I'll give you an example. All it takes to become a Muslim is to recite the Shahadah ("Allah is One and Muhammad is His Prophet"), with utter belief and certainty, before a particular number of witnesses. Then POOF! you're a Muslim.
Islam is a faith-based religion.
To become a Jew, on the other hand, is somewhat more complicated. Either you have to be born to a Jewish woman, in which case you're always Jewish (see my earlier post, with the caveat that some denominations may quibble about Good Jews and Bad Jews), or you have to go through quite a rigorous process that involves doing things. And it doesn't so much matter what you believe - it's how you live your life that counts.
Judaism is an action-based religion.
So today one of my students (an atheist) commented that Cargo Cults are not religions because they aren't "faith based." I pointed out that a) they ARE faith-based and b) some religions (like Judaism) ARE NOT faith-based. He said yes, Judaism IS faith-based. I said no, it's not, it's action-based, and anyway - what about atheistic Jews? He said they're not Jews. I said gee, they'd be awfully surprised to hear that, since they consider themselves to be so. Because I haven't yet gone over the difference between faith-based and action-based, he didn't get it - the only concession he was willing to make was between "faith-based" and "blind-faith based." ooookay, he doesn't have a very large ax to grind!
There are plenty of other ways of classifying religions (or anything else, for that matter - I am a relativist about almost everything, which can drive my family nuts). I learned a completely new way today, though. After class, another student came up to me and said he pretty much knows the material already, but he's taking the class for an unusual reason. Organized religion, he said, really makes him angry. One of his parents is Jewish and the other is Catholic, and he went to Catholic school, which he told me was a traumatic experience (I know there are some of you out there who will identify with this!). So after he graduated, he went to his Jewish roots, but that just made him mad, too. He made the rounds of various religions, but they all made him mad. (Bear in mind that he seems like a very nice, mild-mannered fellow, but I know that's what was said about Dahmer, too.)
So I suggested that he go to the Blue Mountain Zendo, because hey, who ever heard of getting mad at a Buddhist? He said oh, what a good idea, and anyway, Buddhism's not a religion, and he's only mad at religions.
So - new way to classify religions: those that piss me off, and those that don't. It actually works incredibly well for me, as there really are some that get my knickers in a twist the minute I think of them (it's so hard to teach them that I always look for guest lecturers!), while there are others that I find quite calming.
I like to think that I learn something from my students every day.
Oh, and I already have pegged the student who will do every single assignment the wrong way. He's already done the first one wrong, and that one was just to send me an email from his college email address.