Dictionary Belief System Essay

Definitions of the word "religion"

Problems. Some dictionary definitions

Problems with definitions of "Religion:"

The English word "religion" is derived from the Middle English "religioun" which came from the Old French "religion." It may have been originally derived from the Latin word "religo" which means "good faith," "ritual," and other similar meanings. Or it may have come from the Latin "religâre" which means "to tie fast," or "bind together."

Defining the word "religion" is fraught with difficulty. Many attempts have been made. Many people focus on a very narrow definition that matches their own religion, but few if any others.

A humorous case appears in Henry Fielding's novel "Tom Jones." where he has one character say:

"By religion I mean Christianity, by Christianity I mean Protestantism, by Protestantism I mean the Church of England as established by law."

Many definitions focus too narrowly on only a few aspects of religion; they tend to exclude those religions that do not fit well. As Kile Jones 1 wrote in his essay on defining religion that was once included in our section containing visitors' essays section:
"It is apparent that religion can be seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of human kind. To limit religion to only one of these categories is to miss its multifaceted nature and lose out on the complete definition."

All of the definitions that we have encountered contain at least one deficiency:

Some exclude beliefs and practices that many people passionately defend as religious. For example, their definition might requite a belief in a God or Goddess or combination of Gods and Goddesses who are responsible for the creation of the universe and for its continuing operation. This excludes such non-theistic  religions as Buddhism and many forms of religious Satanism which have no such belief. Also, Unitarians, who are called Unitarian Universalists in the U.S., do not require their members to believe in a deity, and many members don't.
Some definitions equate "religion" with "Christianity," and thus define two out of every three humans in the world as non-religious.
Some definitions are so broadly written that they include beliefs and areas of study that most people do not regard as religious. For example, David Edward's definition would seem to include cosmology and ecology within his definition of religion. These are fields of investigation that most people regard to be a scientific studies and non-religious in nature.
Some define "religion" in terms of "the sacred" and/or "the spiritual," and thus require two additional terms to be defined.
Sometimes, definitions of "religion" contain more than one deficiency.

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Dictionary definitions:

Some attempts to define the word religion inclusively:  

  • Barns & Noble (Cambridge) Encyclopedia (1990):
    • "...no single definition will suffice to encompass the varied sets of traditions, practices, and ideas which constitute different religions."

  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1990):

    "Human recognition of superhuman controlling power and especially of a personal God entitled to obedience."

This definition would not consider Buddhism as religions. Many Unitarian Universalists and progressive Christians are excluded by this description. It would also reject all religions that are not monotheistic, including:

  • Duotheistic religions like Wicca and Zoroastrianism, because they believe in a dual deity.

  • Polytheistic religions like Hinduism, since the above definition refers to "a" personal God, and these religions believe in a pantheon, usually consisting of both Gods and Goddesses.
  • Dictionary.com at Ask.com:
    • "A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

    • A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

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