Recently, I’ve been bothered by ill-informed commentators and pundits like Richard Dawkins who assume that all religion is defined by some belief in a supernatural God. Those of us who are Unitarian Universalists encounter this attitude frequently;– I’ve had people say to me, “Well, you don’t belong to a real religion, ’cause you don’t even have to believe in anything.” Even some Unitarian Universalists worry about coming up with a statement of what they believe.
But belief is not the single most important defining characteristic of religion. Today I happened to be reading Introduction to World Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, and I found some powerful examples of religions in which belief is not particularly important. For example, Hinduism:
Hinduism has no historical founder, no unified system of belief, no single doctrine of salvation, and no centralized authority.
And what about Confucianism:
Neither Confucianism nor Taoism is like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — monotheistic religions with God at the centre. Confucianism, especially, became a religion without any great speculation on the nature and function of God. For this reason it was often not even considered a religion [by Westerners]. However, it clear that Confucianism is a religion, and that it was the dominant tradition of pre-modern China.
And this interesting bit about Judaism:
From biblical times Jews have subscribed to a wide range of beliefs about the nature of God and his action in the world… Reconstructionist and Humanistic Judaism rejected the supernaturalism of the past, calling for a radical revision of Jewish theology for the contemporary age. In more recent times, the Holocaust has raised fundamental questions about the belief in a supernatural God who watches over his chosen people….
Yes, Christianity is somewhat obsessed with belief in God. But it is wise to remember that outside a Christian context (e.g., as a post-Christian, or as a non-Christian), you can be perfectly religious without worrying one way or the other about belief in God.