I would contend that in our modern English, the word religion is not a helpful word and we should avoid using it. To take groups of people with such vastly different ways of thinking and living in the world and put them all into the one bucket of religion is not respectful to any of the different groups and doesn’t tell you a single thing about any of them.
To classify groups as different as Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, and Zoroastrians all as religions tells you nothing about any of the groups.
The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” This is a problematic definition because not every so-called religion fits it. For example, traditional Buddhism does not believe in the existence of a personal God or gods. And for millennia within Judaism, there have been groups that reject the existence of an afterlife or a spiritual realm populated by anything other than the one God.
We are no longer consistent in our quest for truth if we refuse to consider an idea just because we think it’s religious or because we think it promotes a different religion than our own.
A Better Way Forward
After reading what I’ve written above, one might ask: “If we were to stop using the word religion, what word would we use instead?” My answer to this question is simple: there is no word to replace it. Instead of putting all of these radically-different worldviews into a neat category to be easily dismissed, we ought to examine truth-claims and go where the evidence leads. This is a lot more difficult than ignoring the so-called religions we don’t like. However, it is the best option, for those who seek the Truth always find it.
N.T. Wright – Paul and the Faithfulness of God