I'm probably being very foolish in trying to define something as deep and wide as religion but the question arose when I asked myself what we most lack today. We don't lack morality of a sort, meaning a morality based on totally materialistic considerations, but morality does not lie at the heart of what religion is. In fact, I would say that a highly moral atheist is a worse person, worse in the sense of further away from truth and real goodness, than a sincere believer who, despite his belief, sins and who might even be a bad person in the eyes of the world.
This is because the believer has something the atheist lacks which is not belief as such but openness to transcendence. It is this that lies at the heart of any proper religion or religious attitude. I say it is not belief as such because you can believe anything. In a way what you believe is of secondary importance. What truly matters and what defines real religion is this inner openness, this sensitivity to a higher reality. Of course, this by itself is nowhere near enough and it can be deformed by the way we react to it, by the mental interpretation (belief) we put on it. But without a sense of transcendent reality (an open spirit is more important than an open mind), no man or woman can be called religious.
So, the essence of religion is not morality and it is not belief. These are important and necessary adjuncts but without spiritual sensitivity they are nothing. Spiritual sensitivity needs to be worked on and developed but it is the foundation of religion, and if it is missing the individual in whom it is missing, be he ever so good as the world defines good, clean-living, moral, a giver of charity and all the rest of it, lives in spiritual darkness and will not be saved which means released into heaven after death. If you do not in a certain sense live in heaven now, if your mind does not already tend towards it and if you are not inwardly yearning for it, you will not find it later. If your heart reaches up to heaven, notwithstanding that your behaviour might fall well short of what is required, then you are saved. You will have work to do but you are facing towards the light. It is this idea that lies behind the doctrine that mere belief in Jesus saves. It is not the intellectual belief that saves for it surely does not. It is spiritual receptivity, openness to the divine. That is the only true belief, and this is what lies at the root of all true religion.