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Monday, May 16, 2011

How does one define religion?





The above image of Nikolai Lenin "preaching" to the masses the benefits of communism and the excesses of capitalism raises an interesting question as to how we as people delineate beliefs from religion. Randal Rauser has blogged that sometimes the lines become blurred when analyzing the beliefs of the religious with those of the secular materialist...




"[It] is especially visible in recent years with the vocal new atheists. They constantly speak against "religion" over-against what they are (i.e. "non-religious"). But what is religion? This is one of the many Achilles' heels of this picture of the world, for there is no adequate definition of religion. It is said that religion has "gods", a stipulation that is difficult to reconcile with most forms of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. But then if that arbitrary stipulation is dropped to accommodate these other "religions" then suddenly a number of other things can be classified as religions as well such as nationalism, communism, naturalism, and consumerism. The modern purveyor of this indoctrinational binary opposition (religious vs. non-religious) is thus left lurching between various stipulations of what is religious always choosing whatever will best suit his or her purposes of socially marginalizing those he/she has deemed "religious".

This is where things get especially disturbing because these progressive denizens of the enlightened West with their secular "non-religious" values then offer defenses of the repression of those deemed religious because they are dangerous due to their fundamental irrationality and intolerance. (Author William T.) Cavanaugh noted some examples of repressive rhetoric in Hitchens and Harris, including the latter's defense of a possible nuclear first strike against the Muslim world."


The Merriam Webster dictionary defines religion (4th definition) as "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith". Under this definition, then atheism qualifies as a religion. Additionally, the US courts have upheld the idea that atheism qualifies as a religion as well as secular humanism.

7 comments:

GentleSkeptic said...

Additionally, the US courts have upheld the idea that atheism qualifies as a religion as well as secular humanism.

Well, my first response to this would be to ask if, when the U.S. courts uphold the the idea that gay people have the right to marry, will you then agree that gay marriage is really marriage? Please say it's true.

As to your links… well, once again, I think you tend to link before you read, I think you got to Torcaso v. Watkins via the first WND page, and I think you just parroted WND's claim about the case without reading the link. All I had to do was follow patiently and read carefully before I got to this, on About.com's Torcaso v. Watkins page, which YOU linked to:

One of the reasons this case is important is some of the dicta which were attached to the final opinion. The term dicta is a plural and shortening of "obiter dictum," or "said in passing." Such statements are personal opinions of the justice—they are not necessary to the final result and have no legal force.
In a
dictum footnote attached to this opinion, Justice Black wrote:

"Among the religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others."

This is frequently cited by people on the religious right as [evidence] that the Supreme Court has declared Secular Humanism to be a religion, but such people are simply unaware of the fact that dicta have no legal force.
Ignoring this uncomfortable fact, however, allows them to argue that any hint of Secular Humanism in schools is a violation of the separation of church and state—an ironic argument, since they would be happy to dispense with separation anyway.


Why do you have to be dishonest to make your case? The fact that you have to dig to the FOURTH definition in Webster's—LESS significant than the archaic "scrupulous conformity"—should be a red flag to you. It seems to me that you want to call atheism a religion when it fits an argument you (or someone you want to echo) want to make about it, but don't want atheism to be protected like any other religion in the eyes of the law. Is this true?

Here's a juicy tidbit from Justice Black's actual decision that you skipped over in your "Torcaso v. Watkins" search:

We are all agreed that the First and Fourteenth Amendments have a secular reach far more penetrating [367 U.S. 488, 494] in the conduct of Government than merely to forbid an `established church.'. . . We renew our conviction that "we have staked the very existence of our country on the faith that complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion."

…We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person "to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion." Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.

JD Curtis said...

when the U.S. courts uphold the the idea that gay people have the right to marry, will you then agree that gay marriage is really marriage?

One judge in California says 'Up yours!' to 8 million voters and now the courts "uphold" gay marriage.

JD Curtis said...

JusticeBlack also added as a footnote "Among the religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others"

Interesting, isnt it?

GentleSkeptic said...

JusticeBlack also added as a footnote…

Umm, I told YOU that. Look above. That was the whole point of my post; that "footnotes" (obiter dictum) are not legally binding. They represent the judge's opinion. Yes, it is interesting, which is why I said it.

One judge in California says 'Up yours!' to 8 million voters and now the courts "uphold" gay marriage.

Three things:

1) Three judges in Wisconsin say "up yours!" to some prison officials and now atheism is a religion. (See what I did there?)

2) No, the courts do not now uphold gay marriage (yet), which is why I said "if" and "when." Please read. By aligning your point of view with "the U.S. courts" you're opening a door I'm not sure you want to open. Except that you'll probably continue to open it when you want it open (justice!) and close it when you want it closed (judicial activism!), based on whatever point you're trying to make at the time.

3) A lot of hay is made about the SEVEN million (victory creep, much?) voters whose opinion was overturned by Judge Walker. The truth, of course, is that 6.4 million of those votes were "overturned" by other voters voting "no." (Or, to borrow your turn of phrase, 6.4 million voters said "up yours!" to seven million other voters.) So the true number of votes "overturned" by Judge Walker is the margin of victory, about 600,000, in a state with a population of about 35 million (at the time), or about 1.7%. So right off the bat you've overstated the "up yours!" case by a factor of more than 10.

California had 17.3 million registered voters at the time, and roughly 19% of them didn't even cast a vote for or against Prop 8. (If we adjust our "victory percentage" to reflect registered voters rather than population as a whole, the percentage that successfully overturned the right of gays to marry in California is a whopping 3.4%.) So this whole "will of the people" argument is a little thin, especially since rights aren't subject to a popular vote or the "tyranny of the majority"—the whole premise of the case against Prop 8. The case that won.

JD Curtis said...

Three judges in Wisconsin say "up yours!" to some prison officials and now atheism is a religion

Did eight million voters say that it isnt a religion? Poor comparison.

GentleSkeptic said...

Poor comparison.

Poor comeback: It's a great comparison. Your claim is that a judicial ruling ("up yours!") made something true ("now the courts 'uphold' gay marriage"). Your claim, not mine.

My parallel shows that this is fallacious on its face, and that in any case you're picking and choosing which U.S. court rulings are valid based on what you already think—my second point. It's called "confirmation bias."

And naturally, you simply sidestep point #3.

And you still haven't retracted the claim that U.S. courts have upheld the idea that secular humanism qualifies as a religion, even after quoting the legally toothless obiter dictum yourself. Interesting, isn't it?

Being challenged must just be boring you.

Theological Discourse said...

Atheists are so vocal about how atheism or darwinism isn't anything like a religion, but then LOVE to say the communism or statism in which hilter and stalin engaged in was like a religion or was a religion.