In A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, Feng Yu-Lan ( Feng Youlan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ) 1895-1990 made two comments about philosophy and religion which have really stuck with me. First, he opined that Westerners are religious people who are sometimes philosophical, while the Chinese are philosophical people who are sometimes religious..
Then he defined philosophy as "systematic, reflective thinking" about life, the universe, and knowledge. Such systematic, reflective thinking may result in theory(ies) about life, the universe and/or thought.
A religion, he writes, is a philosophy "with a certain amount of superstructure which consists of superstitions, dogmas, rituals, and institutions." I would add one additional feature to that definition: The philosophy at the core of a religion commonly, if not universally, posits a power beyond human understanding, which controls life and the universe and possibly limits our knowledge of those things. This power is, at least in part, sympathetic and compassionate toward our human adventures in this life and in this universe. When a philosophy has this component, it might be difficult to distinguish from religion even in the absence of "superstitions, dogmas, rituals, and institutions."
Later in his book, Fung Yu-Lan seems to say that when movements developed within China (Taoism) or were introduced from elsewhere (Buddhism), they came packaged separately as "religious" and "philosophical" There was Buddhist religion and their was Buddhist "learning;" Taoist religion and Taoist "learning" (which were often at odds with each other and often led to contradictory ideas and behaviors).
I love Taoism, i think, because it came to me in a nearly pure philosophical form ( Tao Te Ching). I knew nothing, and still know little and care less, about Taoist religion. The same is true of Buddhism. I love the Four Noble Truths (especially the fourth, which is the eight-fold path. You are welcome to the schools and the lineages and the detailed practices, but please do not try to burden me with them.
I feel the same about Western religions. There is within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, approaches to life, thought, and the universe which have great value. (They happen, in my opinion, to be very similar to each other and to the Eastern philosophies) The superstitions, dogmas, and, sometimes, the rituals and institutions are more off-putting to me than helpful.
But there is that thing about a Higher Power!! Bereft of a belief in a "benevolent" "divinity" i am inclined toward nihilism (which together with ethnocentrism and fascism is part of my evil trinity). I think i finally stopped being a humanist about the time the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki (i was not quite twelve, a little young to be rejecting a life's philosophy -- but i couldn't help it) We are not the helpers, we are the ones who need help,
When a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim becomes a mystic, the God he or she refuses to (or cannot) conceptualize, seems very similar to the Tao i cannot name.