[PBP2013] Religion or “Way of Life”?

“It’s not religion, it’s a way of life!”

I’ve seen it on Christian t-shirts.

I’ve seen “humanist” p(l)aygan bloggers characterise “paganism” that way.

I’ve even seen non-Hindus characterise Hinduism that way.

The problem with that statement is that it purports an entirely false dichotomy between the two concepts, when in fact, if approached with devout actions, one’s religion will always affect one’s way of life.

Every religion on Earth has at least rituals performed at certain times, for certain reasons. Maybe it’s as simple as a prayer and perhaps congregating at a church, or maybe it’s as complex as a complete Hellenic procession, or maybe more complex than that, but if you don’t actually do anything, you’re not practising a religion; at most, you’re following a philosophy, at the very least, you’re just giving yourself “good feels”, but it’s not a religion. Furthermore, all world religions have some sort of worship or veneration of entities outside oneself —usually gods, but spirits and ancestors are common, and then the more “ambiguously theistic” schools of Buddhism (I have never met an actual Buddhist who was truly “atheist” in the way many non-religious people are atheist) certainly have figured that are venerated in a way, but the nature of these figures as Divine is generally regarded as either unknowable or unimportant, depending on the school of Buddhism –but again, figures outside the self that are venerated. Most religions also tend to carry an idea that these venerated figures have given people who venerate them some basic outlines on how best to live, or what is best in life. If a religion is sufficiently large enough to have variant mythos or collections of divine wisdom (believed to be dictated by a deity Themself) or semi-divine wisdom (which may not be believed to be the literal wisdom of a deity, but believed to be given by a person who is especially wise and may or may not have been influenced by that person’s devotion to one or several deities), that religion may be best described as a group of religions, but in general, if the basics of ritual are identical or almost so, then most people still find it reasonable to say it’s still the same religion, just with variances of belief.

Since all religions have beliefs and rituals, where the emphasis is placed is what makes a religion “orthopraxic” or “orthodoxic” –the former is united by rituals, the latter is united by basic beliefs. In fact, the orthodoxic nature of Christianity is what prompts many to become so chauvinistic toward their own sects as to denounce any other sects (or at least a handful of particular sects) from being “true Christians”.

That said, given this necessary combination of rituals and beliefs, religion will affect one’s way of life.

People without religion don’t baptise babies, cos that’s a religious ritual. They don’t have rites of passage for a girl’s first menses, cos it’s a religious ritual. They don’t have ritualised wedding ceremonies in churches or parks and so on, because without religion, marriage is simply a legal contract between two consenting adults, usually of opposite sex, and thre’s no need for the ritual without religion, other than to either appease religious family members, or appropriate other people’s customs. People without religion don’t give thanks (either with prayer or a small offering) before sitting down to eat a meal. People without religion don’t look to sacred or semi-sacred beliefs about happiness, peace, the purpose of human life, or the nature of the universe to make life decisions from sexual frequency, to recycling, to what to do on the weekend, to how best to educate one’s children, and so on.

Religion is necessarily a way of life.

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