February 23, 2006

What is Religion anyway?

Posted in Religion at 1:01 pm by egalitaria

It’s always a refreshing challenge to discuss religion openly, no barriers. Have been contemplating issues (again) of science, evolution, predestination vs. freewill, creation, life cycles, time, universes and the like.

According to my Blue Bible (chunky peacock blue Sociology textbook that I carried faithfully around during A Level-days, by Haralambos & Holborn), religion is defined in its simplest terms as the belief or subscription to the supernatural. Given that this is a British text, it’s no wonder that its focus, and hence my entire studies on Religion back then, was upon Western Judeo-Christian religions. Any ‘new’ form of religion undertaken by the authors was new age spiritual mysticism and so on.

If religion really is the belief in the supernatural, are systems which do not in fact subscribe to any higher life form considered a religion? By its very definition, the answer is no. What can you term it as, if not a ‘religion’ then? A set of beliefs and values?

Many people attribute Buddhism, for example, to a ‘way of life’. True that its primary focus is upon the way in which daily living is carried out. A set of moral guidelines from which suffering can decrease and happiness increase.

However, it does include teachings of a supernatural. Supernatural meaning anything that deviates from the natural order of the university and humanity. Supernatural in that rebirth is still a teaching. Supernatural in that there is something beyond the human brain, transcending the physical. Supernatural in labels of karmic energy, mental energy, the life flame that carries forth into separate realms. This is to me out of the ‘natural’ sphere.

If it does then carry teachings of the supernatural, is it considered a religion, even if the focus is not upon this? Even if it is of secondary importance, the fact that it still does carry teachings of the supernatural points towards the induction that it is a religion.

What then of its followers? Buddhism differs from other religions in the sense that it teaches one not to accept any of the teachings if one has not personally experienced it. Simply put, it is a “accept what you can accept. reject the rest” religion. Can a person who doesn’t fully believe in the whole of a religion’s teachings be considered an adherent to that religion?

In Christianity, I would say that one has to accept the very basic truths of Jesus’ existence and His life which led to death on the cross for all.

In Buddhism, it is trickier. One practices as far as possible the Five Precepts. Whether or not any other beliefs are subscribed to is immaterial.

My conclusion is that a set of beliefs which include the supernatural is by definition a religion, whether or not it is the primary concern. Secondly, the adherent to the religion who does not necessarily accept the supernatural aspect of it is still considered a follower of that religion.

This may sound foolishly simple and understood but I just had to reason it out, you see… Buddhism is a religion. A follower of Buddhism is a Buddhist.



  1. Jack said,

    Hi there,

    Your blog is cool. Well, I think you will agree if I say that that British chap’s definition of religion being belief of the supernatural is far from sufficient. And like you have mentioned, the western definition of religion is really inadequate to say the least, to define eastern beliefs (hinduism for example). That said, it’s granted that you were looking at the supernatural aspect of religion.

    thanks. actually, it’s not just the british chap. much of sociological theory and perspectives on religion are based on the western concept of it. it’s an academic affair which was borne out of these regions, so you can’t blame them for their inadequacies, at least in the beginnings. they ought to, however, embrace new concepts which they have done of late.

    Good reasoning on Buddhism. My own take: I believe Buddhism like Christianity, and perhaps a good host of other beliefs require faith (which simply means “trust”) in the claims of the Buddha’s system to solve humanity’s problems.

    it’s true that most beliefs require faith to an extent. but the trust you are talking about is based on a range of things, tangible or un. i believe that an apple is red in colour because i see it right in my face. i believe that sugar is sweet because i can taste it. faith is a different matter, because with or without substantial proof, people still subscribe to it. at least in theistic religions. in buddhism one does not require faith to believe in the claims. rather, it is the reasoning out that this methodology works or does not work. also, with experience and only with, can someone say that the teachings make sense.

    not all belief systems require that sort of faith.

    Hope to read more of ur stuff here.


  2. notapundit said,

    If you look up the definition of “religion” in a dictionary you are apt to find that your definition is correct. It is a belief in a supernatural power (singular) or supernatural powers (plural).

    Nevertheless, an alternate definition also exists: A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.

    This is likely what Buddism falls under.

  3. egalitaria said,

    Hi notapundit. Then that leaves the question to be answered, of what “spiritual” means. Perhaps I’ll write something about that soon. It is such a vague concept that virtually anything can fall under this category. Which means any form of spirituality can constitute religion, whether or not I believe in the spirit of my dead dog of my childhood years, for example.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  4. artyutyiuio said,

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