What exactly is “religion”?

If you’ve ever had a discussion about religion (I know, it’s a faux pas in mixed company) have you stopped and ever really wondered exactly what it is? If you’re from the United States, it is one of the first freedoms of our society, one of the things our government is not supposed to monkey-around with, but it does so with threats, intimidation, and courts that do not understand what it is.
If one attempts to define exactly what it is, they come up with labels: Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindi, even Atheist, if you go by its definition. Those things really aren’t the definition as much as description. What exactly is this shadowy character of religion? Why does it defy examination?

If anyone has ever taken a philosophy of religion class, something I highly advise, they learn that religion isn’t something we do as much as the lens through which we look at the world. It is how we pull all of the confusing input of the world around us into focus.

The reason why it is so difficult to define, yet easy to point to examples is because we all have it, it is innate, if not formed by experience. Most often religion is attached to worship of a supreme reality, but that is merely an external, truly it is the internal element that we turn to bring a measure of understanding to operation of our lives, which is in itself a form of worship.

If worship is the ultimate expression of how we view the world, all one has to do is look into their bank statement, look into their calendar, or look into the mirror to find what it is they worship. And how we worship that object, how we set up our finances, how we allot our time and energy determines the reality we focus on.
We wonder why things seem confused, why children disappear never to be seen alive again, why people die horrific deaths or suffer tremendous injury, why people sigh and moan for relief, and dismiss the reality of it without trying to gain any explanation.

If there is a question about religion, perhaps it is about which one is right? If that is truly the question, the best answer might be to look at which one operates consistently with what is revealed in the world around us through science and experience. We have to be careful though with the interpretation that is offered. How information is interpreted and presented can give a false impression, because you have to wonder what the presenter’s motivation is, which could be to bring you into a worldview that actually doesn’t line up with reality, which itself is another question.


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