The Shaping of American Religion - Vol. 1

The Shaping of American Religion - Vol. 1

The Shaping of American Religion - Vol. 1

The Shaping of American Religion - Vol. 1

Excerpt

A series of volumes entitled Religion in American Life should surely begin by clarifying the sense in which the word "religion" is used, for the word has been used, and still is used, in a wide variety of ways. An attempt to legislate a single "proper" meaning would be ill- advised from the start. The unabridged Webster provides nine definitions of the term, of which three merit our quoting in part:

"1. The service and adoration of God or a God as expressed in forms of worship, in obedience to divine commands. . . ."

"6. An apprehension, awareness, or conviction . . . of supernatural powers or influences controlling one's own, humanity's, or nature's destiny. . . ."

"8. A pursuit, an object of pursuit, a principle, or the like, arousing in one religious convictions and feelings such as great faith, devotion, or fervor, or followed with religious zeal, conscientiousness or fidelity; as, patriotism was to him a religion."

Webster's eighth definition, or rather the use that it records, raises the first problem which calls for comment. We do sometimes speak of a man's religion, meaning thereby any ultimate and overriding commitment which is central in his life. So, too, we may speak of the religion of a nation or a culture. We might be told that the religion of America is democracy, or success. We hear on all sides such phrases as "the religion of communism" or "the religion of science." These latter two phrases are ambiguous. The former, for example, might refer to the cosmic world view (albeit the atheism of dialectical materialism) which communism officially propagates. It might, on the other hand, refer simply to the fact that action for the party goals constitutes a dominant focus of fervent and devoted attention for a great many purposeful people. So, too, with the phrase "religion of science. . . ."

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