Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 2: What Is Religion For?

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Write "What is religion for?" as the heading on a sheet of newsprint, and post.
  • Post a sheet of blank newsprint below the first sheet to extend your note-taking space.
  • Optional: Gather markers in a variety of bold colors, to give visual interest to the newsprint notes you take.

Description of Activity

Participants explore why religion exists.

Gather the group where all can see the question you have posted. Ask:

Do you think most people feel the need to connect with something divine, such as a god or goddess, or something greater than or beyond themselves, such as Nature or human destiny? Is this need for connection a need religion fills?

Listen to responses. Write, "Connecting with something bigger than ourselves" under "What is religion for?" Then ask:

When do people feel that urge or need? Why do you suppose they feel that?

Encourage discussion. Follow-up questions might include:

  • Do people feel they need God when the crops are good? When the crops are poor?
  • Do people feel they need Goddess when everybody's healthy?
  • What do people call on a God or Goddess for?

Point out that many rituals are geared toward moments of change or transition. Change can be cause for celebration, or concern, or sometimes both. There is always risk at times of change: birth, becoming an adult, marriage, death. Ask the group:

  • Why do you think so many people involve religion in major life transitions like these?
  • How do you think marking a transition in a religious way might help an individual? Do you think celebrating a transition, such as birth of a new baby, in a religious community might strengthen a sense of belonging? [On newsprint, write "Establishing a sense of belonging."]
  • How might religion help a group of people-a society-mark their important changes?

Say, in your own words:

If we had a religion with many goddesses and gods, we might have deities to cover specific areas of life, so there would be some deity watching over everything that was important to people. For ourselves and our times, what deities do you suppose such a religion might have?

Write youth's responses and ideas on newsprint. Prompt discussion with these questions:

  • Do you suppose we would have a deity for agriculture-for growing crops? Would that be an important deity or a minor one? Why? If we lived two hundred years ago, would your answer be the same? Why, or why not?
  • What about a deity of war? Again, important or minor? Why?
  • What about pottery?
  • What other deities would we have? [Suggest: medicine, technology, sports, cell phones, politics, music]

Conclude discussion when it becomes appropriate to say:

So, the deity becomes more or less important based on how important that area of life is, and how much risk or uncertainty that area holds. It sounds like we are saying the more danger there is in a certain area, the more people are likely to feel a need for support in that area and the more people may want an explanation when things go so terribly wrong.

Religion exists because human beings are meaning makers. We have a drive to understand the world around us and for our presence here to mean something. [Add to the list on newsprint, "Finding meaning and purpose in life."]

Religion springs from the human heart. When the earliest human beings felt a longing to know why they were here, where they came from and what happened when they died, what life meant and what their lives meant, religion was born. [Add "Answering big questions."]

Ask: Are there are any other needs that religions fill? If no one mentions that religions can teach right from wrong, help the group discover the answer, "Helping us distinguish right from wrong;" you might ask if anyone has ever asked themselves if an act they were about to commit is something a good Unitarian Universalist should do.

Add to the newsprint "Knowing right from wrong" and any other suggestions from the group. If possible, keep the newsprint posted for the duration of the program.

To conclude this activity, say in these words or your own:

Religion does, indeed, bind together: It binds meaning to events; it binds a community to a sense of purpose, which makes us each feel we belong. It binds us to something bigger than just ourselves.