We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On Defining Religion

In a recent opinion piece entitled, "The spiritual scientist," Dr. Paul Willis states that the purpose of religion is to explain what is otherwise unexplained. He states, "This basic level of spirituality is also the basis of science except that science does not invoke unseen entities when it tries to explain the universe that we hold in awe. Science is a unique method of exploring our spiritual lust for an understanding of how the world works." Science is "fundamentally different in its operations and constructs, but it does share a common seed bed of spiritual wonder."

Allowing Dr. Willis his views on religion, I would still argue that there are other less restrictive and monochromatic ways of looking at the phenomenon of religion.  To begin with, the very concept itself means many things to many different people who are adherents of a large array of particular religions.  For some, the heart of religion is found in meditation and concepts of non-self.  For others, the heart of religion is in a moral code.  For still others, it is a personal relationship with the divine.  And for still others, the heart of their religious experience is embedded in a community of co-religionists.  In all of this variety, religion has differing functions and purposes.  To say, as Dr. Willis does that the purpose of all religion is, "explanations of the unexplained," without any modifications of the statement denies the reality of religion as a richly textured, multi-faceted human phenomenon lived and practiced by billions of people.  There is much more to religion than explaining things that are otherwise unexplained.