Another term which is important to define when talking about The Big Picture is ‘Religion’.
This is another one of those words that everybody thinks has a universal definition – but not all these ‘universal definitions’ are congruent…. and some of the differences between the various descriptions are, well, rather substantial. (Yes, this does make our constitution, which forbids discrimination on religious grounds, rather laughable, as in the absence defining what is meant by ’religious grounds’, this phrase is worse than meaningles…. it is open to abuse! Please, don’t get me started on that topic!!!)
Just look at the how (not the what) of the way different people practice religion.
To some, religion is little more than some surreal principles. They believe in some undefinible, intangable divine principles that form the universal subconsciousness or, if you prefer, which give the Universe a consciousness of her own. Or, they call it Mother Nature, or some ‘laws of nature’ which have no perceivable form (personification-able, that is). To these people, spirituality is important, but religiosity – the rituals associated with these beliefs - may be largely irrelevant.
At the other extreme, there are people for whom adherence to the religious customs and rituals is a much more integral part of their religion than any form of actual belief or even abstract concept of the divine. We see this in many highly ritualistic religions which dictate daily routines and behaviours onto its practitioners. I have known Anglicans, Catholics, Jews and Hindus who all practice the rituals of their religion because it supports their perception of their self-identity - or serves and supports others in their community – yet who do not subscribe to the doctorines of their religious dogma.
Perhaps I should explain what I mean by this: they are able to abstract moral lessons from their religious teachings and see value (either to their personal growth or things helpful or important to others within their community) in adhering to the religious practices, even though they reject the dogmatic or supernatural aspects of their religions. (I regard this with great respect – it is the opposite of some peoples’ self-righteous pretense at being religious while missing the ‘greater message’! That is a subject of its own…)
Yet others both have faith in the dogma of a religion, and adhere to its daily rituals. The spectrum is about as varied as humanity itself…
Many people in The West think that religion is something which deals with questions regarding the meaning/purpose of life, death, afterlife, God, etc. And, some religions do that. However, most religions are not this narrowly limited. So, what exactly defines religion? What is common to all the religions ‘out there’?
Well, it depends on whom you ask… and what background they are approaching the subject of ‘religion’ from.
The psychoanalyst (NOT to me mistaken with ‘psycho analyst’) Carl G.Jung defines religion as:
Religion appears to me to be a peculiar attitude of the mind which could be formulated in accordance with the original use of the word religio, which means a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors that are conceived as “powers”: spirits, demons, gods, laws, ideas, ideals, or whatever name man has given to such factors in his world as he has found powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration, or grand, beautiful, and meaningful enough to be devoutly worshiped and loved.
(Emphasis added by me… I do have to admit that I copied this definition out in calligraphy and stuck it to the inside of my locker door when I was in high-school – yeah, I know, pathetic!)
So, accortding to Jung, religion is a peculiar attitude of the mind.
The reason I like this definition is because in a society which allows fredom of thought, freedom of religion is automatic: you are free to believe – fully, partially or not at all – anything you wish. Here, freedom of religion becomes a sub-set of freedom of thought and does not require special treatment, privileges or accommodations under the law.
That, in my never-humble-opinion, is very important. After all, no idea or belief should be accorded greater or lesser protection from persecution, regardless of its nature! Plus, most oppressors (or would-be oppressors….knowingly or condescendingly) are notorious for defining ‘religious grounds’ in a way that allows them to oppress those whose ideas (religious or otherwise) they do not like!
Example: when my older son neared the end of grade 8 and different high-schools were lobbying us to register him to attend them, I visited one of the most highly regarded and very coveted high-schools in Ottawa. That is when I got a chance to look around the school’s library – and it did indeed contain an impressive selection of books! When I came to the ‘Religion’ section, there were many, many books on Christianity and Christian philosophy. Truly, it contained an exhaustive collection of books on all the sects of non-Arian forms of Christianity. Yet, when I looked for the Torah, the Koran, the Vedas, Tao Te Ching and other texts widely considered ‘religious’, they could not be found….until one came to the ‘Mythology’ section of the library…. Needless to say, we chose to send our son elsewhere.
Obviously, to this particular school’s librarian, only non-Arian forms of Christianity qualified as ‘religion’. Everything else was ‘Mythology’, and would not deserve protection under Canadian constitution which bans ‘discrimination on the basis of religion’ – but does not protect against ‘discrimination of the basis of mythology’…. I’m sorry about the circuitous description, but, I do hope I explained by point clearly:
According to this librarian, only non-Arian forms of Christianity qualified as ‘religion’ and therefore, freedom of religion would only extend to people who subscribed to this narrow group of religious sects.