What Constitutes a Religion?
What distinguishes religion from philosophy?

What Constitutes a Religion?
Mr. Natural
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 1:26 PM:
Subject: What Constitutes a Religion?
What is a religion?

Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's explanation of pornography - I know it when I see it - everyone "knows" what religion is, but what exactly constitutes a religion, versus a philosophy or some other type of belief?

Western religions fall into a familiar pattern (to Westerners). Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all based upon a creator, claim humans possess a non-corporeal soul, and describe a life after the end of physical existence. This is how most Westerners define religion - a belief in god and an afterlife.

However, Eastern religions often avoid any discussion of god, the spirit, or an afterlife. Most Buddhists do not believe in a god, K'ung-fu-tzu (Confucius) focused only on social and political relationships between people, and Taoism teaches the right "Way" to live, but not because a god instructs it.

Does religion have to be about god? If not, what is the difference between religion and philosophy? Is humanism a religion? How about atheism?

The term religion - a belief in something transcendent - is relatively new, since such belief was traditionally part of the very fabric of existence and not seen as something distinct. Today, we have a separate category for religious belief, but what do we mean by "religion" in the 21st century?

wuliheron
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 1:44 PM:

Every religion promotes faith, dogma, and worship. Doesn't matter if you want to worship yourself or lime Jello, if you don't have dogma its merely spirituality and if you don't have faith its merely appreciation.
xzJoel
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 2:02 PM:

wuliheron wrote:
Every religion promotes faith, dogma, and worship. Doesn't matter if you want to worship yourself or lime Jello, if you don't have dogma its merely spirituality and if you don't have faith its merely appreciation.


Incorrect, not every religion promotes faith, dogma, and worship, though I wonder if you are religious about your point.

Consider the Unitarian Universalists.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/index.shtml

P.S. Although I will grant that we might end up bickering, in this case, over whether offering worship is the same thing as promoting worship. Though I don't think you can get around the faith thing.
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 2:13 PM:

xzJoel wrote:


Incorrect, not every religion promotes faith, dogma, and worship, though I wonder if you are religious about your point.

Consider the Unitarian Universalists.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/index.shtml

P.S. Although I will grant that we might end up bickering, in this case, over whether offering worship is the same thing as promoting worship. Though I don't think you can get around the faith thing.


Their "principles" such as "The inherent worth and dignity of every person" are their dogma. Every religion in the US, for example, has to make a statement like this to be registered as religion.

Likewise they declare, "Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder..." as one of their sources of faith.

As for worship, they hold services regularly.

Accidental Philosopher
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 2:34 PM:

Mr. Natural wrote:
What is a religion?


A religion is an institutional system with a set of mythological/ethical beliefs guiding the participants.

Mr. Natural wrote:
Does religion have to be about god?


No. Religion can be about enhancing the human condition. So-called "transhumanists" today are an extreme example of this.

Mr. Natural wrote:
If not, what is the difference between religion and philosophy?


Religion requires its followers to hold their beliefs based on faith, whereas philosophy requires its adherents to hold their beliefs based on rational analysis.

Mr. Natural wrote:
Is humanism a religion? How about atheism?


Atheism can function as a religion for some (e.g., British philosopher Alain de Botton wanted to build a temple to atheism). But atheism for me is simply the belief that God and gods don't exist, rather than a religion.
Luabu
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 3:57 PM:
Subject: What Constitutes a Religion?
Very obvious good question Mr Natural
What constitutes a religion for me is when people engage in patterns of activity regularly together for no apparent reason. This broad church to use a pun will include activities like supporting a soccer club regardless of their prowess on the field, mutual drug induced hallucinations in an opium den or believing in the first thing a religous leader pulls from a hat.
In this context you must be insular and undetermined in your actions to be truly non religous.
Diets, fitness or motivational routines are all religious in nature.
People say things like: "I leave the house for work religiously at 8:45 AM."
Neurotic behaviour patterns adhering to a mathematical or logical beat usually indicate that the zealot within us all needs to take a chill pill.


Luabu wink

Edited by To Mega Therion on Feb 5, 2012 - 4:25 AM. Reason: spelling, punctuation
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 4:23 PM:

Accidental Philosopher wrote:


A religion is an institutional system with a set of mythological/ethical beliefs guiding the participants.


Too wide. The Houses of Parliament and my badminton club would be religions by that definition.



On Feb 3, 2012 - 4:46 PM, Accidental Philosopher responded: The Houses of Parliament and your badminton club create ethico-mythological narratives?
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 4:35 PM:

Mr. Natural wrote:
What is the difference between religion and philosophy?


People know their religious beliefs aren't true. That's how they can tell which are their religious beliefs and which aren't. For example religious people are fond of saying that God told them to do such and such, but everybody, believers and unbelievers alike, knows you wouldn't use that as an explanation in a court of law. If a person did say that, the court might say they were mad.


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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 4:57 PM:

Accidental Philosopher wrote:


A religion is an institutional system with a set of mythological/ethical beliefs guiding the participants.



No. Religion can be about enhancing the human condition. So-called "transhumanists" today are an extreme example of this.



Religion requires its followers to hold their beliefs based on faith, whereas philosophy requires its adherents to hold their beliefs based on rational analysis.



Atheism can function as a religion for some (e.g., British philosopher Alain de Botton wanted to build a temple to atheism). But atheism for me is simply the belief that God and gods don't exist, rather than a religion.


What about ancient prehistoric cults that can be defined by different archeological evidence such as the pregnant mother symbol, we know nothing of their beliefs, yet are we to define them as religions?

And even so, when did cults become religions? Does the manifestation of archeological burial sites constitute a religion? I do not think that all religions require their followers to adhere to a belief system based on faith, for example I don't think that Buddhist have a specific faith about the afterlife...etc....
Accidental Philosopher
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Posted Feb 3, 2012 - 5:03 PM:

notsocrates wrote:
What about ancient prehistoric cults that can be defined by different archeological evidence such as the pregnant mother symbol, we know nothing of their beliefs, yet are we to define them as religions? And even so, when did cults become religions? Does the manifestation of archeological burial sites constitute a religion? I do not think that all religions require their followers to adhere to a belief system based on faith, for example I don't think that Buddhist have a specific faith about the afterlife...etc....
Pregnant mother symbols are an example of a mythological system. So such cults fall under my definition of religion. I disagree about Buddhists not having faith. Setting aside Zen Buddhists, conventionally Buddhists believe in karma and reincarnation, fitting the mythological part my definition of religion. They also have a specific ethical system, emphasizing how we need to reduce our attachment to the self and all the suffering associated with it. So they also fit under my definition of religion.
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