Standing on the streets of Bend, Oregon, can lead to some strange questions, and hopefully some good answers. In the midst of a couple hours of structured conversation and then a couple hours after the event just hashing over things, the obviously simple, but contentious question arose: What is religion and how many of them are there? I posited that, “religion is the binding together of people,” and let it go at that, but it immediately generated controversy, because by that simple definition a nation like the United States is a religion, a sports team and its supporters is a religion and perhaps the greatest religion of all is the family. A political party has many qualities of all of those groups blended into some sort of higher calling, some kind of spiritual essence. A religion is a group of people with a common idea of togetherness that is to some degree voluntary, and yet that doesn’t seem enough because we don’t choose our parents but to a larger degree we do choose our spouses. We do choose our city of residence and thus to some degree we do choose the teams we support based on propinquity. We are born into a country, and most of us continue to remain members of the county of our birth, and it has a higher spiritual calling than a piece of dirt surrounded by an arbitrary border.
And that’s the way a simple question suddenly becomes a tangled skein, a web of words that confuses even the most dedicated philosophical society with banter and blather. One purpose is to enhance oneself by being associated with something grander than one self. Of course most people would insist that religion must have a component of the supernatural, but my definition left out the unknown, untestable, unrealistic and unchallengeable, because the essence of religion is human togetherness and not unsupported hearsay.
A religion is a people that feels bound together by an inner quality.