what is religion?

can we define it?

here’s what the oxford dictionary, 9th edition, says about religion.

1 the belief in a superhuman controlling power, esp. in a personal god or gods entitled to obedience and worship. 2 the expression of this in worship. 3 a particular system of faith and worship. 4 life under monastic vows (the way of religion). 5 a thing that one is devoted to (football is their religion) (p 1161)

so? does this definition capture the essence of religion? of what it means to the devout, the doubters, and the atheists? religion affects us all deeply. even those of us who choose to regard it as a mere construct to facilitate social survival.

you know that, more than three decades after my initial indoctrination, i still have a running ticker tape of the apostles’ creed in my head? how these things got drilled into our heads as kids! what i really didn’t get, though, was being told i had to stay hungry and thirsty going to church so i could be ‘pure’ to receive holy communion.

does a 5 or 6 year old kid get that? and why should god care if i drank a glass of juice 20 minutes before mass started? does that really make me bad? too impure to receive god? a disobedient little one? (just so you know … i am not making this up). and yet, i had to go hungry or thirsty because that’s what god wanted. anyway, that’s what i remember about god. about religion. as a kid. the feeling that we are never good enough. for god. and never will be. the notion that suffering has some sort of redeeming, cleansing function.

i digress.
back on track.
religion – how to define it?
well, depending on your perspective,
there are 3 possibilities.

1. religion as a social construct

  • a manifestation of some psychological or moral pathology?
  • a pernicious and deliberate falsehood, spread and encouraged by rulers and clerics in their own interests, in an effort exercise control over others?
  • seeing religions as marginally useful constructs which encode instructions or habits useful for survival in a society
  • seeing religion as ‘the opium of the masses’

2. religion as progressing toward a higher truth

  • reflections of an essential truth?
  • seeing religious truth as relative, due to its varied cultural application and/or expression
  • seeing prophets as messengers of god — individuals given to extraordinary spiritual insight during periods of social decay and acting as purveyors of balance and social survival.
  • seeing religion as evolving over time in a thesis-antithesis-synthesis-great awakening paradigm

3. religion as absolute truth

  • the exclusivist view
  • one belief system … one holy book … one supreme being
  • seeing all things and individuals incongruent with the one belief system as ignorant, devious, false, misguided
  • a sort of arrogant view of truth (“our view is the RIGHT view, all others are wrong”)
  • providing an unwavering perspective that requires individuals to conform to its truth

so….? where do you fit in? before you answer, though … consider this: it’s clear, isn’t it — that intimate connection between your philosophical view of truth and your chosen religious view?
whatever religious perspective you weave into your cultural matrix speaks to your larger view of truth, the universe, humanity, and how we got here.

regardless which point of the star you are coming from …
its profound stuff, ain’t it? 


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Filed under humanity, religion, sociology

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