Specifically Christian newcomers to the study of Judaism frequently puzzle over why — as they themselves often put it — Jews “don’t believe in Jesus.” The reality is simply that the entire Jewish concept of who and what a Messiah actually is (or does) is just nothing like what Christians themselves have in mind, when […]
It has occurred to me that, over the course of some 113 blog entries and counting (this one marking number 114, since starting this little blog back in July of last year), that I have not yet attempted to precisely define the specific subject matter of this “Religion 101” blog.
What is religion, anyway?
I mean, can we define it, in a way that really works for everyone who uses the term?
The task is perhaps not as simple as it may seem. Some definitions of “religion” may be too narrow, while other definitions may be too broad.
For instance, many people might tend to define “religion” in terms of being about belief in God (or gods), and perhaps worship of that God (or gods).
But then you run into religions such as Buddhism, or some forms of Hinduism or Taoism, within which “God” per se simply does not figure. (And neither, for that matter, does “worship.”) In light of this, defining “religion” in terms of belief in (and worship of) God or gods would seem to fall somewhat short.
On the other hand, sometimes people define “religion” in terms so broad as to end up simply being too vague to be genuinely helpful. Religion might be thought about in terms of what one “worships,” but in a way which stretches the meaning of the term “worship.” Sometimes one hears language to the effect of, “Oh, that guy just worships sports,” or “Football is that guy’s religion.”
Alternatively, sometimes one hears that “Politics is that person’s religion,” along with the suggestion that some sort of political or even philosophical “-ism” constitutes this or that person’s “religion.” But surely we do not mean that literally. (Or do we?)
Defining “religion” might turn out to be a slipperier enterprise than it might at first seem. As one religious studies wag once put it (unfortunately, I cannot now remember who put it this way), when it comes to religion, “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”
In this blog entry, I’d like to attempt something a little more “interactive” than has been done in past blog entries. I’d like to invite each and every reader of this little blog to take advantage of the “Comments” feature available here, and to post a comment in which a stab is made at defining “religion.”
In other words, dear reader, how do you define religion? Are some definitions perhaps too narrow and restrictive, or alternately too broad and loose? What definition of “religion” best works for you — and why?