Beliefnet
Religion 101

In my previous blog entry, I again asked the seemingly simple question: How many religions are there in the world, today?

(Popular objections that Christianity somehow doesn’t count because “it’s a relationship, not a ‘religion'” notwithstanding, it does count. It’s a religion. We covered that in Part Two.)

Before proceeding further in addressing the opening question, however, there’s perhaps just one last “never mind about” item still to be gotten out of the way, right up front.

I’m speaking of the whole “it’s not a ‘religion,’ but an entire way of life” thing.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard, or read, the common claim that “X is not a religion; X is a complete way of life.”

Very often, it seems, religions seek to distinguish themselves from other faiths by arguing that they, themselves, are not “just a religion” (like all those other “mere” religions out there), but something uniquely more — “a complete way of life,” in fact.

One encounters such religious rhetoric all of the time:

“Islam is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.” 

“Hinduism is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.” 

“Judaism is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.” 

“Buddhism is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.” 

“Christianity is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.” 

“Rastafarianism is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.” 

“Scientology is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.”

“Wicca is not just a religion, but a complete way of life.”

Okay, hang on a minute! If they’re all “complete ways of life,” then where are the plain old “religions”? (You know, the ones that aren’t “complete ways of life”? Do any exist?)

You can see the problem here.

The problem at hand is, of course, precisely that every religion is, in fact, a “complete way of life.”

(Or at least every religion can be a complete way of life, if only its adherents take it sufficiently seriously to fully abide by all of its principles, and to live their daily lives accordingly.)

So, for Religion Z to claim that it is “not just a religion, but a complete way of life” is actually neither very informative nor helpful. It certainly does not succeed in distinguishing Religion Z from Religions A through Y, since all of them are also “complete ways of life.”

Each religion seems to want to assert itself as somehow “more than a religion” — as a “complete way of life.” But if all religions are already complete ways of life anyway, then what is gained by making such an assertion?

If religions, whatever else they might be, are also “complete ways of life,” then such claims as these amount merely to asserting (or admitting) that they actually are “religions,” after all!

Okay, end of final rant. Now, back once again to our opening question: How many “religions” are there in the world, today?

(To be continued, in Part Four.)

 

 

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