Before we can talk sensibly about religion – or almost anything else – we should give some kind of definition of what we are talking about. Let me, therefore, start with what I think are some legitimate definitions of the term religion. Other concepts of this term, of course, exist; but what I am talking about when I use it is as follows.
According to Webster’s New Word Dictionary, religion is: “(1) belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshipped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe; (2) expression of this belief in conduct and ritual.”
English and English, in their Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytical Terms (1958), define religion as “a system of beliefs by means of which individuals or a community put themselves in relation to god or to a supernatural world and often to each other, and from which the religious person derives a set of values by which to judge events in the natural world.”
The Columbia Encyclopedia notes that “when a man becomes conscious of a power above and beyond the human, and recognizes a dependence of himself upon that power, religion has become a factor in his being.”
These, then, are the definitions of religion which I accept and which I shall have in mind as I discuss the religious viewpoint in this paper. Religion, to me, must include some concept of a deity. When the term is used merely to denote a system of beliefs, practices, or ethical values which are not connected with any assumed higher power, then I believe it is used loosely and confusingly; since such a nonsupernatural system of beliefs can more accurately be described as a philosophy of life or a code of ethics, and it is misleading to confuse a believer in this general kind of philosophy or ethical code with a true religionist.
Every Atheist, in other words, has some kind of philosophy and some code of ethics; and many Atheists, in fact, have much more rigorous life philosophies and ethical systems than have most deists.