About Me

Phoenix, AZ, United States

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


You've probably heard at one time or another something to the effect: Not religion, but relationship. This is a common slogan I hear a lot these days. I think it stems from a misunderstanding of the term religion. Another related platitude is, "I don't do organized religion." But what is religion? What does it mean to be religious? It seems to me that we can strip all sorts of things from common notions of religion and find that most essentially religion is a system or set of beliefs. Or to be religious is to hold to a set of beliefs that have a particular relationship to one another. So where does this notion that religion or being religious is something intrinsically undesirable come from?

People throughout history have done atrocious things, this is a fact. Of course they continue to do so and often in groups. Moreover, coteries have philosophies, that is, they share some common interests which involve shared beliefs. Some of these groups profess belief in transcendent entities. Some of them promulgate belief in God. And some of these persons even do horrendous things in the name of God. Clumsy critics point to the beliefs or sets of beliefs for what the people do with them. Even in the case that atrocities are inconsistent with the professed beliefs, these critics take such occasions as something wrong with the belief systems intrinsically. But this of course is nothing more than a mistake. I mean just because Bob says he believes in Zeus and kills babies because he believes that Zeus wants him to, does not mean that belief in Zeus itself is problematic. We have a missing premise to get to that conclusion. Something about how belief in Zeus logically entails the carrying out of infanticide. Or even perhaps some level of scientific correlation between the holding of a particular set of beliefs and the act of baby killing.

I don't know too much about how other religions have responded to this attack on Religion as a whole. I do know that Christians have responded by rejecting the term "religion" and I think this is a mistake. Two wrongs don't make a right. If critics have made a poor assessment in identifying the behavior of some to be constitutive of Religion as a whole and thereby have condemned belief systems, then we ought not respond by assenting to their mistake. What we should do is point out where the mistake is and correct it. If you define religion by considering what some people have done with it, then you've done a poor job in your defining. The holding of certain beliefs does not by itself lead to evil; that is too broad a brush stroke. This is the line of thinking that people have bought into. Why don't we press our critics to define just what they mean by religion and not let them get away with poor categories and definitions. And anyway, running from a word or replacing it with a euphemism may only create an illusion and solve very little. My point of course is not to say that all religions are good, or that all persons whom are religious are good. My point is that it makes little sense to categorically deny religion because at root it is a system of beliefs.  That would be to act in haste.

One other aspect to consider is this: in Christian circles, being religious has become synonymous to something like, being legalistic. But these are not two ways of saying the same thing. Legalism is to do things out of duty without understanding the meaning/significance of it. You can do anything, habitually, and devoid of significance. That is to say, you can do anything like robot. Many have responded by denying religiosity. But again this is to make a similar mistake as the aforementioned. You are mistaking a system of beliefs with doing things like an android.

I say be religious, have a system of beliefs (everyone already does anyway). Just be intent about examining them and critical about how you live and judge each system of beliefs by its constituent beliefs and their relations. Hating on Religion itself, is essentially hating on any body of interrelated beliefs and that is unclear thinking.