Some people want to be called "religious." To them, this term is a honor. Others don't. They see religions as relics of a pre-scientific superstitious age.
I'm in the call me what you want, so long as it isn't "religious" category. It's difficult, though, to pin down what is, and isn't, a religion.
Wikipedia takes a stab at it. Unsatisfyingly, in my opinion. Too many definitions fit just about any strongly held systematized belief or passion, as when someone says "Golf is my religion."
So when I browsed through the table of contents for Christopher Hitchens' "The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever," my eye was caught by an excerpt from one of Daniel Dennett's books titled "A Working Definition of Religion."
Here's what Dennett says:
Tentatively, I propose to define religions as social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought. This is, of course, a circuitous way of articulating the idea that a religion without God or gods is like a vertebrate without a backbone.
Sure, it's possible to quibble with this definition. But intuitively it feels right to me.
And it goes a long way toward explaining why, no matter how often I heard during my devoted Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) days, "this is not a religion," the organization still felt like it was.
For if you're expected to follow vows, commandments, rituals, or forms of worship because a supernatural being (in this case, God and/or the guru) will reward you with spiritual goodies, that sure seems like a religion – no matter the protestations to the contrary.
One of the RSSB books, "Spiritual Letters," contains this quote from one of the early gurus.
Consider that each and every thing in the world – body, mind, and wealth – belong to the Satguru, that you are nothing. Do all of your work knowing it to be thus, and stay within the Satguru's instructions. He will then take you with him [to spiritual regions] when he considers you fit.
Well, maybe. All I know is that for about thirty years I followed the guru's instructions, and I didn't get taken anywhere. Maybe others got a different result.
Regardless, my point is that Radha Soami Satsang Beas, like other religious groups, puts a lot of emphasis on winning the favor of a supernatural being (the guru is considered to be much more than a physical body; God incarnate, in fact).
Similarly, Jesus saves. If you're deserving of salvation.
I like Dennett's definition of religion because it draws a line between belief systems that often are mistakenly lumped together.
Taoism and Buddhism don't belong with Christianity and Islam. The former are world views that don't include an anthropomorphic supreme being who intervenes in human affairs and demands a certain moral code. The latter are religions that do believe in such a god.
I'm with Albert Einstein, who used the term "religious" in a non-theistic sense.
The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe.
It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image – a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being.
For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere.
Letter to a Rabbi in Chicago, from "Albert Einstein, the Human Side," pp. 69-70