It is remarkable just how few people want to be considered religious. Even people who, by any definition of the word belong to organized religious groups with whom they attend religiously and which have organized clergy, formal liturgy, and well-defined doctrinal statements, do not want to be considered as religious but would rather be considered as spiritual as if that meant anything different. I have long found this to be deeply puzzling, because this striking and widespread antipathy to being considered religious among a wide spectrum of people has hindered those people from understanding and accepting that whether they like it or not, they are in fact religious people, and religious in ways that may not always be according to their liking. It is a hard thing to seek to bring to someone’s attention aspects of their reality that they are not only not aware of but are positively hostile towards, and that is often the case when it seeks to explaining to others that whether they like it or not, they are religious in spite of themselves.
One of the more striking observations that many Christian and other theist apologists have noted in recent decades is that mankind cannot help but be religious. I know a local group of masonic brothers who religiously meet every Thursday night, and even in this covid crisis still meet on zoom meetings at the same time they would have met in their masonic building to discuss matters of philosophical and esoteric and historical interest. Many of these people find masonry appealing precisely because it is spiritual without being religious, but their own interest in spiritual matters and their fondness for ritual mean that they are in fact being religious, and even devotedly so, about their practice. Despite not wanting to be viewed as religious in a conventional sense, they cannot help but to be religious in the sense of holding views about what is important as well as in their fondness for ritual that helps to provide meaning. And ultimately that is enough to make one religious, and it would be well if people did not feel bad about admitting that their loyalties and devotions and search for meaning and importance was religious. No one should have to be ashamed to consider themselves religious.
Indeed, we cannot avoid being religious. Like many apologists, I can state with full sincerity and conviction that I have never met a person who was not religious after a fashion. That did not mean that I considered their religious devotion to be something I could approve of, but rather that I have never met anyone that lacked the tendency to devote themselves to something. Often what people devote themselves to is not worth very much, But many of us have habits to which we are devoted and to which we spend time, regular time, and those amount to religious behavior. We find worth in titles and positions and ranks and orders, even if those are in games with little or no practical benefit to our lives except to provide us a means by which we can demonstrate some sort of competence. Whether we devote ourselves to ideology or high or low culture, games or going to see the symphony or opera or genres of art and music and literature, I have never met a person who did not have some sort of area in which they placed ultimate meaning and importance and from which they derived meaning. The worthiness of these objects of worship and devotion, and the lack of awareness on the part of devotees that they were in fact showing themselves to be religious notwithstanding, that religion was obvious enough to see.
Why is there such a concerted effort on the part of people to refuse to consider themselves to be religious? Given that we are often creatures of habit and that these habits–even the habits of going out to eat and enjoying the aesthetic pleasures of food and drink or the endorphin rush of exercise and sports–are in fact religious in nature, why should we seek to deny this fact? What is it about religion that we do not wish to identify ourselves with? For one, there appears to be a disdain for wishing to be a part of organized religion, which is all the more hypocritical when one considers that people feel no such reluctance to be a part of organized political groupings that are every bit as narrow-minded and fanatical and doctrinally bound as any church may be. Being religious may seem to make one less rational than we would desire to be, but human beings are not strictly rational beings. We have emotional ties, and emotional reactions–such as the irrational hostility to being considered religious–that demonstrate our lack of perfect rationality in the most embarrassing of ways. We want to be thought of as something other than what we are, and so we rebel against that which reminds us that we are a part of the common herd, part of the superstitious majority, connected with the past of humanity in ways that we do not want to face or admit or acknowledge. The truth remains though, as much as we would prefer to avoid it, that we are religious in spite of ourselves. The obvious question is, what are we to do about it?