How's this for a definition of religion?

This is the definition of religion that we used in my senior religion class in high school (yeah, I went to a Catholic school. How’d you guess?): “The expression in words and actions of a person or group’s most deeply-held convictions.”

I always kinda liked it, cause it captures some things that, while not traditionally considered religions, have some religious aspects to them (think about football fans). But it also captures atheism, which many people aren’t going to like.

So is there any reason to reject this definition, other than consequences that some people won’t like?

Since when is someone not liking something a reason to reject it? If we rejected everything that someone didn’t like, the world would not exist. Anyway, I guess that works. BTW, (slightly off topic) did you hear about the 70,509 people in Australia who told the Australian Bureau of Statistics that their religion was Jedi?

It would also seem to include racism, as well.

I dunno, it seems too vague to be of any real use. I have a lot of deeply-held convictions that aren’t religious in nature… does my trust in observation, evidence, and/or the scientific method count as a “religion”? I would venture to say no.

Replace “convictions” with “faith”, and then I think you got something workable.

It seems about as good as any definition of religion needs to be, though plenty of others are useable as well, and probably appropriate for other contexts. When you get into questions of legal protections, for instance, it’s probably not too workable.

I think trying to capture things like football fandom in “religion” are a little silly, personally, but if that’s your bag…

The problem is getting to the point where a definition captures EVERYTHING: in which case you’ve pretty much destroyed it as a useful definition.
And it’s important to not fall into equivocation with things like this, wherein you think you’ve captured something special and new about football fandom by calling it a religion, when what you are really doing is redefining the conventional understanding of “religion” to include things like football fandom. The real danger then is slipping back into the old definition by habit and connotation: your new definition pretty much eradicates the justifications for many of the connotations people previously placed on “religion”: but these connotations die hard. The major warning flag about your thinking here is the idea of there possibly being “consequences people don’t like.” I would say that if merely changing a definition ever suggests to you any substantive “consequences” for the real world: then something is going very wrong in your thinking.

It might be a cute analougy to say that aspects of football fandom are “religious,” but I don’t think it conveys much more than pointing out that there are similarities between how SOME people practice their religions and SOME football fans practice their fandom.

I also don’t think it captures atheism at all, if by atheism you mean simple non-belief/lack of belief. If someone has a hard conviction that no gods exist (what some call “hard atheism”), and this belief is really central to their worldview (which I can’t really see the point of, but hey), then I guess there’s no real problem with calling it a religion, at least in your sense.

Dunno; IMO the term Deeply-held spoils it.

Another major problem to watch out for: endlessly spawning religions in multiple people. Let’s take your standard Christian: obviously they have a religion: Christianity. But what if this person also has a deeply held conviction that Mozart is superior to Bach? Is this religion #2? How about a deeply held conviction that democracy is the best form of government? Religion #3?

The problem also often arises with trying to define non-belief as a religion. A given non-believer could exactly like a Muslim in every way, except that they don’t have Muslim beliefs. If we want to say that the non-believer has a religion, then it’s kind of hard to escape the conclusion that the Muslim has TWO religions. Again, that seems sort of silly.

For my part, the major objection to the OP’s definition of religion is that it ignores entirely the element of the supernatural. Religion, by any definition that makes sense to me, is fixed on the worship of, or at least the subjection to something unseen, something that can not be seen, but must be experienced only by faith. It need not always be that way, I suppose. That is, if proof that a supernatural being or beings exist could be provided, the belief in and subjection to that being or beings would still constitute religion.

I don’t see a “deeply held conviciton,” whatever that convicition might be, as in and of itself “religion.” For example, I might have the deeply held conviction that I am a perfectly superior being. While someone else (you, for instance) might say that I “worshipped” myself, I would hardly think that that could be called “religion.” Self-delusion certainly, but religion?

Scientists have many “deeply-held convictions” about the nature of the universe. But, as scientists, they are nevertheless open to new evidence. That is why scientific theories change. But I don’t think you can logically call the convictions of scientists religion.

The wrench in the works there, DG, is pantheism, which need not be supernaturalistic (whatever you take that to mean) or involve epistemological faith. You could say that they are an example of people with “proof” of their god, at least as good of a line of proof as anyone can have for anything. For while they don’t claim to be able to see all of existence, and perhaps find it as mysterious as any supernatural god, it also seems sort of off-kilter to say that their deity is “unseen” and “supernatural.” Yet it is, most certainly, a religion, whether organized or individualized. You have people who worship all existence as a god, ritualize their praise, etc.

I agree with DG that religion would have to involve supernatural beings.
Otherwise it would just be a ‘worldview’, ‘belief’ or ‘conviction’.

I’m not that familiar with Pantheism but do they think that this all encompassing God is sentient?
If so, it would then be a ‘supernatural’ being, wouldn’t it?

I’m not so sure about Faith. There’s always proof. Isn’t lightning proof that there is a God of Thunder? Faith is what you have when the proof comes under scrutiny.

A deity doesn’t have to be unseen, a Holy Oak would be very visible.

I predict somebody will be along to talk about Buddhism shortly.

Well, isn’t the soul a kind of supernatural being?

Not necessarily.

The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.

Or UUs


I hesitate to call myself a someone, but: some formulations under the Buddhist label-umbrella do include supernatural elements. Prayers, or callings-to and invocations of a laundry list of bodhisattvas, for instance, or those who think of various realms of rebirth as a literal truth. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha gathers together a convocation of essentially infinite numbers of bodhisattvas, students old and new, all sorts of mythic beings, in a teaching-gathering that spans worlds and millennia–I’ve no doubt that there are very devout Buddhists who accepts those events as just as true as the more down-to-earth accounts of teaching the bhikkus at various parks and forests.

Some folks argue that Buddhism, in its formulations that don’t involve supernatural elements (or at least, takes pains to establish the metaphorical nature of them), isn’t actually a religion, but a philosophy. I can’t really argue against that view, but it still doesn’t quite sit right with me.

apos had a rather nice post in Polycarp’s yonder “What Must a True S^H^H^H^H^H^HChristian Believe?” thread, and I think the gist applies here as well–it’s one of those things where any number of definitions of it are possible, and it’s probably much more interesting to ask what a person needs “religion” to mean, and why.

The best definition of religion I know is “that which gives meaning and defines value in life”. This wouldn’t necessarily cover atheism or football fans but would imply that the most widely held religion in the US is sex. Which strikes me as about right.

It also would make science a kind of religion which I think is true, it’s the religion whose only faith is in human mind. A religion does not need to be about worship.

Since there’s no real action associated with that, it kinda fails, I think.

Yeah, but then you have to start worrying about what “faith” is. There’s no common agreed-upon definition for that.

Yeah, that hyphen needs to come out of there.

—I’m not that familiar with Pantheism but do they think that this all encompassing God is sentient?—

Not necessarily, no.