For an individual who might be considering a different religion, an ideal religion checklist could be very useful.

What is religion

Before defining the components of the ideal religion, we should first define what religion is.  If you asked people that question in Europe or the Americas you might get a definition of Christianity, whereas in China the answer might be Buddhism or in the Middle East it would be Islam.

Some people might say religion requires a belief in god or gods. But there are many atheistic religions in the world, and in the United States of America the government recognizes atheism itself as a religion.

Another response may be that religion at least involves a belief system, but humanism and other religions who extol questioning actually shun the concept of belief.

We therefore need a definition that all religions would all fit into, a working definition of what religion actually is. Perhaps a more fundamental approach is not to analyze what religion is, but to examine why it exists and how it is structured.

Religion provides answers

Throughout history religions have arisen in an attempt to provide the answers to questions about life in general. They developed from within various cultures and reflect the body of knowledge available to those people at that time.  Religion therefore initially exists to provide the individual with answers in the form of a structured view of the world.

Religion provides community

Humans are social creatures, and religion is also is a social construct offering the individual a sense of belonging or community with other people with like minds by providing them with a common world view. A second definition of religion, then, is that it gives the individual a sense of community.

Religions create institutions

As religions develop over time they become hierarchical institutions and soon become focused on the institution itself rather than the individuals they were originally intended to serve. They also elevate certain members of their societies into privileged ‘priest classes’ who then develop self-serving resistance to change and promote themselves in an authoritative position of the religion over the followers.

When they offer only static solutions religions fail to allow for the dynamic of change as new information is discovered. Rather than seeking fresh answers to new questions, institutionalized religions instead fall back on established dogma and view alternative ideas or emerging religions as threats which they feel compelled to oppose, often by force or exclusion from the society itself.  The more they become institutionalized, the more religions lose their ability to provide satisfying answers.

Religions create group mentality

As religious institutions become more intolerant they cause their followers to fall into an ‘us versus them’ mentality and even try to deprive them of the freedom to associate with those who have conflicting views without condemnation.

Simone de Beauvoir, in her book The Ethics of Ambiguity, argues that embracing our own personal freedom requires us to fight for the freedoms of all. This sentiment can appropriately be used when discussing freedom of religion and strongly suggests that, to be successful, a religion should also recognize other religions and respect the choices made by individuals to subscribe to whichever one works the best for them.

An Ideal Religion

Since humans are social creatures with the need to ask questions about everything, an ideal religion should be able to satisfy those needs without being threatened by the dynamic of change as new information is discovered.   An ideal religion would be flexible enough to embrace and incorporate these changes, or help guide the individual to their own answers by providing them with the means to seek knowledge and truth on their own.

Ideal Religion Checklist

Using the information from above, we are then able to define an ideal religion as one which has the following five characteristics:

  1. Satisfies an individual’s need for knowledge about their relationship with the world
  2. Is focused on the individual’s needs rather than on preserving the group
  3. Provides a shared worldview with others
  4. Is flexible and allows for updates as new information becomes available
  5. Is tolerant of other points of view and treats all humans with respect

We now have a simple checklist for the individual seeking a different religion to evaluate it.