Buddhism and Confucianism Are Religions Without a God

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Religion without God

The most common understanding of the word Religion is: “the service and worship of God or the supernatural, commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance, a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary) According to this source, “many people turn to religion for comfort in a time of crisis.” Many have argued that a tradition is a religion only if it worships a god. But we also hear expressions like: “Hockey is a religion in Canada.” Then what is religion? Are Christianity and Islam religions because worshiping God is at their core, and other traditions are not because they don’t focus on worshiping a divinity?

This essay will try to argue that: despite the absence of god or gods, as well as a lack of concern for the afterworld, Therevada Buddhism and Confucianism can be considered religious traditions.

First what does the term Religion? Clifford Geertz argues that: Religion is a cultural system that creates powerful and long-lasting meaning, by establishing symbols that relate humanity to beliefs and values. ( Geertz 63) Religions have symbols, traditions, writings and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe and the afterlife. They tend to emphasize morality, ethics, laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the universe and human nature. Paul Tillich defines religion as:”the state of being grasped by ultimate concern.“( Tillich 4) Jon Bowker says that religion is a way of breaking “through limitations”, or is an expression of “route-finding activities” (Bowker viii). Frederick Stregn defines religion as “a mean towards ultimate transformations.” (Streng, 1985: 1-8) According to professor Ninian Smart, a set of teachings can be considered a religion if it has the following seven dimensions: practical and ritual, experiential and emotional, narrative and mythic, doctrinal and philosophical, ethical and legal, social and institutional and material.(Smart 10) It looks like the ideas of God and the afterlife are absent for Smart’s criteria as well.

To understand how Chinese see religion by analyzing the word itself: “zong jiao” meaning “source” and “teaching”. (Woo 5) In arguing the idea that Buddhism and Confucianism are not only philosophies, it is important to bring up the difference between philosophy and religion: religion is concerned with the source of life and the consequences of our actions in the afterlife while philosophy is not. According to this definition, then both Budhism and Confucianism are Religions.

The word “Religio” means to relate or connect to naturally occurring events with higher meaning. People write poetry, music, dance to project the deeper meaning and find an explanation of why the natural things do occur. They want to interpret things in a metaphysical way. Religion is acting out the understanding of these connections, a guiding principle and a subsequent willingness to take action to recognize the connections. Even an atheist is as religious as a believer because he devotes himself to the denial of God. There are several criteria and elements that we can use to test whether a tradition qualifies as a Religion.

Religion also has a functional aspect- what it does. It allows us to cope with life’s challenges. Humans are set back by a lot of temptations and tribulations. Religion helps us hope for better results or accept setbacks. It helps us explain defeat, and offers renewed hope for continuous effort. It offers a safe haven to return to and provides comfort. As Carl Marx calls it: “the opiate of the people”, it creates a different reality. It is an ointment that numbs the pain, helps us to keep going, to hope for a better tomorrow.

To better identify the elements that establish these two traditions as religions, it...
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