Essential Elements of Organized Religion

Organized religion adds structure and definition to the complexities of belief and faith in God, devotion to Him, and fulfilling the desire to please Him. Jayson Boyett, author of 12 Major World Religions, identifies three characteristics as essential to organized religion:

  • Structured belief system
  • Actions (rituals, deeds, conduct)
  • Address great uncertainties of human existence

So, in order to be defined or classified as such, according to Boyett, organized religions must offer structure, require specific actions of its followers, and address metaphysical and other philosophical questions. In reality, some do better than others. Many organized religions, particularly those among the 20,000+ sects of Christianity, do not require their leaders (ministers, etc.) to study philosophy.

This can be a significant challenge when one is charged with answering philosophical questions of magnitude as great as the uncertainties of human existence . Questions like these noted by Boyett:

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What is the nature of the universe?
  • Why do we suffer?
  • What happens after we die?

Conversely, many faiths demand integration of philosophy into the formation of ministry and study of the faith. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, requires those preparing for the priesthood to study philosophy at a graduate level so they may look beyond blind faith.

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth.

Saint John Paul II began his papal encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) with these words in 1998. He, like many before him, asserted that critical philosophical thinking is vital to a full understanding of faith.

While Boyett raises the metaphysical questions of religion, we must also consider religion under another philosophical lens: moral philosophy. The list of essential elements of organized religion above must be amended to include a moral code. Organized religions demand moral considerations of its faithful in order to follow the will of God.

Consider the ten commandments as revealed in the Torah and the Old Testament. They are a 10-rule moral code established for faithful Jews and Christians. Living and acting righteously in the eyes of God it an critical part of organized religion. So, while morals can be considered “conduct” according to Boyett, let’s amend the list, mentioning moral code specifically, and establish the essential elements of organized religions.

Essential Elements of Organized Religion

  • Structured belief system
  • Actions (rituals, deeds, conduct)
  • Address great uncertainties of human existence
  • Moral code

Rabbi Hillel, and early Jewish leader in first century BC said it well.

“That which is hateful to you, do not so to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go an learn.”

Works Cited

Boyett, Jason. 12 Major World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity’s Most Influential Faiths. Zephyros Press, 2016.

Hillel the Elder.” New World Encyclopedia. N.D.

Pope John Paul II. “Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason.” The Vatican. 14 September 1998.

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