Function of Religion: Analysis

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a function as “the normal or characteristic action of anything.” They list several definitions for religion. For our purposes we’ll use the second definition. It states, “religion is any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy.” You’ll note that this definition does not include a belief in a creator, ruler, or Divine Being. This is because for some of us, that is not a function of religion.

So what is the function of Judaism in your life? What are the normal characteristics? What purpose do we expect this religion to have in our lives? Is the function to give us a system of belief? Is it to give us a way to worship? Is it to give us a code of ethics and a philosophy, or a method of giving recognition to a creator, ruler, or Divine Being?

If you’ve done these explorations about the function of religion, you have material about religious memories over the course of your life. The material forms a record of your most memorable religious moments and the emotions associated with them. Now that you have that information in hand, take some time to look through it. Note any patterns and give some thought to what it might mean.

Are there certain types of events that feature prominently in your memories? Are these events in the home, a place of worship, or some other venue? Are they special occasions or religious events that occurred on a regular basis? What role did you play in these events?

Are there people who are part of these memories? What roles do they play? How did you feel about their participation in the event? How did you feel about being with them on that occasion?

Are there certain types of foods that go with your memories? What were they? What made these so special to you? Were they special because you only ate them at certain times and you either liked them a lot or really hated them?

Is music a part of your recollections? Was the music instrumental? Were you part of a chorus? Was the music something from your home? Were you playing the music? Who chose the music? What emotions came from this music?

What about smell? Is incense or flowers a part of your memory? The smell of roasted chicken or brisket? Latkes frying? Cookies baking? Think hard.

Is what you were wearing significant to your memory? Was it the outfit for a special event or the yarmulke you wore every week?

Include it all. All of it is important to the function of religion in your life.

Take your time. Mull it all over.

When you’re done processing it all, look at what you have. Which are the characteristic actions that speak to you? For me, religion is about community and ritual. It’s about creating a welcoming space and making that space special. The rest of it is important, but that is the function of religion in my life. How about you?

Related Posts about the Function of Religion:
March Discussion: The Function of Religion
Early Childhood
Teen Years
Podcast: Function of Religion

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