What is Meant by Religion?
A person's religion is his or her set of beliefs about the supernatural which provide meaning, purpose and an overall set of principles to the believer. A common dictionary definition expresses this well: "Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition).
The relationship of the believer to these beliefs is critical and necessary, as is the supernatural component, most commonly being the belief in God. It is widely popular to use the term religion to denote any and all sets of beliefs, rules, or principles that anyone may use to guide his or her life, but a definition this broad make the word less useful. Terms like `a philosophy' or an `outlook on life' may serve as generic terms to cover all the possible paradigms that people may use in their way of reacting to the world. By substituting the word `religion' to cover all of these, we make the word redundant with the terms that already refer to this, and are left without a useful word when we wish to collectively refer to what are commonly understood to be religions: Christianity, animism, Islam. Often the impulse to broaden the use of the word comes from the assumption that religion is an indispensable component in everyone's life. Anyone who rejects his or her original religion must replace it with something else that serves the same purpose, and whatever that is shall be considered a religion. This is one of the ways that communism becomes defined as a religion in the minds of many, especially since often that belief system appears to share with religion an unreasoning acceptance of dogma. But the fact that one thing shares some characteristics as another thing does not make them the same. Religions and nations both commonly demand loyalty of their members, but that does not make them identical. If a person ceases to believe in a religion, that person has given up all of the things that might religion offer, ranging from community to consolation in the face of death. If the former member of the religion takes up political activity as a replacement for the sense of community that the religion had provided, that does not mean that politics is therefore a religion. The same person may become at peace with mortality through an appreciation and connection with the younger generation, but this, again, is not enough to make that a religion. If I cease driving a car, and ride a bicycle instead, I am not able to say that the bicycle is now a car, especially since there are things that I am simply no longer able to do with the bicycle that I could with the car, meaning that the role played formerly by the car is really only partially fulfilled.
Like automobiles, religion is something many people who have it cannot imagine how anyone could live without it. If throughout a person's entire life, as far back a their...