What Is Religion?
Religion is a hot topic of discussion these days. Philosophers of Religion, Theologians, Biblical Scholars, Apologist’s and Laypersons have brought up new arguments and expanded upon older ones, effectively allowing persons to become academic theists. The advent of the New Atheists, and subsequent other atheist academics has allowed for a lively discussion to open up. It would seem that persons must have some understanding of what religion actually is in order to contribute to and/or participate in this discussion. However, conceiving of a proper definition of the subject has been notoriously evasive.
-Is Religion merely the “belief in spiritual beings,” as Edward Tylor would describe it? It would seem not, for this would label traditional Buddhism a non-religion.
-How about “a careful and scrupulous observation of the numinous” (Rudolph Otto), or in other words “a dynamic existence or effect, which is not caused by an arbitrary act of will…(which) on the contrary, seizes and controls the human subject, which is always rather its victim than its creator” (Carl Jung)? Well, this effectively eliminates those forms of mysticism (ie. Paganism, Catholicism, Wicca, etc.) which do attempt to cause divine interaction through rituals or sacraments.
-Is religion “the opiate of the people” as Karl Marx proposed? Religion can certainly be a form of oppression utilized by the state to keep the people subservient, but there were times when religion existed but the state was not yet formulated. As such, there were times when this definition was not viable.
– Religion could be “something left over from the infancy of our intelligence… (which) will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines” (Bertrand Russell), but what of those persons who study science or philosophy and steep their lives in science and reason, and are still religious?
-Paul Tillich says religion is “ultimate concern,” and Alfred North Whitehead believes religion to be that which is done “with one’s solitariness.” However, religion can simply be a cultural practice for some, something not constituting ultimate concern or even much concern at all, such as how religion is practiced in Japan today. The solitary nature of mankind in the universe (as far as we can tell) may be the reason for the creation of religion in the first place, but some atheistic forms of Buddhism do not postulate any entities to fill this emptiness and instead ask their adherents to embrace the emptiness itself.
So what is religion? How do you define it? Are there any definitions I didn’t cover which seem adequate to fully convey what is meant by religion? Are definitions themselves inadequate for conveying the meaning behind religion, or of words in general?