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Me Defining “Religion”

By Billy | October 29, 2011

I studied “Religion” in school. What the hell does that mean? Google’s definition of religion is: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods. That’s wrong because belief is not necessary in the Jewish religion, worship was not even understood by the Hindus when white people found them, and Buddhism doesn’t hold any belief in controlling powers.

What does it mean to study religion, then? Every religion class without prerequisites spends at least the first class trying to answer the question, “what is religion.” Most people are frustrated to learn about Atheist Jews, Hindus, (even Christians), and often more frustrated to learn of non-theistic Taoists and Buddhists.

Religion is a social construct. This means it doesn’t exist without a social structure. Take away the people, you’ve got no religion. In fact, if you take away all the thoughts, there is no religion. This isn’t so convoluted as “The table doesn’t exist unless I see it,” nor is it “the cat is dead and alive unless I check.” This is simply the fact that religion cannot exist unless people are consciously doing something; they don’t have to call it a religion, though.

When Alexander the Great got across the Indus river, he asked the folks there about their religion and they didn’t understand. They purposely put some of their food in the fire in order to bring about good fortune, they purposely cast themselves away from society as the last chapter of their life, searching for some form of Truth, they purposely consulted people who supposedly knew more about god or the universe, but they didn’t call it religion. They didn’t make much distinction between themselves and their regional neighbors who performed different rituals and had differently named gods. They weren’t conscious of it, but they were consciously participating in religion. Feel me?

Are hydrogen atoms flying through space participating in religion? I didn’t think so when I started writing this blog post but now I do think so. The same goes for the Legos on the floor next to me. About 20 minutes ago I was ready to argue that thought is required for a socially constructed thing to exist, but I think my concept of society just exploded to an arbitrarily bigger size. Man.

I actually don’t know where to go from here. Wonderful. At some point, I wanted to mention the best definition I’d ever found of religion, “the most important things,” and complain about how it’s nice but doesn’t touch onto the community aspect of religion. As I understand it, a religion cannot be practiced alone. But can it exist through a single person?

This post came out of thinking about time. I think about time pretty for pretty much all of it. Lately I’ve been thinking of my time line as a single (one dimensional) slice of a field. The field holds an infinite number of other timelines, which are all me, too, participating in reality at the same time. Eventually the image gets so big in my head that I zoom out, and it takes the shape of a sphere. That sphere represents one single infinity.

But lo! that sphere is but a no dimensional point in another line that’s part of another field that’s representative of another speherical infinity. The zooming out zooms exponentially by this point, and the whole deal just turns into a mess in my head. As Alain de Lille, and later Blaise Paschal, the later still Dustin Hoffman, puts it, “C’est une sphère infinie, dont le centre est partout et la circonférence nulle part.” The universe is an infinite sphere whose centere is everywhere and whose circumference is nowehre.

Bam. All the sudden, not only have I been here before, but I’ve been it as every possible instance of myself and everyone else. How can Legos not have a religion, if Christians in churches can? To participate in a religion is to exist — even if it’s only in potential, memory, imagination, or eventuality. To breathe is part of the human religion, to die is part of it too. To shine is part of the religion of the stars. It’s necessity — (like those Hindus who did what they did because it was the thing that they did).

Does this land us anywhere closer to a functional definition of religion? I think it’s getting us there! It gives us a structure of Religion as well. We start with the transcendent and work our way down (or up?) into the individual, which tears itself apart and becomes the infinite and then once again the transendent. (So I guess ups and downs don’t really matter).

Before I choke on it, I’m going to start typing what I think is my final definition of religion. “What happens and why.” I’m gona try and poke it for a while to see if it gets any holes.

So the problem is that this definition is “religion” defined by a panentheist. I’m a process theologist. I just walked you thought a a slice of one of the various ways I think about the infinite nature of the universe, which is something I do pretty often. So my definition is obviously skewed towards the train of thought that puts atoms and humans on the same page of valuability, ability to do, etc.. There’s nothing inherently special about humans, because everything is the most special thing ever. This definition comes from my belief in an eternally refining existence (or happening). Religion is participating in this (which is unavoiable) + the seemingly intangible motivations behind events — like coincidence or randomness — which is real, but untouchable (thus the word “why” in the definition. So. I guess a definition born of bias is not inherently flawed. Moving on, then.

Religion is what happens and why. For humans, this means, what we do, what is done to us, what happens when we do things, and then apply the question of “why” to the study of these points — in every way “why” can be implied.

I actually really like that. This definition allows space for Ontology, Eschatology, and Metaphysics, to name a few of the things most people are caught up with regarding religion; it is Epistomologic in nature, as well.. This also deals with karma, the study of good and evil, happiness, Apocalypticism… Yeah, I’m digging it so far.

I’d really like to talk to Socrates about this definition, since I’d like to think he’d hate the definition until I converted him to Process Theology, then he’d dig it. Perhaps its indistinctivity is exaclty why I like it. It tells you EVERYTHING and absolutely nothing at the same time, which is important to remember when looking to endeavor on a study of “what’s most important,” for a person.

So there.

My definition of religion is, “What happens and why.” I think that why adequately covers the how and what reason questions.


Also, I don’t know where to put this, but most of this came out of a feeling that a lot of people decide to call themselves above religion, perhaps atheistic, then leave questions of infinity or unknowable size as questions but not call them relavent. Example: The question of the seat of consciousness is old and worn out. If you destroy a human brain completely, it loses consciousness, but if you destroy 50% of a human brain, consciousness still exists. If you destroy the other 50% of a human brain, consciousness still exists. Where is your consciousness?
Nobody knows, most people don’t care, but it’s still a question and it still demands that mysticism stay relevant in thought and discussion. If you’re comfortable with not knowing where your consciousness is (which is small-town baby frolics in the world of mysteries), but you think people in organized religions are foolish, then you are probably a member of the organzied atheistic religion and haven’t realized your own problem there. I feel a personal vendetta, apparently, to stand up for organized religion and speak against vocal atheists. Why?

So the following addendum is in response to my lovely partner who has challenged my post as coming in danger of stereotyping or generalizing atheists or atheism:

Makes sense

Anything can make sense if you want it to.

I think there’s no stereotyping going on. I am speaking to a very specific population within the atheistic crowd (religion). I’m saying if you do this, but you also do that, then you’re a hypocrite.

I’m aware that Atheism is as diverse as Hinduism or any other population you could mention, and I have respectful friends who don’t think about God… Remember that a Religious Studies degree is interpreted by many people as an open invitation for them to tell me their religious beliefs, and know that I get into just about as many conversations about Jesus is Lord as I do about Zombie Jesus is a money scam.

I didn’t articulate it well, but I a lot of people who are vocally opposed to organized religion appear to be members of a Science religion. When Christians say that God created the universe, Sciencers say that the Big Bang happened and we know exactly what happened up to .000086 seconds after it happened. They assume that this is unknown but will be knowable, and somehow the potential to know makes their theory superior to people who call it God, which is in many cases simply a word to represent infinity or unknowability.

I used consciousness as an example, but there are plenty of others. Another example would be atoms. We thought atoms were everything, then we discovered particles, then we discovered that the particles are made of particles, then we discovered that it’s likely those particles are made of particles. Whether a “smallest” particle exists or not, a believer in science at this point in the human timeline needs to make a “leap of faith” to sit down at the dinner table, because there’s no evidence that anything should stick together since it’s all made of mystery. (Actually think about it. Imagine when you cut an apple in half, and find it’s made of two mandarin oranges, then you cut them in half and they’re grapes, and you cut them in half and they’re lentils, and you cut them in half and they turn into quinoa. At some point you forget all that just happened because you wana eat an apple, but you have no idea what that apple is or how it could nurture you differently than grapes)

There are plenty of things about the Science religion that are better than many of the existent religions today. People don’t blow themselves up in the name of science (at least with the intent of killing other people) (Well, science makes bombs, but they don’t use them propogating science, mostly), we haven’t had many Crusades based on it, and though I know some people who think Capitalism is a necessity in a rational, scientific society, so the Crusades could be as inherent in Christianity (they’re not) as Capitalism is in Science.

BUT. My point of vocality against militant anti-theists comes from the elitism involved. My vocality comes from people making value judgements without having actually tried looking at both sides of the argument. It would be like a religious person debating the usefulness of an MRI machine without considering the physics of how it works, the utility of the machine, or the results of patient recovery.

I don’t constantly raise my counter-anti-theistic views indiscriminantly towards all atheists, but towards a derisive population who I have (had in Hburg) the joy of talking to openly.

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