Monday, March 27, 2006
Oppenheimer's definition of religion.
So what do you think of Oppenheimer's definition of religion? He makes a point of avoiding an essentialist definition and tries to find a descriptive "family resemblance" definition instead. (I strongly favor this kind of approach.) He offers a two-part definition. First, "religion is commitment to a set of beliefs that requires meaningful sacrifice." That should be fun to discuss. Second, in the American context, he suggests that "we know that an American has picked a religion when we see that she does not have two religions." His nutshell version is this: "We may say that a religion is a sacrificial system whose adherents do not ascribe to another religion" (16).
This definition allows him to distinguish between seekers (who can dabble in everything from Yoga to est without necessarily threatening their good standing in a more conventional religion) and joiners, and it allows him to avoid dogmatic definitions that require particular beliefs such as supernatural beings (since there are religions without gods). It presents a real dilemma for some UUs, however. I was especially struck by this statement in his discussion of Jews for Jesus: "It is not that we know a Jew when we see one; rather, we know that they are not Jews when we see them being Christian." That helped illuminate for me the continuing awkwardness many "JewUs" feel about Unitarian Universalism's history, and especially the threat some Jews in UU congregations feel from UU Christians.
But let's play with his definition. Religion is a sacrificial system whose adherents do not ascribe to another religion. Can this definition help us understand Unitarian Universalism?
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 27 March 2006 at 8:10 AM