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On "What is Your Religion"?

Generally speaking, I find discussion of religion dull and boring. It has to be one of the most unproductive topics when it comes to debate, as a conversion from one belief system to another is rare.

That said, I have found that part of the problem is defining exactly what one's religion is. One can call themselves agnostic, or a skeptic. But every agnostic I've ever met lived life as if there was no god (in any sense) and is effectively an atheist. I've known of Christians who devote in their belief of God but understood the metaphysical uncertainty. Of course, we are all familiar with evangalists who preclude any notion of metaphysical uncertainty. They believe that a personal god exists without question. So it would seem that one cannot simply state their religion in name without a bit of context. Namely, what is their disposition on certainty and truth. This is what I call the epistemological disposition of religion.

But, merely stating a person's religion and the name of their religion appears to also be insufficient. Take Catholicism for instance. Catholics believe in the one God (the Holy Trinity) and a number of Saints. Saints, while Holy, are not Godly. Their God is personal, both tangible and beyond the experience of man. This belief makes room for the existence of the soul, heaven and transcendence beyond the physical. They exist separately from the rest of the Universe. Some forms of Buddhism however, believe in a more pantheistic god. This is what I'd call "god with a lower case g". It is not a person and isn't conscious. It is simply the universe in all it's existence. It would have aspects which are available to us as human beings to experience and aspects which are not available to us. Some people, like certain types of atheists, believe that the universe is entirely physical. Everything is finite and there is no transcendent aspect at all. This is what I call the ontological disposition of religion.

In practical terms are how religions are usually described. The details of religious views are often boiled down to this or that god and this or that custom. The only important distinction here are the use of symbols. The ancient Greeks believed in a host of Gods. Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in one. (Although that is debatable as the Christians believe in the Holy Trinity and the Catholics in particular have a range of saints which are Holy but not Godly.) Hinduism is interesting because (at least in my understanding) some sects seem to have one or more gods which are personal gods but other sects seem to use them more as metaphor. So it is possible to have a religion which believes in one or more Gods (or none) and other objects and a person's relationship to them. Is it purely metaphor for the underlying concepts of morality or existence? Or is it defining an actual relationship with a mystical being? This is what I call the symbolic disposition of religion.

In addition to metaphysical values, probably even more important are the moral and legal views of religions. Every religion espouses its own set of moral and legal codes. This is what I call the moral disposition of religion.

Finally is how a religion is actually practiced. This includes customs, rituals and objects (including temples, churches, etc). This is what I call the anthropological disposition of religion.

With these identifiers (epistemology, ontology, morality, symbolism and anthropology) I think it sufficiently characterizes religions. It also opens pathways for someone who say, for example, no longer believes in a personal god but does not want to give up their traditional church. It can also help to focus in on the real distinctions between religions and the historical disagreements some have with each other. It probably won't solve them.

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