One can look at many comment threads on news posts, blog posts, and even discussions and arguments on Facebook or Twitter and find that often religion gets directly brought up into the debate. This can look a number of different ways. This can take the form of someone denigrating all organized religion as evil, harmful, or outdated. It can also take the form of a religious individual (usually a Christian, sadly enough) lamenting the state of the world because it isn’t following God or at least some rule or belief that they hold to and think everyone else should too. Other times you can get arguments between people of the same religion, and every once in awhile you can actually see productive dialogue.
My point is that when it comes to discussions religion often gets brought up. Sometimes in these discussions there are people who wonder why religion has to come up all the time. I think such a question is missing that, at least in my opinion, we are all religious in one way or another.
Does that mean we all believe in God? No, but then again not every system of organized religion has a deity at the center, Buddhism is one such example of this (although there are some variations that do include some kind of deity from what I understand). Does it mean that we all have an organized label that we attach to ourselves? Not necessarily. What it means is that we have particular ways of looking at the world that are shaped by what we believe and these beliefs can often be shared with other people even without a formal time of gathering.
Wikipedia gives this definition of religion in the first line of their article on religion, “Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order in existence.” To me that definition encompasses a much wider spectrum than most people utilize when speaking of religion. We all have our own ideas on God, even if it is ultimately that such a being doesn’t exists; on the origins of existence, be it by natural means, supernatural means or some combination; how we should view human beings; and morality, what is right and wrong.
So the reason why religion is not far from many of the discussions involving various issues, is that ultimately we all have our particular religious beliefs informing our opinions. Certain religious people may willingly take on a religious label like Christian (or some more specific label like Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, etc), Atheist, Jewish, Muslim, or any of the other multitude of religions that there are. That doesn’t mean that those who eschew any sort of labels are not religious and that they don’t share a base of beliefs with a group of people.
Now I understand that my opinion here may not be held by others, in fact the article I referenced above has a footnote saying how religion is very difficult to define. I think it is probably easy to think of yourself as not having any religion just because you don’t sign up to one of the major world religions, but I’m just not convinced its that simple.
I’ve known many people who hold deep beliefs and convictions, but do not claim a particular organized religion to adhere to. How does one classify these beliefs and convictions? They are rooted in some larger framework of how they view the world. Maybe you don’t want to concede that it’s a religious belief, but even if I grant that I don’t feel they’re as different as many would like it to be.
Yes the beliefs may not come from the Torah, Bible, Qur’an, or Vedas, but they come from somewhere. Beliefs can come from parents and the environment we are raised in (this is often brought up in arguments against religions like Christianity and Islam, but the same would be true of atheism or any view). Beliefs can be shaped by books, articles, studies, and other material we read or hear over the course of our lives. We are shaped by a number of factors that are both outside of our control and within our control, this is true for everybody (although admittedly some have more control than others).
Now this doesn’t mean that everyone is right and there can’t be any criticizing of any ideas. It just simply means that we all have our own religious beliefs, or a belief system if you prefer. It means that just saying you’re religious or non-religious doesn’t somehow increase the validity of your points.
It also means that we’ll be bringing all these beliefs we carry into the public world. Our views of God, humanity, the world, and morality are not things anybody can just take off at the door and automatically have a neutral position. So maybe the pressing question isn’t “Why does religion always come into the discussion?” Instead it may be, “Why did we think religion could be eliminated from the conversation in the first place?”