Religion
    A sense of God, or whatever else we may call an omnipotent supernatural force, is a prime component of all religious beliefs. Since so many religions exist, perhaps a few of them don't involve a concept of God, or any concept remotely familiar to mainstream Western culture. In any case, despite the inadequacy of my title "religion" to convey the perfect meaning of what this essay treats, it seems the most practical title. The next best is theology, which is seemingly just a dressed-up version of religion.
    Regarding terms, I choose for convenience to use "God" as a catchall word for some sort of positive force more powerful than any other. The Western stereotype of an old man in the clouds, wearing flowing robes, his hair long and white -- is lamentable, but the most concrete image to the majority of us. We'd be in better shape if we envisioned God as Mother Earth, and treated Her with proper respect.
    Most people believe in God, or at least say so. Whether this is because they were taught to by example and upbringing, or because they sense a supernatural presence -- is worth determining. Certainly religion is an inherited institution. But is there a God-force which can be sensed even by people who might have been taught no religion as children?
    Avowed atheists, just like devout believers, can eloquently justify their positions. I would suppose that atheists generally also disbelieve in human "souls," in "creation" of humankind, and in some cases even in any sort of phenomenon that science cannot clutch and explain. As it stands, since nearly all of us owe our religious beliefs (along with many others) to our upbringing and the culture in which we wre raised, then it is easy to understand how a person who embraces the scientific approach will discredit religious beliefs. For, to the scientific mind, a Buddhist is as off-track as a Jew, or an evangelical Christian, or a practitioner of Islam; all such faiths are equally based on ancient stories, not on empiricism or science. To the scientific view, your chance of upbringing accounts for your beliefs. Scientists see no evidence of salvation, of divinity, of anything other than pure evolution. Yes, exceptions exist -- there are scientists who are also firm believers. I have read of some, even recall that an association of them exists. But in the main, and probably increasingly so, scientists are atheists as I suggested.
    Some people, including me, see not the least inconsistency between a God and evolution. Surely the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is literally fabulous. But if a God exists and is more powerful than us, why can't evolution be owing to God? Maybe God chooses to make humans unable to scientifically prove God's existence. In the final pages of Walden, Thoreau aptly compared the human inability to comprehend God to the inability of insects to comprehend the might and glory of humankind.

    "As I stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on the forest floor, and endeavoring to conceal itself from my sight, and ask myself why it will cherish those humble thoughts, and hide its head from me who might, perhaps, be its benefactor, and impart to its race some cheering information, I am reminded of the greater Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over me the human insect."

    Let's be practical. Suppose we put aside as unknowable (or at any rate unprovable) God's existence. What we are then left with in the realm of religion is ethics. Most religions, I think, decree a proper moral framework to serve as a goal if not a binding law. This is entirely practical, whether the believers obey in order to earn eternal life, to avoid hell, or to fit in with their peers.
    Suppose, as in communist Russia, that religion is banned, and God decreed a fiction. Well, then what ethical standards were substituted? Those of the communist government. Corruption and widespread dissatisfaction followed. Religion flourished in secret.
    I think there is either a real supernatural positive force ("God"), or a very strong human desire to believe in such a thing. And, as long as each religious faction would live and let live, not try condemning others as non-believers, we'd all get along in a better way than has been our lot so far. Someone said "religion is the opiate of the masses," and that view is often borne out in fact.
    Some people, while acknowledging that the moral precepts of religion are often commendable, and the belief in God is a harmless thing, still attack religions because of those terrible examples of religious intolerance and persecution which periodically occur. This approach, focusing on the negative incidentals of some religions, is not my preference. I allow that some religions, especially now, are rife with corruption and hypocrisy, are impure and injust. But I don't condemn religious behavior, per se, as a result of the sins of some.
    Just because some Catholic priests are bad partly, doesn't mean that all the saints are figments of imagination. History is rich with accounts of both scoundrels and saints. I have not yet experienced what I'd call a religious revelation, and yet do allow it may happen, and that it has happened to others. I do disavow Roman Catholicism, in which faith I was brought up; my natural instincts are with Protestantism. Let me explain why.
    Jesus, at least as revealed in the Bible, asked people to treat one another compassionately, and to serve God. In short, to be nice to each other, and keep in mind our place. Simple enough. But Roman Catholicism, by adding to the Biblical precepts the doctrine of Divine inspiration to the papacy, gave itself, in my view, a blank check to add whatever it desired. Hence we see grand cathedrals, golden candlesticks, confession, the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into Flesh and Blood, and whatnot. All of this might well have once seem justified to preserve or extend the faith, but it doesn't sit well with me. If God won't let me into Heaven because I eschew organized largescale religion, then I shall at least have plenty of company wherever I wind-up. The moral guidelines, such as the Golden Rule, and the very belief in and respect for God, I value highly. But supporting an institutionalized church seems to be a lie to my conscience. I try to behave, and to set a good example. I admit that there may be a church where my perspective fits in perfectly. Indeed, I don't request a perfect match. But in my view, Roman Catholicism is too much human-derived rather than Biblical-based to suit me.
    And, of course, the Bible itself is not necessarily the Word of God. Forgive me my Western-centric assumptions here. But again, regardless what sort of God we worship, we need to believe in some Force, and to adhere to some guidelines. The Bible is as good as another option, and is very familiar.
    I was much influenced by Theodore Parker's 1841 A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity. In it Parker argues

    "In an age of corruption, as all ages are, Jesus stood and looked up to God. There was nothing between him and the Father of all. He would have us do the same; worship with nothing between us and God. The Christianity of sects, of the pulpit, of society, is ephemeral -- a transitory fly. It will pass off and be forgot."

    As Earth's population soars, Christians and Jews will be outnumbered by Taoists, Buddhists, etc. An objective viewer from, say, another planet, might be very confused about which religion was the most widespread or potent. Does sheer number of followers make for more validity? I should think not. An extinction of sorts has happened to some smallscale religions as the industrialized culture has wiped out some small indigenous cultures, especially in tropical regions.

    I have not done comparative study of religions on my own or in formal schooling. Doubtless my essay would've been more insightful had I done so. But I do know what I think, and have expressed as much. To sum it up: I believe in a God, who is a powerful positive force. I believe humans should act kindly and help each other, while venerating God. I don't rate religions as good or bad, but view them as various expressions, and think their good influences outweighs their bad. I don't belong to any religious congregation, but wouldn't rule out such a thing.