We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I stumbled into this interesting, somewhat scholarly essay: WHAT IS RELIGION? by Prof. Thomas A. Idinopulos. A quote:
...take the case of Theravada Buddhism. Here is a something called "religion" which is not a religion. Although Theravada Buddhism is usually included in any book on the world's religions, it is not theistic, recognizes no sacred being or beings, and does not officially encourage worship of Buddha or any "higher being" (despite popular veneration of the Buddha-ideal). Theravada Buddhism appears to be a technique or program for human self-purification or self-fulfillment or self-negation. If the word religion is attached to Theravada Buddhism, it must be done so loosely as to allow the differences from other religions to prevail.
What then are we to do about the books like those of the late Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and more recently Huston Smith, that stress the similarities of religion? Such works will always be in demand because human beings want to believe that there is an inner core of common religious meaning that provides an intelligible unifying structure of meaning to the bewildering multiplicity of world religions. No matter how much we stress the differences among religions, the public desire for assurance about religious unity will inspire authors to continue to invent overarching pseudo-philosophical categories like "Eternal Wisdom," "Universal Spirit," or "Cosmic Soul," and promote them as the "truth" to which the various religions point. Perhaps there is a universal religious truth and perhaps there is not. If there is, however, I believe we should look for it not in what a religion asserts as truth but in how it asserts its truth. As we shall see in discussing W. C. Smith's ideas, it is form not content that religions have in common.
There are other problems in comparing religions...
Students of popular science... are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism. GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy. 1908
The full context is in Chapter VIII. One of his central contentions is that the truisms of our age (he wrote a century ago, but the philosophical climate of the intellectuals then is similar to the popular climate now) are in fact untrue. That are not inaccurate because they are "oversimplified cliches," but because they are backward, the reverse of the truth.
We hide our thoughts behind ill-defined words, so that we can pretend what we say is kind, brave, and open-minded, when we are really mean of spirit and make excuses for tyrants.
Also, he kicks Shaw in that section, which always makes me happy.
Assistant VIllage Idiot
No doubt people who are ignorant of religions do often make the mistake of overestimating the disagreement of religions in some areas. Who isn't exasperated today by people historically willing to murder each other over sectarian issues like infant baptism? We respond by expecting them to concentrate more on the great agreement between two Christian sects, despite their quarrel over these (to us) narrow issues.
But what we usually are hoping for more than anything else is to get people to quit making life miserable for their neighbors by quarreling over their religion. For this purpose, we don't much care whether their dispute is substantive or not, we just want them to quit making a fuss. One of the easiest ways to discount them is to assume that their quarrel is over nothing much, when in fact it may be over something that makes all the difference in the world. If it doesn't make all the difference in the world TO US, we don't care. So the average American deplores "sectarian violence" if it involves different views of strange rituals or chastity, but is definitely up for a pitched battle if it's about one of our own hot buttons, like polygamy or abortion.
An interesting post to me because my older son (he's 22) and I were just discussing the definition of religion last week.
My summary for him was that what defines the word 'religion' in today's common, everyday sense is a belief that a person has a soul which survives death. Put another way, your soul has a body.
You can find philosophies about souls which have no gods. Theravada Buddhism and Taoism are both examples. But AFAIK you will find no philosophies about gods that don't also deal with the souls of those gods' creations and/or worshippers. (What would be the point?)
If you don't start with the assumption of personal survival of death, then you have no religion at all (nor a need for one).
If you define religion as a belief system which holds a specific idea of the afterlife to be true, and from this draws conclusions which are to be applied to our behavior in this life, then every system of thought which is called a religion, and big-A Atheism as well, is a religion.
However, under this definition most people cease to be practitioners of any religion, becoming instead followers of habits passed on by parents and/or the community.