country|
Demography of religions by country
The English word religion is in use since the 13th century, loaned from Anglo-French religiun (11th century), ultimately from the Latin religio, "reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety, the res divinae".
The ultimate origins of Latin religio are obscure. It is usually accepted to derive from ligare "bind, connect"; likely from a prefixed re-ligare, i.e. re (again) + ligare or "to reconnect." This interpretation is favoured by modern scholars such as Tom Harpur and Joseph Campbell, but was made prominent by St. Augustine, following the interpretation of Lactantius. Another possibility is derivation from a reduplicated *le-ligare. A historical interpretation due to Cicero on the other hand connects lego "read", i.e. re (again) + lego in the sense of "choose", "go over again" or "consider carefully".
Definitions of religion
Religion has been defined in a wide variety of ways. Most definitions attempt to find a balance somewhere between overly sharp definition and meaningless generalities. Some sources have tried to use formalistic, doctrinal definitions while others have emphasized experiential, emotive, intuitive, valuational and ethical factors. Definitions mostly include:
- a notion of the transcendent or numinous, often, but not always, in the form of theism
- a cultural or behavioural aspect of ritual, liturgy and organized worship, often involving a priesthood, and societal norms of morality ( ethos) and virtue ( arete)
- a set of myths or sacred truths held in reverence or believed by adherents
Sociologists and anthropologists tend to see religion as an abstract set of ideas, values, or experiences developed as part of a cultural matrix. For example, in Lindbeck's Nature of Doctrine, religion does not refer to belief in "God" or a transcendent Absolute. Instead, Lindbeck defines religion as, "a kind of cultural and/or linguistic framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought… it is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments.” According to this definition, religion refers to one's primary worldview and how this dictates one's thoughts and actions.
Other religious scholars have put forward a definition of religion that avoids the reductionism of the various sociological and psychological disciplines that reduce religion to its component factors. Religion may be defined as the presence of a belief in the sacred or the holy. For example Rudolf Otto's "The Idea of the Holy," formulated in 1917, defines the essence of religious awareness as awe, a unique blend of fear and fascination before the divine. Friedrich Schleiermacher in the late 18th century defined religion as a "feeling of absolute dependence."
The Encyclopedia of Religion defines religion this way:
In summary, it may be said that almost every known culture involves the religious in the above sense of a depth dimension in cultural experiences at all levels — a push, whether ill-defined or conscious, toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behaviour are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience — varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture."
Other encyclopedic definitions include: "A general term used... to designate all concepts concerning the belief in god(s) and goddess(es) as well as other spiritual beings or transcendental ultimate concerns" and "human beings' relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine."
Religion and superstition
In keeping with the Latin etymology of the word, religious believers have often seen other religions as superstition. Likewise, some atheists, agnostics, deists, and skeptics regard religious belief as superstition.
Religious practices are most likely to be labeled "superstitious" by outsiders when they include belief in extraordinary events (miracles), an afterlife, supernatural interventions, apparitions or the efficacy of prayer, charms, incantations, the meaningfulness of omens, and prognostications.
Greek and Roman pagans, who modeled their relations with the gods on political and social terms scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods, as a slave feared a cruel and capricious master. "Such fear of the gods (deisidaimonia) was what the Romans meant by 'superstition' (Veyne 1987, p 211). Early Christianity was outlawed as a superstitio Iudaica, a "Jewish superstition", by Domitianin the 80s AD, and by AD 425, Theodosius II outlawed pagan traditions as superstitious.
The Roman Catholic Church considers superstition to be sinful in the sense that it denotes a lack of trust in the divine providence of God and, as such, is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states superstition "in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion" (para. #2110).
The Catechism clearly dispels commonly held preconceptions or misunderstandings about Catholic doctrine relating to superstitious practices:
Superstition is a deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand is to fall into superstition. Cf. Matthew 23:16-22 (para. #2111)
Development of religion
There are a number of models regarding the ways in which religions come into being and develop. Broadly speaking, these models fall into three categories:
- Models which see religions as social constructions;
- Models which see religions as progressing toward higher, objective truth;
- Models which see a particular religion as absolutely true.
- Men make gods in their own image; those of the Ethiopians are black and snub-nosed, those of the Thracians have blue eyes and red hair.
Ethnic religions may include officially sanctioned and organized civil religions with an organized clergy, but they are characterized in that adherents generally are defined by their ethnicity, and conversion essentially equates to cultural assimilation to the people in question. The notion of gentiles ("nations") in Judaism reflect this state of affairs, the implicit assumption that each nation will have its own religion. Historical examples include Germanic polytheism, Celtic polytheism, Slavic polytheism and pre-Hellenistic Greek religion.
The "Axial Age"
Karl Jaspers, in his Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (The Origin and Goal of History), identified a number of key Axial Age thinkers as having had a profound influence on future philosophy and religion, and identified characteristics common to each area from which those thinkers emerged. Jaspers saw in these developments in religion and philosophy a striking parallel without any obvious direct transmission of ideas from one region to the other, having found very little recorded proof of extensive inter-communication between the ancient Near East, Greece, India and China. Jaspers held up this age as unique, and one which to compare the rest of the history of human thought to. Jaspers' approach to the culture of the middle of the first millennium BCE has been adopted by other scholars and academics, and has become a point of discussion in the history of religion.
In its later part, the "Axial Age" culminated in the development of monism and monotheism, notably of Platonic realism and Neoplatonism in Hellenistic philosophy, the notion of atman in Vedanta Hindu philosophy, and the notion of Tao in Taoism.
The present-day world religions established themselves throughout Eurasia during the Middle Ages by: Christianization of the Western world; Buddhist missions to East Asia; the decline of Buddhism and rise of Hinduism in the Indian subcontinent; and the spread of Islam throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe and India.
During the Middle Ages, Muslims were in conflict with Zoroastrians during the Islamic conquest of Persia; Christians were in conflict with Muslims during the Byzantine-Arab Wars, Crusades, Reconquista and Ottoman wars in Europe; Christians were in conflict with Jews during the Crusades, Reconquista and Inquisition; Shamans were in conflict with Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Christians during the Mongol invasions; and Muslims were in conflict with Hindus and Sikhs during Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent.
Many medieval religious movements emphasized mysticism, such as the Cathars and related movements in the West, the Bhakti movement in India and Sufism in Islam. Monotheism reached definite forms in Christian Christology and in Islamic Tawhid. Hindu monotheist notions of Brahman likewise reached their classical form with the teaching of Adi Shankara.
European colonisation during the 15th to 19th centuries resulted in the spread of Christianity to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Australia and the Philippines. The 18th century saw the beginning of secularisation in Europe, rising to notability in the wake of the French Revolution.
In the 20th century, the regimes of Communist Eastern Europe and Communist China were explicitly anti-religious. A great variety of new religious movements originated in the 20th century, many proposing syncretism of elements of established religions. Adherence to such new movements is limited, however, remaining below 2% worldwide in the 2000s. Adherents of the classical world religions account for more than 75% of the world's population, while adherence to indigenous tribal religions has fallen to 4%. As of 2005, an estimated 14% of the world's population identifies as nonreligious.
Religious traditions fall into super-groups in comparative religion, arranged by historical origin and mutual influence. Abrahamic religions originate in the Middle East, Indian religions in India and Far Eastern religions in East Asia. Another group with supra-regional influence are African diasporic religions, which have their origins in Central and West Africa.
- Abrahamic religions are by far the largest group, and these consist primarily of Christianity, Islam and Judaism (sometimes Bahá'í is also included). They are named for the patriarch Abraham, and are unified by their strict monotheism. Today, around 3.4 billion people are followers of Abrahamic religions and are spread widely around the world apart from the regions around South-East Asia. Several Abrahamic organizations are vigorous proselytizers.
- Indian religions originated in Greater India and tend to share a number of key concepts, such as dharma and karma. They are of the most influence across the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, South East Asia, as well as isolated parts of Russia. The main Indian religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Indian religions mutually influenced each other. Sikhism was also influenced by the Abrahamic tradition of Sufism.
- Far Eastern religions consist of several East Asian religions which make use of the concept of Tao (in Chinese) or Do (in Japanese or Korean). They include Taoism, Shinto, Chondogyo, Caodaism, and Yiguandao. Far Eastern Buddhism (in which the group overlaps with the "Indian" group) and Confucianism (which by some categorizations is not a religion) are also included.
- Iranic religions originated in Iran and include Zoroastrianism, Yazdanism and historical traditions of Gnosticism ( Mandaeanism, Manichaeism). It has significant overlaps with Abrahamic traditions, e.g. in Sufism and in recent movements such as Bábísm and Bahá'í.
- African diasporic religions practiced in the Americas, imported as a result of the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th to 18th centuries, building of traditional religions of Central and West Africa.
- Indigenous tribal religions, formerly found on every continent, now marginalized by the major organized faiths, but persisting as undercurrents of folk religion. Includes African traditional religions, Asian Shamanism, Native American religions, Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal traditions and arguably Chinese folk religion (overlaps with Far Eastern religions). Under more traditional listings, this has been referred to as " Paganism" along with historical polytheism.
- New religious movements, a heterogeneous group of religious faiths emerging since the 19th century, often syncretizing, re-interpreting or reviving aspects of older traditions (Bahá'í, Hindu revivalism, Ayyavazhi, Pentecostalism, polytheistic reconstructionism), some inspired by science-fiction ( UFO religions). See List of new religious movements, list of groups referred to as cults.
Demographic distribution of the major super-groupings mentioned is shown in the table below:
|Name of Group||Name of Religion||Number of followers||Date of Origin||Main regions covered|
| Abrahamic religions
|Christianity||2.1 billion||1st c.||Worldwide except Northwest Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Central, East, and Southeast Asia.|
|Islam||1.5 billion||7th c.||Middle East, Northern Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Western Africa, Indian subcontinent, Malay Archipelago with large population centers existing in Eastern Africa, Balkan Peninsula, Russia, Europe and China.|
|Judaism||14 million||1300 BCE||>Israel and among Jewish diaspora (live mostly in USA and Europe)|
|Bahá'í Faith||5 million||19th c.||Dispersed worldwide with no major population centers|
| Indian religions
|Hinduism||900 million||no founder||Indian subcontinent, Fiji, Guyana and Mauritius|
|Buddhism||376 million||Iron Age (1200–300 BCE)||Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Indochina, regions of Russia.|
|Sikhism||25.8 million||15th c.||India, Pakistan, Africa, Canada, USA, United Kingdom|
|Jainism||4.2 million||Iron Age (1200–300 BCE)||India, and East Africa|
| Far Eastern religions
|Taoism||unknown||Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC-481 BC)||China and the Chinese diaspora|
|Confucianism||unknown||Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC-481 BC)||China, Korea, Vietnam and the Chinese and Vietnamese diasporas|
|Shinto||4 million||no founder||Japan|
|Yiguandao||1-2 million||c. 1900||Taiwan|
|Chinese folk religion||394 million||no founder, a combination of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism||China|
|Primal indigenous||300 million||no founder||India, Asia|
|African traditional and diasporic||100 million||no known founder||Africa, Americas|
each over 500 thousand
|Juche||19 million||North Korea|
Religious belief usually relates to the existence, nature and worship of a deity or deities and divine involvement in the universe and human life. Alternately, it may also relate to values and practices transmitted by a spiritual leader. Unlike other belief systems, which may be passed on orally, religious belief tends to be codified in literate societies (religion in non-literate societies is still largely passed on orally). In some religions, like the Abrahamic religions, it is held that most of the core beliefs have been divinely revealed.
Related forms of thought
Religion and science
Religious knowledge, according to religious practitioners, may be gained from religious leaders, sacred texts ( scriptures), and/or personal revelation. Some religions view such knowledge as unlimited in scope and suitable to answer any question; others see religious knowledge as playing a more restricted role, often as a complement to knowledge gained through physical observation. Some religious people maintain that religious knowledge obtained in this way is absolute and infallible ( religious cosmology).
The scientific method gains knowledge by testing hypotheses to develop theories through elucidation of facts or evaluation by experiments and thus only answers cosmological questions about the physical universe. It develops theories of the world which best fit physically observed evidence. All scientific knowledge is subject to later refinement in the face of additional evidence. Scientific theories that have an overwhelming preponderance of favorable evidence are often treated as facts (such as the theories of gravity or evolution).
Many scientists held strong religious beliefs (see List of Christian thinkers in science) and worked to harmonize science and religion. Isaac Newton, for example, believed that gravity caused the planets to revolve about the Sun, and credited God with the design. In the concluding General Scholium to the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, he wrote: "This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being." Nevertheless, conflict arose between religious organizations and individuals who propagated scientific theories which were deemed unacceptable by the organizations. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has in the past reserved to itself the right to decide which scientific theories were acceptable and which were unacceptable. In the 17th century, Galileo was tried and forced to recant the heliocentric theory based on the medieval church's stance that the Greek Hellenistic system of astronomy was the correct one.
Many theories exist as to why religions sometimes seem to conflict with scientific knowledge. In the case of Christianity, a relevant factor may be that it was among Christians that science in the modern sense was developed. Unlike other religious groups, as early as the 17th century the Christian churches had to deal directly with this new way to investigate nature and seek truth.
The perceived conflict between science and Christianity may also be partially explained by a literal interpretation of the Bible adhered to by many Christians, both currently and historically. The Catholic Church has always held with Augustine of Hippo who explicitly opposed a literal interpretation of the Bible whenever the Bible conflicted with Science. The literal way to read the sacred texts became especially prevalent after the rise of the Protestant reformation, with its emphasis on the Bible as the only authoritative source concerning the ultimate reality. This view is often shunned by both religious leaders (who regard literally believing it as petty and look for greater meaning instead) and scientists who regard it as an impossibility.
Some Christians have disagreed or are still disagreeing with scientists in areas such as the validity of Keplerian astronomy, the theory of evolution, the method of creation of the universe and the Earth, and the origins of life. On the other hand, scholars such as Stanley Jaki have suggested that Christianity and its particular worldview was a crucial factor for the emergence of modern science. In fact, most of today's historians are moving away from the view of the relationship between Christianity and science as one of "conflict" - a perspective commonly called the conflict thesis. Gary Ferngren in his historical volume about Science & Religion states:
While some historians had always regarded the [conflict] thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.
In the Bahá'í Faith, the harmony of science and religion is a central tenet. The principle states that that truth is one, and therefore true science and true religion must be in harmony, thus rejecting the view that science and religion are in conflict. `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, asserted that science and religion cannot be opposed because they are aspects of the same truth; he also affirmed that reasoning powers are required to understand the truths of religion and that religious teachings which are at variance with science should not be accepted; he explained that religion has to be reasonable since God endowed humankind with reason so that they can discover truth. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, described science and religion as "the two most potent forces in human life."
Proponents of Hinduism claim that Hinduism is not afraid of scientific explorations, nor of the technological progress of mankind. According to them, there is a comprehensive scope and opportunity for Hinduism to mold itself according to the demands and aspirations of the modern world; it has the ability to align itself with both science and spiritualism. This religion uses some modern examples to explain its ancient theories and reinforce its own beliefs. For example, some Hindu thinkers have used the terminology of quantum physics to explain some basic concepts of Hinduism such as Maya or the illusory and impermanent nature of our existence.
The philosophical approach known as pragmatism, as propounded by the American philosopher William James, has been used to reconcile scientific with religious knowledge. Pragmatism, simplistically, holds that the truth of a set of beliefs can be indicated by its usefulness in helping people cope with a particular context of life. Thus, the fact that scientific beliefs are useful in predicting observations in the physical world can indicate a certain truth for scientific theories; the fact that religious beliefs can be useful in helping people cope with difficult emotions or moral decisions can indicate a certain truth for those beliefs. (For a similar postmodern view, see grand narrative).
Religion, metaphysics, and cosmology
Being both forms of belief system, religion and philosophy meet in several areas - notably in the study of metaphysics and cosmology. In particular, a distinct set of religious beliefs will often entail a specific metaphysics and cosmology. That is, a religion will generally have answers to metaphysical and cosmological questions about the nature of being, of the universe, humanity, and the divine.
Mysticism and esotericism
Mysticism focuses on methods other than logic, but (in the case of esoteric mysticism) not necessarily excluding it, for gaining enlightenment. Rather, meditative and contemplative practices such as Vipassanā and yoga, physical disciplines such as stringent fasting and whirling (in the case of the Sufi dervishes), or the use of psychoactive drugs such as LSD, lead to altered states of consciousness that logic can never hope to grasp. However, regarding the latter topic, mysticism prevalent in the 'great' religions (monotheisms, henotheisms, which are perhaps relatively recent, and which the word 'mysticism' is more recent than,) includes systems of discipline that forbid drugs that damage the body, including the nervous system.
Mysticism (to initiate) is the pursuit of communion with, or conscious awareness of ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or Deity through direct, personal experience (intuition or insight) rather than rational thought. Mystics speak of the existence of realities behind external perception or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible through personal experience. They say that such experience is a genuine and important source of knowledge.
Esotericism is often spiritual (thus religious) but can be non-religious/-spiritual, and it uses intellectual understanding and reasoning, intuition and inspiration (higher noetic and spiritual reasoning,) but not necessarily faith (except often as a virtue,) and it is philosophical in its emphasis on techniques of psycho-spiritual transformation ( esoteric cosmology). Esotericism refers to "hidden" knowledge available only to the advanced, privileged, or initiated, as opposed to exoteric knowledge, which is public. All religions are probably somewhat exoteric, but most ones of ancient civilizations such as Yoga of India, and the mystery religions of ancient Egypt, Israel (Kabbalah,) and Greece are examples of ones that are also esoteric.
Members of an organized religion may not see any significant difference between religion and spirituality. Or they may see a distinction between the mundane, earthly aspects of their religion and its spiritual dimension.
Some individuals draw a strong distinction between religion and spirituality. They may see spirituality as a belief in ideas of religious significance (such as God, the Soul, or Heaven), but not feel bound to the bureaucratic structure and creeds of a particular organized religion. They choose the term spirituality rather than religion to describe their form of belief, perhaps reflecting a disillusionment with organized religion (see Major religious groups), and a movement towards a more "modern" — more tolerant, and more intuitive — form of religion. These individuals may reject organized religion because of historical acts by religious organizations, such as Christian Crusades and Islamic Jihad, the marginalisation and persecution of various minorities or the Spanish Inquisition. The basic precept of the ancient spiritual tradition of India, the Vedas, is the inner reality of existence, which is essentially a spiritual approach to being.
The word myth has several meanings.
- A traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon;
- A person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence; or
- A metaphor for the spiritual potentiality in the human being.
Ancient polytheistic religions, such as those of Greece, Rome, and Scandinavia, are usually categorized under the heading of mythology. Religions of pre-industrial peoples, or cultures in development, are similarly called "myths" in the anthropology of religion. The term "myth" can be used pejoratively by both religious and non-religious people. By defining another person's religious stories and beliefs as mythology, one implies that they are less real or true than one's own religious stories and beliefs. Joseph Campbell remarked, "Mythology is often thought of as other people's religions, and religion can be defined as mis-interpreted mythology."
In sociology, however, the term myth has a non-pejorative meaning. There, myth is defined as a story that is important for the group whether or not it is objectively or provably true. Examples include the death and resurrection of Jesus, which, to Christians, explains the means by which they are freed from sin and is also ostensibly a historical event. But from a mythological outlook, whether or not the event actually occurred is unimportant. Instead, the symbolism of the death of an old "life" and the start of a new "life" is what is most significant.
Humans have many different methods which attempt to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and our place in it (cosmology). Religion is only one of the methods for trying to answer one or more of these questions. Other methods include science, philosophy, metaphysics, astrology, esotericism, mysticism, and forms of shamanism, such as the sacred consumption of ayahuasca among Peruvian Amazonia's Urarina. The Urarina have an elaborate animistic cosmological system, which informs their mythology, religious orientation and daily existence. In many cases, the distinction between these means are not clear. For example, Buddhism and Taoism have been regarded as schools of philosophies as well as religions.
Given the generalized discontents with modernity, consumerism, over- consumption, violence and anomie, many people in the so-called industrial or post-industrial West rely on a number of distinctive religious worldviews. This in turn has given rise to increased religious pluralism, as well as to what are commonly known in the academic literature as new religious movements, which are gaining ground across the globe.
The Canadian scholar of comparative religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith argued that religion, rather than being a universally valid category as is generally supposed, is a peculiarly European concept of comparatively recent origin.
Most Western criticism of religious constructs and their social consequences has come, however, from atheists and agnostics. Anti-religious sentiment first gathered force during the 18th century European Enlightenment, although pioneering critics such as Voltaire and his fellow Encyclopedists were for the most part deists. The French Revolution then instituted what later became known as secularism, a constitutional declaration of the separation of church and state. As well as being adopted by the new French and U.S. republics, secularism soon came to be adopted by a number of nation states, both revolutionary and post-colonial. Marx famously declared religion to be the "opium of the people," a statement the implications of which were applied with an iron fist in social systems inspired by his writings, most notably in the Soviet Union and China and, most notoriously, in Cambodia. The possible implications of the rest of Marx's celebrated sentence - that religion is "the heart of a heartless world" - were left stubbornly unconsidered. Systematic criticism of the philosophical underpinnings of religion had paralleled the upsurge of scientific discourse within industrial society: T.H. Huxley had in 1869 coined the term "agnostic," a baton taken up with alacrity by such figures as Robert Ingersoll and, later, Bertrand Russell, who told the world Why I am not a Christian.
Many contemporary critics consider religion irrational by definition. Some assert that dogmatic religions are in effect morally deficient, elevating to moral status ancient, arbitrary, and ill-informed rules - taboos on eating pork, for example, as well as dress codes and sexual practices - possibly designed for reasons of hygiene or even mere politics in a bygone era.
In North America and Western Europe the social fallout of the 9/11 attacks has fertilized a flurry of secularist tracts with titles such as The God Delusion, The End of Faith and God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. This criticism is mostly focused on the monotheistic Abrahamic traditions.