‘Religion’ Redefined

Is Christianity a religion? Is Islam a religion? Is Judaism a religion? Is Catholicism a religion? If it is, then it should only occupy a fraction of our lives because the central ideology of “religion” stems from the worship of a divine god or supernatural deity that may or may not interfere with our daily lives. I mean, even if it does, it only affects our lives to a rather small extent.

Religion, for this context, at the most affect how one dress or what one eats. It does not dictate specific job scopes or work attitudes. It does not tell us what we should do in our everyday lives except to respect institutionalized religious norms. Christians go to church, Muslims pray 5 times a day, some Buddhist do not eat beef, etc.

People of different religions are able to work together, live together, and many times, even stay together. So, are these ‘religions’, religions? And if they are not, then what are they?

For starters, this is how Merriam Webster defines religiosity and religion.

Religious – “Relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity” (Religious, n.d.).

Religion – “(1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance” (Religion, n.d.)

Now, both definitions place heavy emphasis on the individual to be faithfully devoted to a god or a deity. It is one’s act of service and worship to this god or the supernatural being. Even if you take the ‘deity’ out of the picture, it is one’s commitment and devotion to the religious faith and observance.

‘Ultimate Reality’

I would personally characterize the above so-called ‘religions’ (or Abrahamic Religions) as an Ultimate Reality, mainly because they all do not focus on the individual but rather, on the divine being and His creation. In fact, I will redefine ‘religion’ as the Ultimate Reality of things.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines “Ultimate Reality” as something that is supreme, final, and have the fundamental power in all realities. And in ‘Abrahamic religions’, this ultimate reality is God (Ultimate Reality, n.d.).

They all believe in a God. A God that creates, a God that is in control, a God that saves, and a God that will want us to be with Him. The creation attribute of God made Him sovereign over all things. This gives Him absolute control over everything, including our lives. The relational attribute of God made Him an intimate God who longs for us to be with Him.

The Problem with ‘Religion’

In contemporary definitions of ‘religion’, we remove His sovereign nature from worship and elevated our individual status above Him. To put it more severely, we removed Him from our lives which He has rightful control over, degrading Him to become something which we serve and commit religious observance to. This make ‘religion’ centred upon the self, and not the divine deity. This definition degrades His being to something in which we can neglect. Something that we can all forsake; something that we can choose.

Is this the essence of the ‘Abrahamic Religions’?

Religion Redefined

I think we need to redefine the term, ‘religion’. It should not be just “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things”, neither should it be “beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church” (Carls, n.d.). Rather, it should be seen as The Ultimate Reality – the fundamental foundations of reality itself. It is more real than the things that are characterized as ‘real’. It is more real that it transcends the realm of sciences. Now, this definition of ‘religion’ may be okay with ‘Abrahamic religions’ for their beliefs in a supreme God that have absolute sovereignty over everything in the universe. However, this definition may cause problems for other ‘non-Abrahamic religions’; how should we categorize them? In other words, how do you make sense of their beliefs if there is ‘The Ultimate Reality’ for all things?

I think we need to redefine the term, ‘religion’. It should be seen as The Ultimate Reality – the fundamental foundations of reality itself.

The only way to do this is to trace them back to their roots; to the very birth of the said ‘religion’ and the ‘teachings’ they adhere to. Most ‘non-Abrahamic religions’ talks about a formless being or ‘chaos’ in their creation story (some of these ‘religions’ are: Ancient Greek Religion, Hinduism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Daoism, etc). From this, other ‘gods’ appear as manifestations of this supreme god, or as a representation of created things or phenomenon.

They all have similarities; that is there is the notion of an Ultimate Reality that everything that we see is founded upon. Without this Ultimate Reality, nothing else makes sense.

This Ultimate Reality governs the physical nature of all things, the morals that every human-being adhere to, and ultimately, the afterlife. There are a beginning and an end. There is a purpose for living. There is a certain definite moral code to follow. There is a definite hope of the afterlife.

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
(Romans 2:14-15, NIV)

People who do not belong to the ‘Abrahamic Religions’ adhere to a certain code of law and ‘religious practices’. To please deities, there are sacrifices (many of which includes blood sacrifices). In societal construction, marriage is between male and female. Familial and other societal structures are similar (Master, slaves; employer, employees; ruler, commoners; etc). In moral laws, there are commonalities in laws such as “do not murder, do not commit adultery, honour your parents, do not steal, do not bear false witnesses, do not covet.” In fact, there is nowhere in history that promotes any of these acts (other than human sacrifices but they are exceptions). They were either written and taught explicitly, or treated as the unwritten rules such as ethics.

Concerning the supreme being in ‘non-Abrahamic Religions’, they are often treated with reverence and ultimate respect. Many of them are worshipped; either directly or through other ‘gods’ that represents their other attributes. The essence of creation is present throughout all religions (other than Buddhism since Buddhism believes that the universe in itself is infinite), and that this supreme being is in control of everything seen and unseen.

Life, therefore, is not our own. Rather, it is something that succumbs to this Ultimate Reality. Similarly, everything that is seen, is subjected to the control of this Ultimate Reality. Now, this meant that we are to find this Ultimate Reality and base our lives on it. This search for the Ultimate Reality should be done rationally and purposefully. It should not be dependent on hearsay and should also not be dependent on traditions. Rather, the search of the Ultimate Reality should be done with an open mind and a humble heart. The search will answer all of life’s questions, from purpose to daily decisions, to life’s direction, to life-after-death.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 29:11-14A, NIV)

The knowledge of this Ultimate Reality should also change our perspective when dealing with life and everything that is around us. The central focus of life, therefore, should be rooted in worship and reverence for the creator. The central assurance and direction of life should also be rooted in the knowledge that we will be there with Him. The moral compass guiding our lives should be the exact standardized moral code that was defined in (and by) The Ultimate Reality. When dealing with important life decisions, the central knowledge of this Ultimate Reality should also shape our decisions with the knowledge that there is indeed a future beyond the physical realm.

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The central point of this discussion is this: that ‘religion’ should ultimately be about this Ultimate Reality. Everything that we do with our lives should henceforth, be centred upon this Ultimate Reality. God is real and He should not be chucked aside as an object of worship. It is not something that can be chosen, but something that should be dealt with absolute reverence and fear. A search for this Ultimate Reality is needed because we were too fixated on the concerns within our current physical reality. But we will find Him. I’m sure. He said that He will be found by us.

Hence, ‘religion’ is not a manifestation of faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity. Rather, it is the constant acknowledgment of the fact that there is an Ultimate Reality that shapes the universe and everything within it.

Hence, ‘religion’ is not a manifestation of faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity. Rather, it is the constant acknowledgment of the fact that there is an Ultimate Reality that shapes the universe and everything within it.

 

References:

Carls, P. (n.d.) Émile Durkheim (1858-1917). Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/durkheim/

Religious. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religious

Religion. (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion

Ultimate reality. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ultimate%20reality

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