Religion: an organized expression of ideas relating to matters of the human quest for peace and happiness, whether in this life or another one. Usually involves a literary canon considered holy/enlightened texts as well as some kind of hierarchical power structure based on nearness to God/enlightenment. Foremost in my experience is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
Day Saints, my own religion until age 14.
God: a divine being, objectively better than humanity in some way. Often acts as a paternalist force, offering reward and punishment as teaching tools for proper human behavior.
Nearness to God: the quality of bringing oneself in line with the values and wishes of the divine. The ultimate state of happiness available to human creatures.
Faith: the belief in a being, a concept, or a structure of the universe even in the absence of evidence. Often considered an essential part of religion.
Enlightenment or Spirituality: the quality of bringing oneself in line with values determined to produce happiness, even in the absence of any divine power dictating those values. Often offered as a juxtaposition to the nearness to God of Judao-Christian religions.
Sin: the wrong; an act or a state of being in contravention of the articulated values of the religion.
Mercy: the capability of kindness, even toward people who do not and have not tried to deserve it.
Forgiveness: the act of setting aside pain and anger from being wronged in order to give the wrongdoer the gift of a new beginning; the quality of seeing an individual’s worth despite full knowledge of their faults and mistakes; the expression of unconditional love.
Redemption: the wrongdoer’s attempt to earn forgiveness; also, the achievement of forgiveness.
Sacrifice: conduct that is the expression of forgiveness. Sacrifice is putting a part of ones own desires aside because the value of the person benefitting from the sacrifice outweighs the value of that desire. I think sacrifice is an integral part of both what the wrongdoer does on her quest for redemption and what the forgiver does when she offers that gift.
I have a complicated relationship with the concepts I’ve described above. I am sure that these ideas mean something else to other people–I’ve only transcribed what they mean to me. I was raised LDS (commonly known as Mormon), and though I’ve since left the Church I continue to believe that my upbringing had a positive effect on me. For years after I left, I eschewed every indication of spirituality, until two or three years ago I found myself increasingly attracted to stories and music about redemption and forgiveness. (Examples here, here, here, and here.)
I wondered if this attraction I felt suggested a need for religion in my life. I thought about it for a long time. I”ve worked hard to craft an ethical vocabulary that does not include divinity. I wholly believe it is possible to be a good person and to achieve harmony and peace in this life, if you work at it. In the end, I came to the conclusion that many of the concepts wrapped up in religion–redemption, sacrifice, mercy, forgiveness–do not need to be entangled with the concept of faith or divinity. You’ll notice that while some of the concepts I described above are interdependent on the essentially faith-based concepts of God and Religion, the concepts of Mercy, Sin, Forgiveness, and Redemption are not. I believe that as people we are capable of little and large sin. We are also capable of showing each other forgiveness and mercy. We are capable of earning and offering redemption.
Perhaps we identify so much with religion because it embodies these principles, which we must practice in order to survive as a human community. Perhaps I’m wrong about faith and my vocabulary is a pale comparison to true spirituality that is dependent on the divine. But isn’t it a beautiful dream, that we can create divinity in our own lives through choices we are eminently, humanly capable of making? I offer no judgment whatsoever on how people should internalize and practice the concepts of mercy, forgiveness, and redemption…just so long as you do practice them somehow.