What Doth Religion?

    I’m having trouble choosing the words for a post concerning religion.  It’s such a broad term “religion.”  Many different people from different cultures share this concept.  What does “religion” mean to me, I ought to know – I am me after all. Yet, as I ask myself this question; I don’t have a response at the ready.  When I think of religion; my thoughts sway from primarily: “Faith”, to the close alternative “I should note where the exits are.” 

    One would think when simply reflecting on some experience, there wouldn’t be any hesitation or delay.  You were there – you did what you did; end of story.  You should be able to explain yourself in almost any case, right?  Then why am I drawing a blank when posing myself such a simple question?   Religion is Religion, at least in my view.  The term religion has become like the ringing of a bell.  When you ask me what you hear, I say “a ringing bell” – a logical, if somewhat overly simplified response.  Yet, on some level, I must know that a bell is producing sound by clanging a medal rod against another medal cylinder.   Furthermore, from my rudimentary knowledge of physics I know that sounds are just vibrations in the air that is stimulating nerves in my inner-ear.  When you ask me “what is religion?” I say, “Its religion.”  It seems to me, that I can’t separate my own concept of “religion” into its component parts. 
    I, of course, have had much exposure to different views of what religion is or has been described as being. Most of it conflicting but some of it congruent: I still find myself at a loss.  With all of this information at my fingertips, via outside resources and my own personal experiences, I should be able to construct some semblance of an answer, right?

    The answer is a mighty ‘maybe.’  Much like the ringing bell; the word religion doesn’t just mean religion (well, I assume this for the sake of this paper).  It means everything we want it to – along with everything we don’t want it to.  There are a myriad of arguments on the very definition of religion so it’s not just my own shortcomings bearing down on me as I sit writing this paper (I hope).  Here is the random definition I produced by simply using dictionary.com to define “religion”:

1.    A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2.    a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3.    the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4.    the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5.    the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6.    something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice. (faith)

    It’s also a noun by the way.  Obviously, this is the answer: I don’t see what all the commotion is about.   It’s right there written down (figuratively and, well, now literally).  It takes up plenty of space, especially for a relatively short paper.  So far: no downside.

    Okay, I now have the answer; let’s see if I understand it.  Religion is a set of beliefs, so it’s at least 2 beliefs… unless a set can contain zero or one numbers… Or I’m misinterpreting what they mean by “set” and they mean “to determine or fix definitely” or “the brother and murderer of Osiris” (set).  Bah, I can’t get bogged down by the second word! I’ll just assume that it means; one or more beliefs are behind the term “religion,” and move on.  No time to be slowed by non-comprehension.

    So religion is simply a human code word for our own or others beliefs about cause, nature, and the purpose of the universe.  Makes sense, I guess.  I previously, and obviously erroneously, thought that religion was simply religion.  Now I know that religion is a combination of the above three ideas. Wait wait… I overlooked the remaining portion of the definition: especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies. 

    I’m lost again, I could wrap my mind around three belief systems intertwining – but superhuman creators?  Doesn’t dictionary.com understand that I associate superhuman with comic book heroes and not “creators?”  Plus: agency or agencies?  Are they implying there is an organization of superheroes that are responsible for the creation and lifetime maintenance of, umm, us; meaning humans?  I don’t understand why they can’t just be more specific.  I mean, are they referring to, you know, the G-man?  Or are they referring to Thor?  This answer is sitting less and less well with me as I read on: and there is sooo much more to the definition.  Seriously, I need to take a break and drink some heavily caffeinated high-fruit corn syrup to focus my attention on the task at hand.

    Sated I can now calmly and reflectively and calmly continue in my pursuit for a meaning behind the term “religion.”  It was obvious, after that wake-up call, that I had overlooked something yet again.  Judging the possibility of the outcome of the first definition to be wrong before even finishing the research: boy, is my face red.  I must accept it as true: even without finishing the research, because I have faith in this answer, and many other people do too so that reaffirms my feelings on the subject. 

    Alright, plowing ahead: no time for pause and consideration. Dictionary.com goes on to say: usually involving rituals, devotional observances, and often containing a moral code governing human affairs.  Alight, that’s all of it.  So if I understand it correctly, according to the dictionary with the best URL: religion is best described as a set of beliefs (which include cause, nature, and purpose of the universe and I suppose nothing else) wherein humans use rituals to concoct moral codes and to explain creation (meaning; creation of everything, I assume, again).

    At least, I think that’s a valid interpretation. Maybe it isn’t.  What I mean is: does that answer my first and only question: what is religion?  It certainly feels right, at least when I don’t think too hard about it.  Of course, if pushed, I would probably feel very nervous with only this definition under my belt.  It really doesn’t provide the firm grasp of reality that I have need of when pushed into a corner.  I believe I get this feeling because, deep down, I know that there is something missing in this answer.  Knowing myself, as I do, I could even postulate that I would get very angry if someone challenged my beliefs on this certain subject.  Not simply because it’s what I’ve been taught (please continue entertaining the idea that I was really teaching myself this term and not just stretching and outright abusing a metaphor) but because it’s what I feel my own experience reflects. 

    When I draw upon my own experience, and I ask it (yes: it! Don’t ask me why) “is that right?”  It answers with some hazy images of churches and my intensely personal memories which I’ll save for my award winning memoir someday.  Hmmm, I thought there would be more – somehow.  I’m pretty sure I have quite a few hours of simple THIS IS RELIGION ideas rolling around in my brain. 

Perhaps all my synapses and what-have-you aren’t firing right and my brain itself is preventing my own answer.  This sounds familiar, like an argument I know I’ve heard… Is there a chance that it’s physically impossible to experience something intangible like religion, at least for some people?  Some people, after all are born blind to the world of shapes and colors, or deaf to the world of sounds.  Can still more be born without the natural ability to experience good ole fashion mysticism?  Sounds like a deep question: yet I’m fairly sure I’m a moron for asking.

    I, obviously, don’t have a clue – but I know that I can appeal to outside sources again.  The second “agreed upon usage” definition for religion simply refers to itself again.  Referring to a specific set (that word again…) of beliefs generally agreed upon a number of persons or sects.  That doesn’t narrow anything down in the least, if fact it does the exact opposite.  It doesn’t note which specific sets of beliefs count; it doesn’t even seem to exclude much of anything.  If I’m reading it right, a religion could be defined by everyone sharing the belief that they were going to eventually die.  Granted, on one level, this would be a very downer religion (as opposed to say Mormonism: a very upbeat religion in my opinion) it would also end all wars and suffering… seeing as we’d all be under the same religion: the religion of Mortalityism.  According to many religions; if we would all just become them – it would solve everything.  Bah, that sounds terrible without a source, but I have no time to scrounge up a source for something I already know is right.

    Right about now all those episodes of Dr. Phil I’ve somehow watched come to mind and I realize I’m utilizing the commonplace emotional obstacle called Self-Serving Bias (I do not hold myself responsible if that happens to be the wrong term – only if it is the right one).  I seem to have set up an easy argument so that I can feel good about pushing it over.  Really? If we’re all one religion “everything” would be solved?  I’d like to see a religious organization earnestly suggest such an idea.  Bah, again the meaning of religion eludes me and the half-hearted annihilation of an ill-conceived argument leaves me feeling somewhat unfilled.

    Drat.  I’ve written 1,685 words so far and am no further to my goal.  Wait, hope remains; I have more numbers which are said to be definitions that the World Wide Web has offered me! The fifth one finally mentions faith or, to be more specific, the ritual observance of faith.  This surge of energy I’m experiencing is only slightly diminished by the fact I have no idea what faith really means!

    I’m not disheartened yet; after all, one source is good enough for most religions.  I quote from dictionary.com yet again: masterfully inserting a plethora of words which make this post appear even less short.
1.    confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in anothers ability.
2.    belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3.    belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4.    belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5.    a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6.    the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7.    the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one’s promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles. (faith)

    The first definition is very good, except for the part where it doesn’t say if the trust or confidence is deserved.  I want my definition to imply judgment, positive or negative, doesn’t matter which too much.  So, it’s a simple matter to move down the list, in fact, I’ll just go ahead and mark that first one out.  Can you blame me?  The second definition obviously should be in the first position.  Because it aligns in a more pleasing manner to my previous statements (however disharmonious they may… or not may… be) without glaringly undermining my position as the first does… or did.  Even though the second definition is the right one, I’ll continue reading the other less-right definitions.  Okay the third simply says belief in God or whatever is not based on proof or something like that. Fourth says belief in anything is not based on proof.  Fifth, a system of religious belief is not based on proof. Sixth… Wait a second.  I just realized I’m sort of combining what I think is true (correction: know is true) with the new information I’m processing.  That’s a silly thing to do.  If I continued to do that; I’d probably get everything wrong from the beginning.

    Well, I’m defeated.  I’ve reached the end of this paper and I haven’t got an answer for you… You; who should still be me at this point in the narrative.  I’ve given up because I realized I could argue semantics all day (or night as is the case – unless it’s now day – then ignore the previous note).  And after all that arguing I would still be without my answer.  It seems this simple word query fractals out into a near infinite (an interesting expression by the way) stream of parsing sentences to words to meanings to belief structures to… to, well, about anything and everything.  I mean, I haven’t even mentioned anything about that slippery word “ritual.”  And what of the word “belief” itself?  Bah, you see!  I won’t get caught in your trap again – I’m defeated and have already admitted this point.
Furthermore, now as the paper shifts to a perspective other than my own, namely yours (in this case finally not me), all the theoretical answers I could have produced amount to nothing.  Because I can’t describe your feelings and experiences as to what religion means.  And all that I’ve discovered through this one-sided debate is that no one really knows what religion is – it’s just religion.  And the fact that this was my belief at the onset has absolutely no bearing on this conclusion.  I have complete faith that it’s a mere coincidence.  The same could be said of your opinion on this amazingly innovative post.  I do hope that you don’t believe anything you read by me… especially that… and this… and this… and this… and this…

Originally written and dreamed up 2007.

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