What is religion?

What is Religion? The dictionary tells us that religion is a man’s belief in God or gods. Everyone believes in some kind of a god, therefore, everyone has some kind of religion. […] What we wish to avoid is not religion, [so understood,] but dogmatism and superstition.

(Ernest Holmes, The Bible in the Light of Religious Science, p. xii, 1929)

It is illuminating to examine the roots of the word ‘worship’, which is often tied up with a definition of what is ‘religious’. Worship comes from a word meaning something like ‘having worth’, and worship is where one attributes high value to something. One can worship God, a god, ancestors, a football team, and so on – with various gradations of the intensity connoted by the term ‘worship’.

When the First Commandment says to ‘have no other gods before Me’, it basically is saying to not value other things as more important than one’s relationship with God (but rather, ‘seek ye the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you’ (Luke 12:31) – in other words, God is conceived as the primary good and ‘lever’ by which other goods can be brought about). When someone values, say, the stock market highly, the stock market has become to that extent one of their gods. Whether they like to think of it this way or not, they are worshiping the stock market through their valuations and consequent actions.

Similarly, what is to be avoided, whether it is in one’s conception of economics, politics, some area of the physical sciences, and so on, is not valuing something highly, but rather a dogmatism of belief, such that one refuses to revise and expand one’s conception of the world.

This occurs in almost every social institution, because what is (rightly) criticized as belonging to aspects of religions (dogmatism) actually is a more general social phenomenon.

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