What is religion?

Judges often have to decide what “religion” means for legal purposes. For example, the American Supreme Court had to decide whether, when Congress provided a “conscientious objection” exemption from military service for men whose religion would not allow them to serve, an atheist whose moral convictions also prohibited service qualified for the objection. It decided that he did qualify.The Court, called upon to interpret the Constitution’s guarantee of “free exercise of religion” in another case, declared that many religions flourish in the United States that do not recognize a god, including something the Court called “secular humanism.” Ordinary people, moreover, have come to use “religion” in contexts having nothing to do with either gods or ineffable forces. They say that Americans make a religion of their Constitution, and that for some people baseball is a religion. These latter uses of “religion” are only metaphorical, to be sure, but they seem parasitic not on beliefs about God but rather on deep commitments more generally.

5 Responses to “What is religion?”

  1. fwiw says:

    Religion locally has become a patchwork of social clubs for the self righteous. There are enough denominations and independent congregations today which offer a smorgasbord of often contradictory tenets whose members can adhere to as strongly or as loosely as they wish as long as they talk the talk and drop their check in the bowl.

    The city, state and national leaders are very grateful for the various denominations appeasing 50%+ of the population. The promise of justice and reward in the next life has helped keep the sins and stupidity of politicians hidden under the rugs and in the closets. And the politicians do envy the preachers a great deal. The preachers get 10% off the top with promises to deliver on the Last Day. By then they will be gone but will enjoy the “good life” in the mean time.

  2. Lisa says:

    A therapist told me that people go to church more for the social benefits and some do not even believe in a God. Being part of a group has long been the human key to survival. Political forces have used religion to control people such as in wars and classes. Aristocrats were highly educated and limited the serfs education to be of service to them. Many religions promise rewards after death with no proof of collection.

    Morals and ethics have been the major teachings but vary with different religions. Other historic sources such as Aesop’s fables or Homer also teach life’s lessons. There are some emotional benefits to having beliefs in common with your fellow man but as the world communication has brought different cultures within in shouting distance, animosity runs high.

  3. Lisa says:

    Can reflective and honest intellectuals actually believe in the church’s teachings?

  4. jnewman says:

    Mahatma Ghandi is reported to have said he loved “your Christ but not so much your Christians”. Whether he said it or not he has a point. More to your point Lisa, leaving out the reflective and honest I am sure that some intellectuals believe in someones church teachings. Maybe the real question is which church? And why don’t we have a civil ceremony for every marriage and a religious marriage for those wishing a church cermony. Europe gets it done. Get married in the church and then go to a court for the civil cermony. Government does not recognize any marriage except the civil. Or maybe that was the old school.

    • Lisa says:

      There is no doubt that teachings based on experience of cause and effect give the best probability of working and I am sure that is not just a belief but rather a scientific hypothesis. Beliefs alone do not make it so.

      So many beliefs are connected to personal human experiences that we do not fully understand. The human experience of objective reality is far from the datum that machines tell us.

      Tradition is taught and based on best practices of the past. Marriage was a strong condition of survival in history but the conditions are somewhat different today.

      The government laws are made by people and not science so they tend to be based on beliefs rather than science or the science is bought to reflect a stance of power beliefs supported by funding.

      I agree that partnership is still a strong experience for survival and people should be able to form those contracts without religious beliefs. As for the word marriage perhaps the language is the problem. Is it only reserved for beliefs in religion or does it describe a legal contract partnership.

      We solved that problem of names with both a baptismal certificate and birth certificate. It is a simple solution that is stopped solving the marriage by the stubborn beliefs of religion and the stubborn beliefs that hold fast on the tradition word for partnership partly because so many rules would have to be changed regarding the privileges of the word marriage.

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