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What makes something a religion?
Hello fellow agnostics, I am inviting you to share your ideas... what are the essential components of a religion?

If it is about a set of shared beliefs, then how do we separate a philosophy and dogma from a religion?

Keen to hear your thoughts...

SueZ 5 July 17

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I define religion as a belief system founded an faith (belief without evidence) asserted as "Truth"
As for rituals, dogma etc. That is just window dressing on the faith based belief system.
Remove faith and all religions falls apart.

Yes, I know this includes flat-earthers, chem-trail asserters, etc.

But this definition also hits all variants of invisible sky daddy, and Woo asserters. All those who do not depend on testable evidence to establish truth based on demonstrable facts.


See Ninian Smart's 7 Dimensions of religion as posted by NerdyOkieDude further down the page. The most common mistake is to consider that a god or gods are required. Soccer clubs and political parties fall into the same model.


And, how do you separate political ideology and propagators thereof from religion?


I generally treat religion like many diseases, where you have a list of symptoms, x or more of which must be present to have a diagnosis. Some characteristics I can think of are listed below. Keep in mind ... a preponderance, not a totality, would indicate a religion.

  1. A deity which has claims on adherents, typically a demand to be worshiped or obeyed.
  2. A priest class, often with special extra initiation rites and other authority signifiers. If there's a deity, may provide some mediation function between the deity and the laity.
  3. An afterlife concept, whether sequential or cyclic. May include some form of both a place of bliss for the faithful and a place of torment for the unrighteous or unbelieving.
  4. A holy book containing the dogma or revealed truth claimed by the group, often alleged to be divinely inspired.
  5. A set of prescribed and proscribed beliefs and behaviors which adherents must honor to be in good standing with the religion and/or with the deity, if any, and which are typically sanctioned with some form of group ostracism or threats of divine displeasure or chastisement.
  6. A rich set of traditions and rituals providing continuity with the group's past and a sense of participation in the group's ongoing activities and purposes and evolution, as well as reminders of and focus on the group's values and priorities.
  7. A strong sense of community coalescing around the acquisition and maintenance of adherents in the group dynamic and the establishment of a self-reinforcing subculture.
    8 ) Claims of some solution or easing of the human condition, including but not limited to, reduction of anxiety and uncertainty, especially the fear of death / dread of mortality.
  8. Claims of occult and/or supernatural knowledge and insight available nowhere else and often largely directed towards (8 ). May be partly or wholly sourced in (4).
  9. Some form of centering practice such as meditation and/or prayer or particular combinations of rituals, designed to encourage surrender to alleged higher purpose and meaning, even in the face of tragedy and suffering.

I'm sure others could add to the list. My point would be that if you have, say, any six or more of those, you've got a religion. Although one could argue that not all 10 of these are unique to religion. For example, any secular charity or humanitarian organization would have something analagous to (8 ) and some elements of a couple of the others. But I would argue that religions tend to make particularly grandiose claims about improving the virtue of their adherents.


Wikipedia says, among other things, that "...there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion."
But it seems to me that a fair definition would be - Whatever practice a person uses to maintain their peace of mind. I think that's what's at the heart of all religious behavior. Any of the other attributes usually mentioned may or may not be present in a given religion, but they are all seeking peace of mind.

skado Level 8 July 17, 2018

Aha, so divorce IS a religion. 🙂



Why do you want to waste precious time babbling about religion?...never mind musing about it!

@SueZ I am always astonished at how cavalier people are with their only life and keep trying to understand why their priorities are so seem to be unable to answer that even a tiny bit?

@SueZ the older I get, and realize how badly I squandered my life, the more I feel the need to try and open other's eyes to living fully in the moment every moment and she'd the brain drains.


My definition: A way of life based on deep awareness and appreciation for the staggering implications of the mystery of existence. That’s what I think is the central core.

If you want a definition that covers all religion you’d have to write a book, or read one already written, such as “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James.

“The Perennial Philosophy” by Aldous Huxley categorizes themes commonly found in established religious groups.

There is a difference in establishing a definition for purposes of argument and trying to truly learn and understand something.

@SueZ I’m no expert on Buddhism, but I think that under my personal definition even secular Buddhists are religious because they are following Buddhism as a way of life, and if they meditate, surely they must be filled with awe and appreciation for what is. I suppose you could simply study Buddhist scriptures as philosophy from a detached perspective, but then you wouldn’t really be a Buddhist in my opinion.

I doubt if many on this site would agree with my definition however. Most seem to think of religion as requiring a belief in God. That way, when you reject belief in God you also reject all religion. It is understandable that if you were raised in an authoritarian church and you had the intelligence and courage to break away, that strong feelings might be necessary, and that you would not be open to the idea of a benevolent religion of any kind.

I myself lean toward the idea of universal consciousness, and if you equate that with God, then I am a theist of sorts. Don’t tell anyone. 🙂

That William James book is out of copyright, and I believe it is free on Gutenberg Press. “The Perennial Philosophy” was a delight for me to read—it’s very thought provoking, and Huxley was spiritually oriented, even though he described himself as agnostic. He invented the word BTW.

I’m interested in your definition of religion.


I like Clifford Geertz's definition of religion,

Religion is "(1) a system of symbols (2) which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men (3) by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

cava Level 7 July 17, 2018

@SueZ Good question and I am not sure. I don't think that Nazism can qualify as a religion, because the actual definition of what constitutes Nazism is too nebulous. It seems to be an ideological position, and not a religion.
Hitler himself was born a Catholic and Wikipedia says he kept on going to church even as an adult.


Religion is the result of the interaction of several things that reinforce one another in a loop. The video that @NerdyOkieDude posted below is excellent in both description and detail. What distinguishes religion from philosophy is ritualization and dogma that grows out of the rituals. The incessant looping from experience to testimony to ritual to experience --------> generates a rigid mental framework. In philosophy, there is no need to ritualize which helps break the chain. So, while it is true that one can make a philosophy or set of philosophical principles into a religion, it is seldom done. A couple of cases where that has happened: Scientology and Mormonism.

Yes, one can say that both started out as religious concepts, and that would be partly true, but the fact is that L. Ron and old Joe took issue with existing religions, developed some new ways of approaching life (living philosophies), applied those to religious ideas, then massaged their philosophies for a better fit, invented some new rituals to help set the ideas, and from that cycle produced a new dogma --- new rules.

@SueZ -- There might be some instances where dogma was part of the original design (I suspect scientology may have some of its dogma by design), but I would guess those are rare. I think most religions grow like topsy from a few initial thoughts about agency, ritualizing them, going through the experiential, then back to thought/story/myth in a locked loop from which dogma grows like fungus on the north side of the tree. Nobody sees it when the spores arrive, but in short order there are mushrooms.


The belief in and worship of a personal god or gods.


To me, religions follow gods.
It's all made-up bullshit. Dogma is just part of it.

Philosophy isn't too far off as far as made-up bullshit goes.

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