Viewpoints: Defining religion

Viewpoints is a SpokaneFāVS feature where our writers respond to a weekly question. Readers are invited to participate by posting in the comment section below.

Last week during a guest lecture at Whitworth University a student asked me what my definition of religion was. I gave him a textbook response; something about a structured belief system. Then I put the question to the FāVS writers, knowing they’d come up with a variety of thoughtful meanings.

What’s your definition of religion?

Bill Williams: Addressing the big questions

Bill Williams

Religion is a set of beliefs that try to address the big questions about a Deity, creation and afterlife. Each religion asserts that it has the answers about where we came from and what happens to us after we die., ranging from heaven [Christianity] to reincarnation [Buddhism].

Matthew Rindge: “Ultimate concern”

Matthew Rindge

One of the most helpful definitions I’ve heard is by theologian Paul Tillich, who defined religion as “ultimate concern.” Religion, in this view, is whatever provides us with our primary sense of meaning/purpose. This definition helps broaden limited understandings of religion (as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.) to include more realities that many people experience as sacred or holy. M. Scott Peck, for example, claimed that the most successful church in America was Alcoholics Anonymous. Many people find in groups like AA or Weight Watchers the same kinds of experiences (confession, repentance, communal support, journey to salvation, etc.) that others find in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Die hard sports enthusiasts (think Notre Dame football or Gonzaga basketball), Comic-Con devotees, and fans of Star Wars or Star Trek can share mystical experiences with like minded members of their (religious) community. Such a sacramental view of religion helps break down the artificial divide that people often create between the sacred and the secular.

Neal Schindler: An organized system of worship

Neal Schindler

To me, religion connotes an organized system of worship. This means prayerbooks, houses of worship (however humble), guiding principles to follow, and usually some central figure whom worshippers aspire to be like. Religion also means ritual and community, both of which come into play when milestones are celebrated or observed — comings of age, marriages, births, and deaths. A religion has an overarching view of what life is about and what awaits us when it’s over. Most religions define morality and provide instructions, vague or specific, for leading a moral life.
Religion is a shorthand term for humans’ desire to understand transcendent truths. For those who cannot accept that what they see, and what science proves, is all that life and the universe consist of, religion offers hope of imperceptible realities that add meaning to an existence that might otherwise feel bleak, empty, and pointless.

Mark Azzara: Worshiping your god through practices and beliefs

Mark Azzara

Religion is the combination of practices and beliefs (whether stated or not) through which you worship and obey whatever or whoever is your god. Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, that’s where you will always find your heart” (Luke 12:34). A god is the same as your treasure – i.e., the person or thing you value most; the one person or thing you will cling to when you are forced to give up everything and everyone else in order to retain it.


Nicholas Damascus: The quest for God

Nick Damascus

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Christianity is not a religion.  It is a “Way of Life” as described in the Scriptures. Christianity is a direct revelation from God and not of or from man.

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. ”

John 14:1  “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.”  (Not a religion, but a belief in a Person)

Planted in the soul of every man is this desire to search and find God.

Planted in the heart of man, religion is often the means for men to search in their quest to find God.  From the EOC perspective, Christianity is totally opposite this.  In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, man is not searching or trying to find God for it is impossible for man to do this by himself.  In Eastern Orthodox Christianity God is chasing man, forever seeking after him, patiently waiting for man’s response.

You see an example of this in the parable of the lost sheep. The Sheppard loses one of His sheep and leaves the 99 other sheep to find the one that is lost.  God is continually trying to bring us back to Him by revealing Himself to us, and this is how we come to the knowledge of God.

In the EOC Christian faith, divine revelation is not received by human reason (cognitive thinking), but by what the West calls the heart and the East referrers to as the nous, the center of consciousness, the antenna that can tap into God’s frequency and receive His Word.  The truth of God (God’s revelation to man) can only be revealed in “this place of knowing” where “right and wrong,” and “good and evil” are known, not reasoned.

See this article.

Readers, how do you define religion?


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