According to some scientists, religions are a form of superstition. But then again, some scientists believe that consciousness itself is an illusion and everything can be explained by interactions between chemicals and particles. On one level, religion may have developed in the same way superstitions developed. Once you make the assumption that there is an invisible connection between one thing and another, it opens a whole new world of possibilities.
After making enough such assumptions, primitive mankind could easily have surmised that there was a spiritual being controlling life on Earth. With no idea of what such a spiritual being might have been like, it was natural to imagine God to be some sort of super-human being who could be pleased or angered.
In ancient times, stories were the primary entertainment available. At night, after a long day of hunting and gathering berries, it felt good to sit back and listen to stories explaining how the world worked and where we fit into it. The essence of good storytelling hasn’t changed much, and the best stories are those with some basis in truth, making them even more believable.
When someone had a good day hunting, or narrowly escaped a saber-tooth tiger, a story about how they were aided by God gave the experience added depth and meaning. On the contrary, stories about how God punished those who disobeyed the leaders’ wishes gave those leaders extra authority.
As stories were shared, they became more involved and complex, picking up new details as time progressed. Eventually people wondered how much of them were true.
Different cultures shared different stories, which accounts for the many different religions developed throughout history. Each religion offers something of value to those who practice it. They offer us a way of thinking about the “ultimate nature of the universe” in a way that is more personal and more satisfying to us.
Religion is best defined as your personal relationship with the universe. As such, each of us has our own religion, although it may share many similarities with the religions of others. We may say the same prayers to the same God and still have our own personal relationship to that God.
Some people feel more comfortable relating to a universe of matter and energy, while others are more comfortable relating to a conscious and spiritual universe. Some feel comfortable in a relationship with strict guidelines, while others are more comfort-able in a relationship that’s more open and loving. Some prefer the idea of a father figure ruling the universe, whereas others prefer a mother image nurturing them.
That’s why there will never be “One True Religion.” Different folks relate to the universe in different ways. As I see it, if God created so much variety in trees, birds, and people, God certainly must have also created variety in religion too.