Friday, October 3, 2008

Elements of a religion

In pondering the question of what is my religion, I came to the conclusion that there are really several different elements:
  • Theology: Religions are based on certain beliefs related to the existence of one God, of many gods, or of no gods.
  • Values: Religious beliefs may cause people to give food to the hungry, refuse to participate in war, or kill doctors.
  • Culture: Religion is a cultural expression. A religion that shares my values and theology but comes from a different culture will not fit me.
  • Ritual: Religion provides us with activities that help us get closer to a state of mind in which we are inclined to act in accordance with our values, and away from a state of mind in which we act out of self-indulgence.
We can think of our own theology and values, but it is not easy to be in an environment where everyone around us has theology and values that are very different from ours. Through religion, we can find others who share our theology and values.

We can do rituals on our own, but often rituals that take place within a religious community are more inspiring than solitary rituals.

I've heard it said that Unitarian Universalists are ridiculous because they go to church and do Christian rituals but they don't actually believe in Christianity. People think it is silly of them to be going through the motions of something they don't believe in. But I don't see it that way at all. Their theology is different from that of traditional Christians, but they come from the same culture, so it makes sense that their rituals are similar.

Similar rituals can serve people of different theologies. Meditation, prayer, chanting, singing, dance, yoga, and lighting candles can all be spiritual expressions. They all get people to that spiritual place, it's just that different people find different theologies and values when they get there.

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