Thursday, April 5, 2012

Does Religion Exist?

I worry that with a question like this, people won’t take it seriously. I can’t imagine why anyone would question my sincerity… I mean, besides my prior record.

But I’m being quite serious when I ponder: does religion exist?

I could have approached this from a pragmatic, realistic perspective, one which is perfectly valid. After all, it’s hard to say what makes a religion a religion rather than a cult or philosophy or culture or scam. However, rather than begin from the premise that we cannot tell “religion” from anything else, I would rather ask: how can one even define religion?

Every definition I have ever seen attributed to religion is either too narrow or too vague. What’s more, I also find in most definitions a ponderous amount of nonsensical words which themselves lack clear definition (like “spiritual” or “sacred” or “gods” or “supernatural”).

Frankly, I don’t think religion needs a definition, because the term is utterly obsolete. Every single aspect of religion is more adequately defined using other terms from more established fields. Ethics, morality, law, community, culture, diet, psychology, philosophy, cosmology… there’s just no need for the term “religion” anymore.

It’s even in the best interest of most people who think of themselves as “religious” to just drop the label. Nearly every religious person these days is an ideological eclectic. Few people, if any, take their cues from a singular source, even if they claim to, so people don’t even follow their own religions religiously.

In many ways, talking about one’s “religion” is like talking about “what’s in your heart.” It’s a fossil of language, a stony reminder of a bygone era.

Now, I know what some people might be thinking, that this is just some cheap shot on religion. Far from it. You don’t need the word “religion” to practice the philosophy of Jesus or Moses or Muhammad. Buddhists, Taoists, and many other Eastern ideologies have been on board with this for a while now, perhaps in response to anti-religious hostility in the region.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, again… “But if it doesn’t change anything, why bother?” Well, for one thing, a lot of people want nothing to do with religion, even people who go to church. In addition, to someone like me, it can open up the cultural discussion to include non-believers.

I’m not part of any religion, but I don’t lack morality or a feeling of community. In fact, I’m so uninterested in being part of a religion, I have stopped identifying as an atheist because it just seemed too similar for my own comfort. Atheism isn’t a religion, but it’s definitely full of annoying people who want to shame you into acting a certain way… which was ultimately what I did not like about religion.

And that’s sort of the issue: “religion” isn’t the problem, because religion isn’t real. The problem has always been human behavior. “Religion” is just a bullshit label we put on a set of ideas to make them appear more important. “Religion” doesn’t really mean anything, sort of like “beauty” or “evil.” We use these kinds of words because we acknowledge some shared understanding as to what they signify, but they are fuzzy and subjective terms which provide little or no real communicative value, because they mean different things to each of us.

If anything, I imagine the atheist community is the one which would be most changed by such a linguistic shift as to abandon terms like “religion” and “religious.” Even though atheism really has nothing to do with religion, you wouldn’t know that from how most atheists talk. To cease using “religious” terminology would force atheists to be more direct, more specific, and ultimately more constructive in their criticism of theistic ideologies.

What do you say? Is “religion” a useless term?


  1. "Is “religion” a useless term?"

    Maybe not useless, but vague. If you want anything you engage in protected by the First Amendment, all you have to do is call it a 'religion'.

    So it can work to your advantage if you know how to play the system.

  2. It's a vague term but having "religions" allows us to label individual schools of thought/belief which allows for the creation of in-groups. We are all tribal people. Creating an in-group is a survival mechanism for us.

    1. You've already come up with a better term than "religion:" in-group.

  3. there are no religions, only superstitions and psychological crutches. but people can certainly be religious in pursuing them.


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