My first thought when trying to answer this question was to consult good-ole Merriam-Webster. And you know what they told me? Religion is the belief in a god or gods.
Well, that’s pretty simple, right? Is religion really so simple?
It’s actually really funny (to me, anyway) that the most complex things are defined most simply. So either we just gave up or trying to actually fine the complexity that is religion, or we acknowledged that it’s impossible and defined it in such a way to help people understand it in its simplest terms.
Merriam-Webster also gives you some nifty information about a words popularity. According to the online dictionary, “religion” is in the top 1% of lookups and is the 77th most popular word. Wow. That’s really saying something when you consider how many words are in the MW dictionary and all the much more complicated words that people could be searching for the meaning of.
I did SAT prep with a teacher at my school, and we worked diligently on vocabulary. I would say that about 70% of the words in the prep books we used were words I had never even heard before. Students all over the world are coming across new vocabulary as they work, learn, study and read; they’re looking up the meanings online. And you want to know where those big SAT vocabulary words fall in lookup rates?
Blandishment? That’s an SAT word. It’s in the bottom 40%
Feckless? A little better; top 30%
Eschew? Top 10%
Theses are just a few of the words I remember studying during my SAT prep… and forgetting, and looking up online multiple times. They’re not words you hear in everyday conversation, but they come up in academics. Which is why people so often have to look them up.
But I word such as religion exists in everyday language. It’s common. And yet it is looked up more than any of these vocabulary words.
It’s like religion is so complex that we don’t trust that we actually know what it is. So we look it up. And for some reason we expect Merriam-Webster to hold the answer to they complex mystery that is just an eight letter word.
But the dictionary gives us the simplest answer. Maybe that satisfies some people. But knowing what religion is and understanding religion are two completely different things.
To understand religion first we have to accept that we can’t understand it through words. It’s to complex for that. It’s like love. What is love? You can try to define it, but you can’t understand it until you experience it.
So what is religion. Well, we can call it many things. Belief in a god or gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group. But we can’t truly understand religion until we accept that it goes beyond those words, and we must experience religion to truly know.
Religion can’t be found in words.