Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Definition of Religion (whatever that is)

A belief and hope that there is ultimate meaning.

I listened carefully to Richard Dawkins when he debated the Archbishop of Canterbury. In this debate,  to Prof. Dawkins, existence - the universe - was a giant accident initially, pure chance.   Development  has been a chain of accident combined with cause and effect since that beginning.  

Religion - any religion - all religions, on the other hand,  whether they are atheist like Buddhism, or philosophies like Confucianism, or monotheistic like the Abrahamic faiths, or polytheistic, all reject chaos and assert there is an essential order beyond any seeming chaos. They may disagree on the nature of this essential meaning; they may disagree on the proper behaviour of individual humans; they may disagree on the structural aspect,  but they all start with ultimate meaning. So, religion is also to put it in its negative sense, the rejection of a philosophy or a science that posits chaos as the foundational element of existence.

I would add to this that my wording 'ultimate meaning' is reminiscent of the theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich's definition from the middle of the 20th century which used the term:  'ultimate concern'.  My definition above was thought out over the vast period of time of six minutes, but was the culmination of 50 years of thinking about religion and probably Prof. Tillich's thoughts lurked somewhere in that hard drive I carry around on my shoulders. But I think it is different.  I will let those of you who read these words decide.  

A Postscript:

Intellectual ramblings about the nature of religion are what I call thinking about a Philosopher's God.  My thinking about religion as an academic has centred around the religion of ordinary people, believed and practiced in their daily lives, rather than high octane definitions of a purely intellectual sort.  Yet, I do  not at present see any conflict between my broad definition (now there's an oxymoron!) of religion.  One can believe and pray and function as a religious person while assenting to and enjoying an intellectual approach.

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