Archive for the ‘Religious Books’ Category

Religion & Spirituality books

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

The English word “religion” is derived from the Middle English “religioun” which came from the Old French “religion.” It may have been originally derived from the Latin word “religo” which means “good faith,” “ritual,” and other similar meanings.

Defining the word “religion” is fraught with difficulty. Many attempts have been made. Most seem to focus on too narrowly only a few aspects of religion; they tend to exclude those religions that do not fit well.

“It is apparent that religion can be seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of human kind. To limit religion to only one of these categories is to miss its multifaceted nature and lose out on the complete definition.”

All of the definitions that we have encountered contain at least one deficiency:

  • Some exclude beliefs and practices that many people passionately defend as religious. For example, their definition might include belief in a God or Goddess or combination of Gods and Goddesses who are responsible for the creation of the universe and for its continuing operation. This excludes such non-theistic religions as Buddhism and many forms of religious Satanism which have no such belief.
  • Some definitions equate “religion” with “Christianity,” and thus define two out of every three humans in the world as non-religious.
  • Some definitions are so broadly written that they include beliefs and areas of study that most people do not regard as religious. For example, David Edward’s definition would seem to include cosmology and ecology within his definition of religion – fields of investigation that most people regard to be a scientific studies and non-religious in nature.
  • Some define “religion” in terms of “the sacred” and/or “the spiritual,” and thus result in two definitions.

Dictionaries have made many attempts to define the word religion:

Barns & Noble (Cambridge) Encyclopedia (1990):

“…no single definition will suffice to encompass the varied sets of traditions, practices, and ideas which constitute different religions.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1990):
“Human recognition of superhuman controlling power and especially of a personal God entitled to obedience”

This definition would not consider some Buddhist sects as religions. Many Unitarian Universalists are excluded by this description. Strictly interpreted, it would also reject polytheistic religions, since it refers to “a” personal God.”

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:

“a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

This is a curious definition because it does not require elements often associated with religion, such as deity, morality, worldview, etc. Also it requires that a person pursue their religion with enthusiasm. Many people identify themselves with a specific religion, but are not intensely engaged with their faith.


  1. Webster’s New World Dictionary (Third College Edition):

“any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy.”
This definition would exclude religions that do not engage in worship. It implies that there are two important components to religion:

  • one’s belief and worship in a deity or deities
  • one’s ethical behavior towards other persons

This dual nature of religion is expressed clearly in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) in Matthew 22:36-39:

“Teacher, what is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” 

  1. Qumran Bet, A Community Striving to Come to the Pure Essence of the Worship of YHWH,” cites definitions from an unknown dictionary: “religion (ri-lij’[uh]n) n.
    • The beliefs, attitudes, emotions, behavior, etc., constituting man’s relationship with the powers and principles of the universe, especially with a deity or deities; also, any particular system of such beliefs, attitudes, etc.
    • An essential part or a practical test of the spiritual life.
    • An object of conscientious devotion or scrupulous care: e.g. His work is a religion to him.
    • Obs. Religious practice or belief.”
  1. The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM):

“An organized system of belief that generally seeks to understand purpose, meaning, goals, and methods of spiritual things. These spiritual things can be God, people in relation to God, salvation, after life, purpose of life, order of the cosmos, etc.”