what religion is

The term “religion” now delimits a particular, limited sphere of activity, a form of life like golf or novel-writing in scope and meaning. The precise nature of the subordination will differ depending upon the polity within which it is enforced, but it will always be there and always enforced. The nation-state brooks no rivals when it comes to establishing a hierarchy of order and subordination, and if some particular set of Christians or Muslims or Jews gets uppity, refusing to acknowledge the state’s hegemony in this matter of establishing hierarchies of loyalty, and claiming, perhaps, unrestricted loyalty and authority in ordering the lives of their adherents, then the state will respond quickly, and usually with violence.

In the American case, the establishment of the appropriate set of hierarchical relations between the state and particular religious groups is now so firmly in place that it has come to seem inevitable and natural, even to those who have been categorized by the state as religious. American Jews and Christians have become, for the most part, just what you would expect of those who have embraced the category “religion” for their Christianness or Jewishness – that is, hobbyists and cheerleaders. The former because their Christianity and their Judaism have become for them a part-time leisure activity; the latter because, so far as the question of the relation of their Christianness or Jewishness to the state comes to mind, they will think of it as one of unambiguous and enthusiastic support – that is, as cheerleaders.