From The Root Of All Religion by Alvin Boyd Kuhn, 1880-1963 (Available from Kessinger Publishing)
Trimmed of all abstruse verbiage the fundamental definition of religion is just man’s psychological reaction to the universe of life, in which he finds himself. By psychological is meant intellectual and emotional, sensual and spiritual, the experience of the psyche or conscious faculty in man. The whole reaction of man, the psychic being, to life is his religion. Intellectually, what a man thinks of life is his philosophy; but when the philosophic content of his thought works over into his emotional realm and becomes suffused with the emotions of loyalty, sacrifice, devotion and high allegiance, it is then his religion. Etymologically it is that influence which “binds” him “back” (Latin, re, back, and ligo, to bind,) to that which is most deeply fundamental in him, his deific self; a power or disposition which, amidst the events of a world that is ever changing, links him to an order of permanent and essential being that is the abiding heart of the universe. It is well that this etymological sense of the word be clarified, for there have been definitions that have widely missed the mark of true meaning. One current rendering has it, a “binding back” to the purely conservative, a tying to traditionalism. After all, religion is what its age-long theological interpretation has represented it to be—man’s spiritual relation to God, that is, to the power that links him to the orders of life. But theology has rendered this true definition practically impotent, has falsified and distorted the reference, and eventually the meaning, by localizing the God in the case in the cosmic heavens instead of in man himself. This diversion of thought and aspiration from operable deity within to ineffable, incomprehensible and inaccessible deity without, has effected the sad miscarriage of all religion, which has been the direst catastrophe of all history. It has come close to causing the abortion of all cultural effort.

Through the decay and loss of primal relevance religion in later centuries has been emasculated to the status and character of a mere aspect of psychology. It has degenerated from robust practique to pious sentimentalism. It is sheer disposition to devoutness, to sanctimoniousness. At times it is hardly even that, becoming just dilettante aesthetics. Indeed Santayana, the Harvard philosopher, concedes that this is all that it should presume to be. With many it becomes the expression of quite irrational, maudlin, eccentric and ignoble impulses of human nature. In this respect it has presented for centuries a most ungainly picture, an exhibition of our nature at its weakest. One needs only to point to its known ecclesiastical record to confirm this statement. It is religion that has bred the most bitter wars, the most arrant bigotry, the cruelest persecution, the foulest forms of man’s inhumanity to man that history narrates. While at the same time it has given play to some of the most shining forms of loyalty to high things, devotion to noble causes and sublime sacrifice for lofty principles, its influence in history has been of debatable value. As a result a large segment of the intelligent portion of mankind, especially in the West, has definitely repudiated it as a beneficent cultural force. Theology, which ranked in ancient days as the Kingly Science, is now reduced to so sorry a state of neglect that even its own professors, the ministers, are no longer genuinely interested in it. An eminent metropolitian pastor recently declared in a sermon that theology would in fifteen years be as obsolete as Grecian mythology, and said that he had turned his religious effort in the direction of social service.

Yet in spite of its derelict predicament religion continues to exert upon the mind of the age a tremendous weight of influence out of all proportion to its slender appeal to rationalism. This power is drawn from the inherent force and sway of traditionalism in common nature. Tradition is not itself rational. Its habitudes are frequently in contravention of logic. It rests upon the deeper mystical susceptibilities of the human psyche in the social mass. Superstition grows upon the fertile soil of uncritical mysticism, abetted by priestcraft. So religion presides still at all social functions having vital reference to life. The Bible still casts its lugubrious shadow over christenings, weddings, funerals; stalks abroad in the courts, the schools, and on every solemn occasion. To an extent of which the individual is little aware, Bible phrases still dominate the daily mass consciousness. Children are still indoctrinated with the statements of a meaningless orthodoxy and the formulae of catechetical instruction.

Religion thus occupies a most ambiguous position; neglected and flouted, yet in the exercise of its traditional power; discredited as irrational, yet dominant over the collective mind; almost totally uncomprehended even by is purveyors, yet forced upon each succeeding generation of children as the very bread of life; holding its place by the sheer force of custom, yet at last seriously menaced with extinction by economically determined radicals.

From The Root Of All Religion by Alvin Boyd Kuhn, 1880-1963 (Available from Kessinger Publishing)

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