Religious vs. Non-Religious Belief Systems

Explaining Religion
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Religion is a type of belief system, but not all belief systems are religions. Differentiating religious from nonreligious belief systems is sometimes easy, but other times rather difficult, as demonstrated by the arguments people have over what qualifies as a religion. Establishing a set of characteristics which tend to coalesce around religions can help, but that isn't always enough.

In the end, there are a few beliefs or belief systems which are difficult to categorize. Theism is perhaps most often confused with religion, even though theism by itself doesn't even qualify as a belief system whereas religion always does. Philosophy is sometimes confused with religion because the two topics tend to cover the same basic issues. Spirituality is often mistaken for not being a religion - perhaps because religion has acquired a bad name but people still want to retain the basic trappings and features.

Understanding how and why theism, philosophy, spirituality, and other beliefs are similar and different from what we normally think of when when think "religion" can help a great deal in understanding just what religion is. Some point to where the outer boundaries of religion lie, while others help us understand what religion necessarily includes.

Religion vs. Superstition
Comparing religion to superstition will probably cause most believers to take offense, but there are too many similarities between the two for a comparison to be dismissed out of hand. Granted, not every religious believer is superstitious and some irreligious atheists are superstitious, but that doesn't mean that there's no connection between the two. Both depend on a non-material understanding of nature that seems to have deep psychological resonance with the average person.

Religion vs. The Paranormal
Most religious believers will completely reject the idea that there is any connection between religion and paranormal beliefs. Outsiders, in contrast, will quickly notice that there are a number of similarities that cannot be easily dismissed. Paranormal beliefs may not be quite the same as a religion, but sometimes they come rather close.

Religion vs. Theism
Because most religions tend to be theistic, and become theism is so central to the largest religions in the West, many have acquired the confused idea that theism is somehow itself the same as religion, thus ignoring everything else that goes into religions (including their own, oddly enough). Even some atheists have fallen victim to this error.

Religion vs. Religious
The terms religion and religious obviously come from the same root, but that doesn't mean they always refer to basically the same thing. In reality, the adjective religious has a broader usage than the noun religion.

Religion vs. Philosophy
Both religion and philosophy address similar questions, but that doesn't mean they are the same thing. Most obviously, philosophy doesn't depend on miracles or revelations from deities, philosophers don't engage in common rituals, and philosophy doesn't insist that conclusions need to be accepted on faith.

Religion & Spirituality
It's become popular to imagine there is a hard and fast difference between two different ways of relating with the divine or the sacred: religion and spirituality. Religion is supposed to describe the social, public, and organized means by which people relate to the sacred or divine while Spirituality is supposed to describe such relations when they occur in private. The truth is that such a distinction is not entirely valid.

What is Animism?
Animism is the belief that everything in nature has its own spirit or divinity.

What is Paganism?
Paganism might be pantheistic or polytheistic, but is distinctive in that it relates to God or gods primarily through nature.

What is Shamanism?
Shamanism is an animistic religion of certain peoples of northern Asia in which mediation between the visible and spirit worlds is effected by shamans."   

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Your Citation
Cline, Austin. "Religious vs. Non-Religious Belief Systems." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Cline, Austin. (2020, August 26). Religious vs. Non-Religious Belief Systems. Retrieved from Cline, Austin. "Religious vs. Non-Religious Belief Systems." Learn Religions. (accessed May 30, 2023).