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Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.
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Define "Religion"
Posted by: Tanoro - Feb 2, 2012 12:40PM

When engaging in discussions of religion and faith, I often get tangled up in what counts as a religion and what does not.

Amusingly enough, the dictionary is no help here:
Religion: noun
1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.
2. Details of belief as taught or discussed.

Unfortunately, these two definitions are far too generalized. The first definition leaves out all non-theistic religions like Buddhism. The second definition would include classroom teachings on any subject as religion.

I am now considering Aron Ra's definition from the 5th Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.

Every belief-system which is commonly accepted as a religion by both its adherents and its critics -is a doctrine of ritual traditions, ceremonies, mythology, and the associated dogma of faith-based belief systems which all include the idea that some element of 'self' (be it a soul or portion of consciousness, or memories, etc.) may, in some sense, continue beyond the death of the physical being. This applies to every religion and only to religion...[1]

I like this definition. If practitioners of a given religion agree with critics that the topic being discussed is religious, it is probably safe to call it such. However, Aron adds additional premises which include doctrines of religious faith, mythologies, rituals, and a belief that the soul can separate from the body and continue existing.

This definition leaves out Atheism and Confucianism. However, there were a few faiths which sit in a gray area in between (i.e. Deism, Satanism, Falun Gong, Epicureanism, etc.). Many of these exceptions are considered by some to be philosophies rather than religions by either adherents and/or critics and either don't posit a continued existence or simply don't address the topic at all.[2]

So, I'm going to ammend Aron's definition a bit for my own use as I go into further discussions with people on topics of religion, especially where accusations of Atheism, science, and evolution are being erroneously labeled as religions.

A religion is defined as: 1) Any doctrine of belief accepted as a religion by both its adherents and its critics; 2) Any doctrine of faith-based rituals, traditions, myths, or ceremonies which posit an ethereal or non-physical existence separate from the physical body which may continue existing after physical death.

There are two factors in my definition. If one or the other is fulfilled, we've got a religion. I would like feedback on this definition.


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzmbnxtnMB4
  2. http://www.religionfacts.com/big_religion_chart.htm

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