Religion is an umbrella term that refers to a broad range of beliefs and practices. It can be difficult to determine what exactly is meant by the word, especially since the meanings of the term have shifted over time. In early modern times, the concept was defined as a belief in one or more gods. Later, Emile Durkheim developed a definition of religion that focused on the function of social solidarity, and Paul Tillich used a functional definition that emphasized the role of the individual’s dominant concerns in organizing their values (whether or not those concerns involved beliefs in unusual realities). These different definitions are all examples of “substantive” definitions of the word.
More recent research has shifted away from such substantive definitions and toward functional ones, in which the concept of religion is defined by the ways it functions in society. This approach is referred to as the symbolic interactionist perspective.
Many scholars, such as Talcott Parsons and David Schilbrack, argue that focusing on the way that the religious phenomenon functions in a society allows us to understand its significance. In other words, the way that the religious phenomenon is defined is less important than its ability to serve a variety of functions in society, including providing meaning and purpose for people’s lives, reinforcing social stability, and influencing people’s moral choices and behaviors.
The ways that religion serves these functions can also help us to better understand its negative effects, such as contributing to inequality and conflict, encouraging people to be selfish, and contributing to the development of mental illness. The ways that religion can improve these negative effects are numerous, and include the provision of community, structure, moral guidance, and hope.
While it is possible to worship alone, most believers prefer to go to a place of worship where they will find others who share the same beliefs. This provides a sense of belonging and provides an easy way to get advice and support when needed. It is also very beneficial for those who are suffering to be able to seek comfort in the presence of a higher power.
In addition, most religions teach their followers to treat other human beings in a certain way, and this can lead to participation in things like charity organizations. This is a good thing and has the potential to reduce social conflict.
The President should appoint, and the Senate should confirm, judges who are sensitive to the role that religion plays in American life. The encroachment of government into nearly every aspect of our private lives has been detrimental to our nation, and religion should be protected from this tyranny. This requires a thoughtful conversation about the role of religion in our society, and Congress should lead that discussion. Then we can ensure that religion continues to play an essential part in the American life. This is what the Founding Fathers intended.