February 23, 2006
What is Religion anyway?
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.
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