Religion vs Philosophy of Life

A religion is something you join, a philosophy of life is something you adopt. – Jay N. Forrest

I have gone back and forth on what to call Bodhidaoism, which I describe as a worldview and way of life that seeks to guide people in living wisely. Is this “worldview and way of life” a religion or a philosophy?

Both Buddhism and Daoism are usually considered religions, while Stoicism and Humanism are usually considered philosophies. Both words have their problems.

Paul Kurtz saw the same problem, so he coined the term Eupraxsophy “in order to distinguish nontheistic beliefs and practices from other systems of beliefs and practices.”

In three decades, unfortunately, the word has gained zero traction. So we are stuck with a religion or philosophy. Religion makes most people think of the worship of God, and modern philosophy is largely a cognitive exercise with little or no relevance to life.

So at least now you understand why I have gone back and forth on what to call Bodhidaoism. In my first book on Bodhidaoism, I called it a “secular religion.” It might also be called a personal religion.

But now I am tending to call it a philosophy of life because it lacks one thing that Buddhism and Daoism have, and that is an institution. Daniel Dennett’s working definition of religions is: “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.”

I disagree with the requirement of “belief in a supernatural agent or agents”, but think he may be right about the “social systems” part. What doesn’t Stoicism and Humanism have? Churches, temples, or monasteries.

In this, Bodhidaoism is probably closer to a philosophy of life than it is to a religion. After all, a religion is something you join, and in Bodhidaoism there is nothing to join. But you can adopt it as your own philosophy of life.

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Jay N. Forrest

Zen Humanist Teacher.