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What Is Religion?

I used to find this an easy question to answer: people worship their own god(s) with various ceremonies and rituals, think about him/her/them within a certain community of interpretation, and plan their lives according to the dictates of their god’s/gods’ commands. The first stumbling block to that definition is the atheistic strains of Buddhism. If I consider Buddhism a religion, do I merely need to hack off a significant portion of my definition, or go back to the drawing board? My working assumption now is so nebulous as to be almost useless. Religion is what people do in response to their understanding of transcendence, whether that involves divinities or not. This can involve the atheist who muses upon her meaning in life or the devout nun who considers her life under the umbrella of tradition. Religion as I see it transcends the self; if it involves merely the self, I attribute that more to a personal mission statement or philosophy. And the language I use still might preclude other religious understandings. I am one man on his way, trying to understand a lot of data out there. Religion is active, religion does, religion thinks. I won’t merely say that religion is. Mere nominal associations do not make a lot of sense to me. If someone does not act or think like X religion, they are probably a weak representation or non-representative of faith X. While I do have to account for the cultural expressions of religion, I tend to relegate these more to accidents than to essential elements of a religion. Again, these are working assumptions. I look forward to my time at MSU and elsewhere in developing my views toward religion and the religions of the world.

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