Many people asked me:
“You said that religions are man-made. So, what is the purpose of studying religions then other than religions are being used by politicians to satisfy their own agendas?”
The best answer to this question in my opinion is perhaps:
“Understanding religions in general enables us to live a happier this life.”
I didn't invent the answer. It was given to me by an 80 year-old visiting Buddhist scholar while I was attending a meditation course in Thailand many years ago.
Then I was sitting under a tree meditating one afternoon and an old amicable looking man walked by and he said to me: “Young man, what is the purpose of studying Buddhism?”
I thought it was a simple question, so I answered: “So that we can achieve enlightenment.”
The old man shook his head and asked me to try again.
I pondered for some time but my mind went blank as I couldn't find a suitable answer. The old man smiled, shook his head again and said: “You think too much. No one knows how to judge if one has achieved enlightenment as yet. The purpose of studying Buddhism (and other religions) is to live a happier current life. That was all that the Buddha has preached.”
His answer haunted me for years throughout my years of Buddhism studies and finally I realized what the old man was correct. The original teaching of Buddha was about the correct thinking and actions for a peaceful and happier this life. Hence merit creations and pure land belief were not original curriculum of Theravada Schools.
I think the above answer can equally be applied to other religions as well. Instead of waiting for dooms day to arrive or the fear of being casting into infernos; why not a person just pray and live a happy and productive life now? Happiness is now and not next life or beyond. There is certainly nothing such as sacrifice one’s life for religious matters as when one’s life is ended; no one knows what happens next. For no one has returned to tell his/her story!