Feb 1, 2013

What is Religion?

(From Prince Jonathan)

A great deal of confusion in the modern world comes from the meaning of the word, “religion.” For it seems that no one can quite agree what it is. There are often situations encountered where three groups will be debating religion, and all three will differ on how they would define the word. Even worse, there is often conflict between the different members of a certain philosophy, so that some will inadvertently find themselves agreeing more with their nominal antitheses than with their brethren.
This confusion stems primarily from the Protestant Reformation. All it took was for Luther and Henry VIII to found their own religions based upon a corruption of existing doctrine, and then before long there were dozens of groups redefining just about everything, up to and including religion itself. This was exacerbated greatly by the French Revolution, which tried to make itself the enemy of all religion; and to an even greater but far more subtle extent by the American Revolution, as shall be discussed later.
So what is religion? How must the word be defined? Is it not obviously one's belief on the existence and nature of God? Or perhaps it means one's opinion on the supernatural in general? Maybe it consists of the many distinct categories of worship and conception of the divine? Perhaps it is a cultural construct, nothing more than a set of stories passed down that sometimes influence a person's actions? Or is it a mere viewpoint, such as one might hold on politics or economics?

No, none of these things fit the bill. None of them are the right key for our lock. For how is it that Lutheranism and Calvinism are different? Or, alternatively, how is it that the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church in America is the same as the Eastern Rite in Greece? Why can the Sunni and the Shiites never get along; why are the different flavors of Buddhism still the same thing; how are different religions divided?
In truth, what a religion is is a complete worldview. A conception of reality and how one's life should be lived. It is not one's opinion upon whether or not God exists, but one's opinion upon all things metaphysical. What one's life should be lived for, how society should be ordered, what good and evil are; all are questions answered by one's religion. To be of a religion is not just to accept what they say about God and to attend their worship when told, but to accept a complete philosophy of life as your own.
Thus, atheism is actually a religion. A family of religions more accurately, as an atheist might still be a dedicated communist, progressive, anarchist, conservative, et cetera; and all these things differ from each other as strongly as Mormonism from Judaism. No one can not have a religion, or even oppose organized religion; everybody has one, regardless of whether they believe in the Divine or not.

When you think of it this way instead of the way most people do these days, the implications are powerful. Let us take as our first example the current struggle over religious freedom in the United States of America. To boil a nuanced political conflict down to a manageable paragraph, what is happening is that the United States' government is attempting to simultaneously dictate that religious institutions must pay for things against their moral code, and affirm that the United States has freedom of religion. Worship and belief has been divorced from how one lives one's life. You can have whatever religion you want, except in public.
Of course, this is just continuing a fine tradition stretching back to the American Revolution. America was born with a complete religion of freedom, tolerance, exceptionalism, and Puritanical morals, but also with a claimed freedom of religion. Even in her infancy, she kept a strong code of religion in the public sphere, and anyone who wanted to be politically or publicly active in any way had to conform to this. American history shows us the atheistic religion of American Liberalism attacking other religions to overcome and replace them again and again, in Maryland, Utah, the states annexed from Mexico, and so on.

But there is another, more important example we should look at. Through the lens of a proper understanding of religion, let us look at the Apostles' Creed. If you are Catholic, take a pause for a moment and recite the prayer to yourself now. Now, think about it; by saying this prayer earnestly, you are saying that you firmly believe in the entirety of what the Church teaches. And the Church is a religion.
It is not just an affirmation of God's existence and Christ's divinity, but a statement that includes allegiance to the morality, goals, and dictates of the Church. To say the Creed with true earnestness, you must build your life around the laws and worship of God as the Church decrees. You must give no thought or troth to Liberalism, Americanism, Gnosticism, or any religion that is not the Church. You must adhere to a code that carries through to all aspects of one's life, public and private, familial and political, at church and outside of it. To be Catholic (or of any religion) is not just to attend mass on Sundays, attend confession often, say grace before meals, and pray a decade of the rosary every night; but it is also to centre every aspect of your existence and everything you do around God and His Laws.
So the question must be asked: is Catholicism your belief, or is it your religion?
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