Gods and Religion – a Sideways Look

For the sake of definition, let's say that Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, rituals, a code of ethics and a philosophy of life.

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Terry Pratchett's Discworld

In the Discworld series of book, Gods are often important characters.
Gods are everywhere on the Discworld and the world's peculiar ecology gives power to belief. Gods exist in potentia in numbers uncountable, but the moment an event of any note occurs – a god becomes tied to it and begins to manifest in the physical world.
Most gods remain small and unknown, but a very few come to the notice of humanity, whose belief then shapes and strengthens them until they gather enough power to join the Disc's vast, unwieldy pantheon.

Gods on the Discworld exist as long as people believe in them and their power grows as their followers increase.
This is a philosophy echoing the real-world politics of the power of religion and is most detailed in the novel Small Gods. If people should cease believing in a particular god (say, if the religion becomes more important than faith) the god begins to fade and, eventually, will "die", becoming little more than a faded wispy echo. How true is this in the real world?

How Many Religions Are There?

There are around 20 major world religions though many of these have up to thousands of varieties, plus there are countless numbers of more regional isolated religions.
Why so many?
If you think of religion as just a facet of human culture, then each culture may create one or more religions.
If you think of religion as Man's search for a higher consciousness then maybe the diversity of religious beliefs is to do with Man's capacity to find ways to see God.
Or you can see the large number of disparate and differing religions as evidence that all or most must be based on ignorance.
If you believe that Man created the Gods in his own image (albeit magnified) then there's no wonder there are so many Gods and religions.

Some Interesting Gods and Religions

  • The Yaohnanen of Vanuatu believe that Prince Phillip is a God and they await his return.
  • The Intergalactic Overlord Xenu of Scientology came to earth 75 million years ago
  • The "Cosmic People of Light Powers" battle against extra-terrestrial beings called Lizard men.
  • Hathor is the Goddess of sex, drugs and Rock 'n' Roll (Stargate SG1 TV series)
  • Raelism is the worlds largest UFO religion
  • Kopimism is a religion in Sweden, started by a Philosophy student, that belives the act of copying is sacred
Why in a world of scientific achievement do people still believe in supernatural beings as deities?

Perhaps they need to 'believe' or need to follow their upbringing and/or culture or have just never stopped to think clearly.

Key Religions

(the numbers of followers are approximate as various sources give different figures)
ReligionFollowersGod(s)AgeAfterlife
Christianity2.1 billion1 (with 3 aspects)2000 years Eternal heaven or hell
Islam1.6 billion11400 yearsParadise or hell
Hinduism900 millionLotsThousands of years Re-incarnation until Enlightenment
Buddhism400 millionNone2500 yearsRe-incarnation until Nirvana
Taoism20 millionNone2600 yearsNon being
Judaism16 million13300 yearsNot clear

What Do I Believe?

  • Gods and religions are created by Man (in his own image - albeit magnified)
  • The creation of Gods and religion is an expression of the deep need to understand the world and why we are here.
  • Religions sometimes have Spiritual values underpinning them but often don't and are in large part just rules and practices.
  • "Prayer" and rituals etc. can be very powerful but the power is from the person not any God that they believe in.