There are it is said as many different definitions of what the word “Religion” means, as there are people on the planet, and many people say that it is indefinable. Which is religious speak for. “If I define it, you will knock it down, so I will pretend ignorance.”
I have however a personal definition of religion, which seems to work very well for me, in practice anyway, and which I think would be useful to sceptics generally. Which is. Religion is a synonym for the fallacy of. “Proof by authority."
When someone says something like. "I believe males should be dominant over females, because the tradition of our sacred musk ox, says so. We put out two boards out on the tundra, with male and female written on them, and our sacred ox pissed on male. Which clearly proves that it prefers males to be dominant."
The problem with that line of thinking being that it by claiming fake authority, the supernatural powers of the ox, it attempts, unfairly, to unbalance or even quash any debate.
Also by forcing believers to accept the use of fake evidence, it forces the believers and their sub-culture, to accept high levels of cognitive dissonance, and poor levels of sceptical thinking. Which spills over into all other spheres of thinking and life, like politics and social science, bad habits are like the word says, habitual.
Which is why I feel that it is useful, to separate honest unsupported beliefs, which may be needed to determine moral positions, from dishonest beliefs supported by fake evidence/authority, or in other words religion. And I find a use for the definition. "Religion is a synonym for the fallacy of proof by authority."
Do you have a good definition of your own ?
My simplified definition of religion: belief in something in the absence of any independently-verifiable evidence.
@Fernapple My simple definition covers all that. Fake evidence & fake authority ≠ independently-verifiable evidence.
I think the word “organized” belongs somewhere in the definition of “religion”. Otherwise, I would simply call it unfounded belief, which religion IS, but not only that.
Yes true, Julie808 below made much the same point. But I think that misses my point a bit, which was that there is a difference between unfounded belief, which you could sometimes call, honest belief, and religion. In that honest belief, admits that it is unfounded which is what makes it honest. As in, I may say that I believe that it is our duty to care for the environment, while someone else could say f##k the environment lets have a good time and be the last generation on earth, and we could both agree that we could not prove our belief and agree to differ. ( Actually I could prove mine. ) But what makes it religion, and not honest belief, is the attempt to support that unfounded belief with fake authority, whether it be the authority of a divine god, the supernatural wisdom of prophets, tradition, ritual or exagerated respect for writen text over other sources.
@Fernapple So, you're saying it's a case of "I believe this because my religious text tells me so" which defers any need to prove the idea because that proof rests within that outside source, not one's own reasoning skills or imagination. Is that correct?
The case is made even more air tight if the religious text is dogmatic, calling it blasphemy to question its validity.
For me, a religion isn't worth much if it can't be questioned and seen as valuable whether its true or not. Like the adage that says a religion should be taken in a literary sense, not in a literal sense.
One can adopt a believing attitude, to go along with the program, without truly believing, but then religion is just a shell. One can have respect for a believing person, even though we don't agree with those beliefs too, but there is a fuzzy line between true respect and just civility, courtesy and manners.
I'm not much one for sports metaphors, but it's like a coach telling the players what role they each will have in a particular play. The players follow the coach's direction, even if they don't know the whole play, because they have to have faith in their coach, giving up their personal authority to just act on their own. In this way, organized sports is like organized religion. (I'm not a fan of either.) But to play the game, you do as the coach says, without question.
Perhaps religion is a bit like organized sports. A person can opt out and just be a spectator, or armchair referee.
A skeptic, like me, doesn't like to believe something just because I've been told it, or I've read something convincing. I like to do my own research as much as possible and come to my own conclusions regarding controversial topics. While I realize much of the information I read about any given any hotly debated subject is likely skewed one way or the other, I like to read both sides and choose the side that makes the most sense to me or seems the most honest. If an article is using untruths to make its point, I can discount that.
With religion, what is written in the text is not going to amended, updated, abridged. It's not a living growing thing, malleable to society as it progresses. So, belief in it, as absurd as it sounds to thinking people, is the only way some people know, until something shakes them out of it. They may know intellectually that what is taught isn't the truth, but they don't know another way, and they are afraid of breaking cultural or family bonds if they stray, so they continue with their believing attitude, even though their minds might wrestle with the fairness or scientific possibilities.
@Julie808 Yes that is about it. But there could be appeals to other sources of false authority such as tradition, or a literal god, not just text. My point being that it is the use of fake evidence or proof from authorities, which makes religion different from mere beliefs, such as superstision which is unsupported, and honest belief, which honestly admits it has no support.
I prefer to define religion and mythology separately. I realize it's not the common way to view spirituality, but it's the way I think about things.
For me, religion is my feeling of connection to the source of creation and all that supports my being, physically, and what I understand to be the practical means of our survival. I like to base this on the science for what we know so far. I might create metaphors in my mind for finding a greater understanding for what we don't yet know, but I know in my mind, it's just my brain trying to make sense of things. So, I kind of have my own spirituality which works for me, but its not an organized religion I'm sharing outwardly for society to follow along with blindly, without thinking, it is MY thinking.
The religions from past generations won't work in today's world, because there is too much that has been proven false by science. A religion HAS to jive with the science of the day. Past religions are now called mythologies.
To me, a mythology is a set of stories about our creation that are made up as an explanation which might be taken literally when first presented, but end up holding more metaphorical or cultural connection value than truth as time goes on. While perhaps they aren't true, they do hold metaphorical value in trying to make sense of the world around us and our place in it... until it doesn't.
For me, a mythos is like a pair of eyeglasses through which we view the world. An infant sees the world through naked eyes, perhaps selfish and self absorbed at first. Society puts a pair of magic glasses on him which puts him in a grand program where he has a role to play. As long as the prescription for those magic glasses is kept updated, everything goes along smoothly. If you try to put an old pair of glasses on the child, the distorted view won't jive with the real world and he will have troubles.
We've come to a time in our history where we have so many groups of people seeing the world through outdated prescriptions/mythos, when maybe we don't need a prescription/mythos at all, or if we do, it needs to be more accurate, more plausible in today's world.
If we are to combine religion, mythology, spirituality, cultural traditions and so on, maybe we just need to be a bit more easy breezy with it all and not get so stuck in adhering to one thing or another. Times are changing, and it takes a few generations to move a group think as much as necessary to get us all on the same page for a clear explanation of how we got here and what we should be doing, so far as we know. This means going forward, not backward toward something that no longer jives with the world around us.
Really good definition, thank you. My definition is of course mainly for established organized religion and not so generalized as yours. I like the metaphor of glasses, that is very clever.
@Fernapple Yes so many ways to describe religion, some personal, some organized. I have friends who say the beach is their religion, some say basketball is their religion, etc., I think what ever a person gets solace and direction can be a personal religion. Science can even be a religion for some, I suppose.
Organized religion with followers rather than thinkers is a bit scary!
Fealty to memes in the hope of gaining special favors. (Superstition)
I note your substitution of 'argument by authority' with 'proof by authority'. For religionists, I'm not sure either are really appropriate, and that it might be better with 'persuasion by authority' or 'conversion by authority' or along those lines.
Both argument from authority and proof by authority have existed for a long time. I just chose proof because those within a faith, would not admit to it being merely an argument.
That is in part my point. But belief in something without any evidence, could be honest belief or superstition. The point of my definition, is that what makes religion different from those two, is fake evidence or claims to justfy it by appeal to fake authority.