Does religion exist?
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There is no more a thing called religion that can be studied than there is a thing called life. In particular, there is no definition that will encompass religion and exclude everything that is not religion. The chief reason why people can never say that religion is "really" anything else is that it isn't, really, anything to start with.
Reading further it turns out that Andrew Brown's thesis is less apocalyptic: he argues that religion is, at best, a "family resemblance" notion so that attempts to find an essence characteristic of all the phenomena we ordinarily classify as religion are doomed to failure.
I'm not so sure. Here is a minimalist analysis of religion that I'd argue, applies to all central cases of religion, excludes all beliefs and practices that are clearly not religion and explains why the borderline cases are borderline. So try this: a religion consists of
(1) The belief that there is some supernatural reality
(2) A cult--public, private or both.
(3) The belief that there is some causal connection between the supernatural reality and the cult.
Each of these conditions is itself minimal, e.g. the "supernatural reality" in question can be anything from a theistic god with psychological states who acts in the world to an impersonal, transcendental something-I-know-not-what to a conglomerate of ancestors, daimons, faeries and godlets. It also doesn't include any ethical dimension which from our prejudice in favor of "Great World Religions" is usually thought to be central but, insofar as we want a criterion that everything we commonly understand as religion will satisfy, doesn't figure.
Every religion I can think of satisfies these conditions. Atheistic versions of Hinduism and Buddhism for example recognize some supernatural something or other and recommend meditation and cultic activities as a means to get in touch with it. Borderline cases are borderline because they satisfy one condition but not the others. Neoplatonism, with its elaborate theology, isn't a central case of religion because it doesn't involve any cultic activity though if you regard it as the ideology of late Greco-Roman paganism the combination of Neoplatonic theology and pagan sacrifices and other cultic activities clearly is a religion. The North Korean dear leader cult isn't a religion because, even though it involves cultic activities, it doesn't involve any beliefs in the supernatural.
Ok? Objections? So that's religion: not as big a deal as most people think and something we can all enjoy even if we don't believe in the supernatural even in the most minimal sense.
By laying too much on religion, we're destroying it. By insisting not only on supernatural belief but ethical commitment for religious participation we dissuade people from participating in the cult: so the churches close, the myths die, the ceremonies fall into disuse, the processions stop, the hymns are forgotten--everything that matters about religion disappears and the world is a poorer, duller place.