I recommend reading Truth, love, beauty before reading this article.
Religion is attractive to many people because it answers important questions like “why are we here,” but it also resonates with people because it feels like the Truth. At the heart of most religions, you will find bits of philosophy.
I found it to be an interesting and insightful exercise to distill these bits from the various religions. In doing so, you may find that religions have more in common than you originally thought, and this may be especially heartening if stumbling blocks prevent you from becoming a follower to any one religion.
Think of this exercise as if you are making a mandala, a painstaking process that produces fragilely beautiful images. The insights you glean may imperfect, but the feelings of harmony and connection with your fellow man will stay with you long after the sands are swept away.
The Golden Rule– Do onto others as you would have them do to you
Consequences/Karma – There are consequences for your every action, even if it takes awhile to materialize – what goes around will eventually comes around.
Reoccurring cycles – Death and rebirth, creation and destruction
Complementing pairs – Ying and Yang, male and female, light and dark, order and chaos
Desire causes much of the suffering in the world
The Middle Way – Neither having too much nor too little is good
Intuition – There are things we intuitively understand about Reality (ie. woman’s intuition). Zen Buddhism is famous for “teaching without teaching” by asking questions like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “what is a stick if you cannot call it a stick?”
Oneness with all living things – The Native Americans had a deep respect for life, big and small. Buddhists and Hindus believe in reincarnation, so the animals might very well be their friends and relatives from previous lifetimes!
Special nature of mankind – Virtually all religions believe that human life is special. Christianity believes that man was created in God’s image, and we also have the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Suicide is also a sin (to different degrees). Buddhism believes that man occupies one of the better worlds in the reincarnation cycle. Since we are intelligent and self-aware, we are in a better position to reach higher realms than the animals below us.
On a somewhat related note, here is a great video by Alain de Botton which succinctly explains some of the positive aspects of organized religion–aspects that are very attractive to nonbelievers as well.
Science is spiritual