Thousands of barrels of blood have been shed over the idea that “my religion is better than yours” and until these days still, not only academic, but armed conflicts are being fought about the question. The comparison of religions is therefore of great importance and one ought not to tell it off too quickly. For a person to judge something, he first needs a certain standard to judge that something accordingly. Because of this, before I start answering the question whether one religion could be better than another, I will first need to find some valid standards by which to compare the religions.
The first standard is what I will henceforth call the functionality of a religion. This approach of looking at religions is usually used by atheists and religious relativists who found no truth in religions themselves. Despite their belief, these people often think that believing in a religion, and thus from their point in essence believing in an illusion1, can have its positives. What they do then is compare and judge religions according to these positives and benefits for an individual and society.
The second standard is the truthfulness of a religion. Of course, when non-religious people compare religions, there isn’t much sense in using this standard, because they think all religions are false, nevertheless, for religious people the question of where the truth lies is probably the most important one. Despite its importance, however, the objective knowledge of truth is unavailable for us and therefore this standard will be a hard one to use.
The world we live in is smaller and faster than ever before. In this age of globalization, it has become extremely important for an individual as well as for any group, organization, nation and also religion, to use the fact that it is here not alone to its advantage. Nowadays, there is no such thing as merely living in the same world as others, it is necessary now to live in it with others. Because of this, the third standard by which I will compare religions is the ability of a religion to participate in the interreligious dialogue and co-operate with others.
I. The Functionality of a Religion
When thinking about the functionality and the effects of religions on a society, the first things that come to mind are the really great historical influences seen throughout the history of the human race. Religion has been used as a tool to suppress, manipulate and control people. There have been wars fought under symbols of religions. On the other hand, it isn’t only tears and sorrow that the presence of religions has brought to our world. Millions of people found meaning and hope for their lives and many great deeds have been inspired and caused by religious people, because of their faith. From this we see that religion as a motivational resource is ambivalent2 it can be both very positive and very negative. When we want to use the influence and functionality of religions as a standard to judge between them, we have to take in to account both sides of this coin.
The positive effects of religions could be divided to those that affect the individual and those that affect the society in which the religion is established. Almost every religion provides assurances for the person who believes in it. Some of these are afterlife, a caring and fair transcendent creature or god, order of reality or meaning of life. These differ throughout various religions and usually have positive effects on the well-being of the person who believes in them. In fact, "the faith factor"3 has been identified in healthcare, referring to the consistent manner in which research has shown religion to have a positive influence on overall health of a religious individual.
Most religions also provide guidelines of what to believe and how to live in this world. Thanks to religions, the terms morality and ethics were not only coined, but implemented in human’s perception of reality.