Which is Religion?

This week in class we talked about the differences between official and non-official religion. The differences were pretty straight forward and simple. Official religions have official leaders like priests and bishops, official locations like churches, official doctrine, and official rituals. (McGuire, Pg. 99-101) Non-official religions have this stuff too, but it’s all more informal. (McGuire, Pg. 113) Things can be done by whoever, whenever, wherever, whatever, and however they please. (McGuire, Pg. 113) Shrines left at car accident sites, after major tragedies, or after famous celebrities die are all examples of this. There is nothing in official doctrines that say that people have to do these things; they just do it because it feels right. All of this ties back into the conversation of whether or not religiosity is declining in America. In McGuire’s book, she talks about how the country’s religiosity should not be measured by attendance or official beliefs. (McGuire, Pg. 108-109) Just because someone doesn’t attend official services every week or practice official doctrine doesn’t mean they’re not religious. Some might call these outsider groups cults since they don’t believe in the same things as the mainstream groups. The term cult, of course, has been given a very negative image over time by many people. While certain cults in more modern history were horrifying and disastrous, to say that all cult-like beliefs are bad is simply not true. After a history of official religious organization, we tend to look down upon or ignore these other non-official groups. In the end though, it is clear things are changing in modern times as more people move away from official religion and feel freer to believe what they want to believe.