What makes a worldview religious? Here is a list of what I believe to be essential characteristics:
- It is holistic. It effects near-total shifts in perspective, holistically changing the What, How and Why of existence.
- It is transfigural. it spontaneously changes and seems to re-create both one’s self and the world — the visceral sense of who one is, who others are, what life is, what reality is and the relationship between self, other and everything.
- It intensifies value. The shift in Why expands and/or deepens the value of life and reality itself.
- It is transcendent. The worldview is oriented by realities that are understood to transcend comprehension.
- It defies preconception.. The worldview is literally inconceivable until it happens.
- It is second-natural. The worldview is not consciously used or applied; it spontaneously changes one’s experience of being prior to thinking. Insofar that one’s beliefs change, this is a byproduct of one’s faith, that tacit layer of understanding that shapes and moves thinking, speaking, feeling and doing.
- It links us to a community. The worldview is capable of relating to others in a community who share our faith, even when our beliefs, thoughts and tastes differ. Something is shared, and this commonality is known to be real, even when it defies explication.
So far, so good. Now I will infuriate religious people by insisting that many allegedly essential characteristics of religion are dispensable.
- It does not have to be theistic. A religious worldview can center around God, but God is only one way of conceiving transcendence.
- It is not about believing. Beliefs about beings, deities, forces, events, theories might be a side-effect of a religious faith, but these are not the substance of religion, and all too often are counterfeits of religious faith.
- It does not have to include magic. Adoption of magical or mystical beliefs or practices (rituals, sacrifices, prayers, observances) might be adopted as an expression or reinforcement of a religious faith, but these are also not the substance of religion, and all too often are counterfeits of religious life.
- It is not a means to an end. Adopting religion in order to get something or accomplish something for oneself or the world — again, a goal of this kind can be a side-effect of religious faith, but more often, they are counterfeits.
I believe that many people who think they are religious are not, many people who think they are atheists are far more religious than they know, that many people who think they’ve overcome fundamentalism (which is counterfeit religion) still believe new secular content with the same fundamentalist faith, and that people need religion and are tormented by the wrongness of the world until they find it.