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The Changing Meaning of "Religion"

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It used to be that the term "religion" referred to a belief that was held sacred. A religion referred to something that was super...

It used to be that the term "religion" referred to a belief that was held sacred. A religion referred to something that was supernatural and was often something a person would--in theory and sometimes actually--die for. Only as a joke would someone say that baseball or football was a person's religion. Now, that is changing. A religion can now denote almost anything that is held to be important and that a person devotes time to. The face of religion seems to be shifting from the sacred to the secular.

No longer does a religion denote something primarily transcendental. Religion has been degraded to also refer to secular beliefs that no one, even those who believe in them, would consider dying for. Religion used to be a special branch within philosophy; a religion was a belief system referring to supernatural things. Now religion refers to any philosophy a believer believes strongly in. Religion is becoming synonymous with philosophy.

So what is the difference between a religion and a philosophy? A key difference, and this is a difference from before the current shift in meaning, is that a philosophy is a systematic examination of ideas, where a religion is an adherence to a set of ideas that have supernatural and especially godly overtones. However, today, while the meaning of "philosophy" remains the same, the meaning of "religion" increasingly does not need to refer to anything supernatural or to any god. It is not necessary that you hold an idea to be sacred, or that you be willing to suffer for them. You only have to believe them to be important, then it becomes a religion.

This decay in meaning is a bad thing for spiritual religions promoting sacred ideas. But what is interesting is that it is religion, especially Christianity, that is the cause of this decay in the meaning of the word “religion." In trying to make people think that secularism, such as secular humanism, is not so different from themselves, Christianity has debased the meaning of "religion." Secular humanism is what it is (it is the belief that humans can be good and progress without believing in a god or the spiritual) regardless of what words you label it with. If secular humanism is called a religion by those who are the most religious, then they have to accept a new meaning for the term "religion." By trying to convince people that secular humanism is a religion, they are saying that a person who does believe in God or the supernatural is a religious person.

Does this matter? If this trend continues, we will no longer have a good word to describe those belief systems that are based on a god or the supernatural. We will have a new word for philosophy, which we do not need.

Should secular humanism accept the label of "religion"? It does not matter what you call it, secular humanism remains a lack of belief in the supernatural, and the belief that humans do not need the supernatural. More than anything, “secular humanism” is a label for a type of philosophical position, one that denies the supernatural and believes in human possibilities. Many philosophies can have this characteristic, to call them a religion is unnecessary, just call them philosophies.

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Consider This:
One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. -Arthur C. Clarke, science-fiction writer (1917-2008)

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