Religion ~ Voluntary Religion
Ethnic Religion ~ Universal Religion
issue associated with the sociological study of religion
is the distinction between ethnic and universal religions.
Ethnic religions may also be called "natural"
religions while universal religions may be called
a natural religion means one is a member by virtue of
being born into it. Membership need not be limited to
believing something. In contrast, a voluntary religion
demands a certain intellectual assent of the basic
doctrine of the faith before one can really be considered
a "member". A natural religion is one that is
closely tied to culture and ethnic heritage - it is what
one is not merely what one believes. A
natural religion is a part of one's personal identity.
Another way of referring to natural religions is to call
them "ethnic religions".
of us are raised and taught a certain religion and may or
may not accept it. It is easy to reject a voluntary
religion - you simply reject the belief. But a natural
religion is near to impossible to entirely reject. One may
choose not to believe and not to practice but culture is a
part of it as well and one cannot reject one's cultural
heritage. (There are people who would identify themselves
as "Jewish" but do not believe in God or
practice the religion. For them, Judaism is a culture, not
a religion). By way of comparison, if you are born an
American and you move to another country, you are still an
American. Being American is part of our cultural heritage
and that we cannot change. But if you are raised in the
Methodist church and move to another church you would no
longer be a Methodist. Being Methodist or Christian
is really something that is supposed to be a matter of
personal choice (the choice to follow Christ) - thus
"voluntary". While you are free to change
churches or reject Christian faith altogether (thus
voluntary) you can't really get away from your American
cultural heritage or stop being "Black,"
Hispanic, or Asian (that's "natural").
is a religion that is independent of culture or race (thus
"universal"). Other religions are intimately
linked to such things (thus "ethnic"). A
"natural" religion is like race or ethnicity -
something you can't entirely get away from. And, like
ethnicity, natural religions tend to remain limited to a
particular people. They do not actively seek converts and
it is difficult, if not impossible to convert into a
natural religion. Again, one has to be born to it. In
contrast, voluntary religions tend to be much more diverse
as they have intentionally "spread the word" to
all corners of the globe with no concern as to the
cultural heritage or ethnic background of the followers.
distinction between natural vs. voluntary is that natural
religions tend to think in terms of group salvation while
voluntary religions tend to think in terms of individual
salvation. Christians should be able to see quickly how
their religion is voluntary: each individual is saved,
whether the community is or not does not impact on the
individual's salvation. The communal concerns of natural
religions makes sense given their tendency to be bound by
culture and ethnicity. Newer, voluntary religions tend to
universalize what natural religions keep to their own
group. Christianity made universal what Judaism kept
within it's ethnic group. Islam unified the Arabs under
one religion rather than the tribal divisions that
pre-dated Islam. Buddhism took the spiritual wisdom of
India and spread it throughout Asia and beyond.
religions also tend to be older than voluntary religions.
The original (oldest) religions were
natural/ethnically linked where everyone in the society
was automatically a follower of the religion of the
society and there was only that one religion in the
society (think of the religions of ancient Greece, Rome
and Egypt - or the religions of the Native American
Indians). Voluntary religions essentially have individuals
choosing to follow some religion other than that of the
social norm. In addition, unlike the relatively newer
voluntary religions, natural religions do not have a
particular founder. Their origin cannot be pinpointed in
history. These religions simply developed gradually, over
many generations dating back to pre-history. Just as no
one "invents" a culture, so no one
"founds" (starts) a natural religion. These are
religions that were already present when the history began
to be recorded.
above distinctions do have exceptions (there are, for
instance, black Jews and Western Hindus), but in general,
the bulk of followers of a natural religion will come from
the same cultural background.