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The analysis of the idea of religion shows that it is very complex, and rests on several fundamental conceptions.
It implies first of all the recognition of a Divine personality in and behind the forces of nature, the Lord and Ruler of the world, God.
On earth it is practically coextensive with the human race, though, where it has not been elevated to the supernatural plane through Divine revelation, it labours under serious defects.
It is with religion as affecting the life of man on earth that this article deals.
The damned recognize their dependence on God, but, being without hope of Divine help, are turned from, rather than towards, Him.
Coupled with the sense of need is the persuasion on the part of man that he can bring himself into friendly, beneficent communion with the Deity or deities on whom he feels he depends. Feeling his helplessness and need of Divine assistance, pressed down, perhaps, by sickness, loss, and defeat, recognizing that in friendly communion with the Deity he can find aid, peace, and happiness, he is led voluntarily to perform certain acts of homage meant to bring about this desired result.
What man aims at in religion is communion with the Deity, in which he hopes to attain his happiness and perfection.
In the lower religions, the various phenomena of nature are associated with a number of distinct personalities, though it is rare that among these numerous nature-deities one is not honoured as supreme.
Especially in lower grades of culture, where the nature and utilization of physical laws is but feebly understood, man feels in many ways his helplessness in the presence of the forces of nature : it is the Divine Being that controls them; He it is that can direct them for man's weal or woe.
There thus arises in the natural order a sense of dependence on the Deity, deeply felt need of Divine help. Still it is not the recognition of dependence on God that constitutes the very essence of religion, indispensable as it is.
This spiritual perfection, bringing with it perfect happiness, is realized in part at least in the present life of pain and disappointment, but is to be found fully attained in the life to come.
The desire of happiness and perfection is not the only motive that prompts man to do homage to God.
In the higher religions there is also the sense of duty arising from the recognition of God's sovereignty, and consequently of His strict right to the subjection and worship of man.