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What IS religion?

There is, without a doubt, an intensifying debate between advocates of religion and those opposed. A good place to start in this debate is what we mean when we say "religion." A social scientist might construe religion as "a set of beliefs and practices that are grounded in a particular iteration of morality." I think this definition is insufficient. We need to explore and be clear on what religious people mean by religion, otherwise, no fruitful conversation will ever occur among the participants of one such debate!

To aggravate the issue, it is absolutely true that there are many who refer to themselves as "religious," but are unaware of the basic premises and arguments of religious philosophy - this doesn't add to the debate either.

Both sides of the question consider the matter of great importance. There is a call for an intelligent discussion between religion and common culture - and there's no better place to have it then TED!

Would anyone like to take a stab at defining religion?


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    Sep 25 2012: Let me give this a shot.

    At the core of the human condition is the need for purpose and understanding. All religions and philosophies seek to answer more or less the same basic set of questions.

    (Why do we exist? Is there intelligent design to the universe? What is God? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Is there a soul? How did it all start? What is good? What is evil? etc...)

    I argue that religion is a metaphor constructed to respond that basic human need. Each religion and philosophy is a different metaphor to understand the same thing. People need to live with meaning in a way that appeals to them on a personal level. Religions all try answer the same questions in different ways.

    On the flip side, religions seek to teach people to live a moral life. Same principles, different explanations.

    I think the challenge in the near future is fostering a global community based upon mutual respect and universal values of moral behaviour.

    How do you think this can happen? What are the big struggles?
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      Sep 26 2012: Thoughtful - thanks Shawn. I agree with the basic sentiment: we do need a universal appreciation and respect for each other. I would suggest that the biggest struggles tend to stem from rigid, intolerant ideologies. At the heart of the matter is the true nature of humanity: what is it that really makes us tick? Religions propose something, other systems - atheism, for instance - suggest another. Their claims are sometimes diametrically opposed - they both can't be right. The solution is always Truth, in whichever form it comes. This is why this conversation is much needed, I think.

      Thanks again!
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        Sep 26 2012: My friend, who is finishing a degree in pastoral studies, told me about a part in the Bible where Jesus talked about the Pharisees (a leading religious institution at the time). Jesus claimed that they were hypocrites and was against the idea of organized religion. Another friend, who was involved in this conversation is a follower of Jesus but in very simplistic terms. He told me that Mother Teresa said it best: "[Jesus's teachings are] to love until it hurts, and then love some more". Nothing more than that.

        Maybe what's happened to religions is that they have strayed from their basic beliefs. Christianity is perhaps what Jesus intended it to be. This may be true for a number of religions? I'd love to hear what others have to think. I like Ammar's comment on the Prophet Mohammed and those basic beliefs? Who can argue that they are not good ways to live?

        Religions propose an answer, Atheism refuses an answer...but the question still persists. I've been learning about Albert Camus and Soren Kierkegaard and what they call The Absurd. It may be a form a logical answer to this question. Check out the wikipedia, it has some very interesting ideas.

        Religion can be a very positive and a very negative thing. Maybe this conversation, and many many more can lead to an emphasis on the positive and the removal of the unnecessary negatives!

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