There are, as I see it, two starting points for any essay on religion: first, the views of skeptics, agnostics and atheists such as Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri, Karl Marx, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchins, etc.; and second, the exploration of the meaning of what is sacred, in the vein of Mircea Eliade, Paul Tillich, Thomas Merton, Joseph Campbell, Ernst Cassirer, Susanne Langer, and one of my favorite novelists and philosophers, Iris Murdoch. (click for an essay on her views on religion). I shall take up the meaning of the sacred.
The Parthenon, Athens
If I were to ask what people hold sacred, I imagine I would receive a wealth of answers. There are sacred spaces or places many of us hold dear. For me they are many, the Parthenon in Athens, the Pantheon in Rome, Delphi, Tōdai-ji in Nara, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Kalani on the Big Island of Hawaii, homes I have inhabited, Big Sur, Mt. Rainier, to name a few. There are things I consider sacred; there are people I consider sacred. Does that mean I consider what I hold sacred to be holy or have some ultimate value beyond the value for me? When I find something to be sacred, I do not expect everyone else to appreciate it as such. The sacred is subjective, not objective, as I see it; even though thousands may share in holding a specific site holy.