Religion vs. Life View: What is the Difference?
Updated: Jul 11
Here in Scandinavia, we have a concept called “Livssyn” that coexists with the concept of “Religion”. Livssyn (“life view” in English), essentially, is a person’s belief related to the nature of life and the philosophy that they associate with that belief. In Norway, secular life view organizations coexist in the same sphere as religious organizations. The most well-known life view organization in Norway is probably the Norwegian Humanist Association.
During our ongoing campaign to recruit people living in Norway to join the Church of Pain, we have received several comments from people saying that it would be an easier path to register our organization as a life view organization rather than a religion or church. As with many of the comments that we receive about the Church of Pain, this has led us to think in more detail about how we view these two terms, why we feel the way we do about registering the Church of Pain as a religion, and if we should reconsider how we want to register Church of Pain.
While obvious, it bears stating that having a life view or philosophy around how one conducts oneself—alone or in groups—is not exclusive to religious or secular organizations. That is, both types of organizations have a life view and neither could really exist without having a way to talk about existence and the role that it plays in the organizations and the lives of their members.
The difference between a secular life view and a religious life view is in the recognition of a force, consciousness, or power that is beyond the scope of human cognition. As in an equation, the only thing left after cancelling out all of the other factors that secular and religious organizations share, the belief that a power beyond our comprehension flows through our universe is what separates the two.
Why is it important to us?
For many people, drawing a line between secular and religious with regards to a life view could be perceived as a distinction without a difference. For us, it goes to the core of what religion is and the role that it plays in our lives. We have written about our view of a universal force previously, but we believe that every religion—in its attempt to articulate or explain this universal force—is describing the same thing. That “thing”—regardless of the name given (e.g., Brahman, The Great Spirit, Allah, Anima Mundi, Yahweh, Ki, etc.)—is the difference and, to us, it is important.
Acknowledging a universal force beyond our comprehension or (usual) perception that binds us to the rest of existence is a way to view ourselves as a part of a greater whole and vice-versa. It speaks to the principle that we are not separated from the rest of the universe, we are part of a greater whole, our actions have consequences for everything around us and, not least, that human ego—and hubris—should be understood in relation to a power that is so much larger than ourselves and simultaneously a part of us.
Are we really a religion?
Our belief in a divine energy that pervades all matter, time, and space does not require us to convert anyone to our belief because, from our perspective, no atom in the universe is separate from that energy whether it chooses to believe in it or not. Neither do we feel that our belief gives us the right to tell people how they should live based on rules dictated by a supernatural entity. Our view is that “gods” are an anthropomorphic interpretation of the divine universal force created by humans rather than actual supernatural entities.
Our focus is on perceiving and communing with the Divine rather than pretending that we can communicate with it or that it will speak to us in human language. While this is a change in the definition of “god” from some modern perspectives, the divinity that we worship through our practice is the force from which all modern religion is derived—an Ur-deity greater than any conception of a specific supernatural entity—our understanding of a divine natural force constitutes a concrete religious belief.
It is unfortunate that many people understand religion as a dogmatic structure of rules imposed by an authority that claims to receive its directives from a supernatural power, but that is neither our understanding of nor the way that we practice religion.
Can’t we just take the easy path?
The life view of the Church of Pain is very similar to that of some secular organizations and people have suggested that we just register as a secular organization to avoid the added difficulty of registering a religion. We feel that our interpretation of the universal force as a divine, omnipresent entity is fundamental to understanding who we are and what we stand for.
While we share a great many moral positions with secular organizations (e.g., Humanists), we do not believe in a human-centric ethical view. It would be problematic, if not impossible, to attempt to explain what we believe and why we believe it without referring to a universal force that connects all things. It might be easier to register ourselves as a non-religious organization, but it would be dishonest.