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Loving Religion
Loving Religion
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A popular way to define religion, as well as other complex concepts, is to identify an 'essential' feature and say it is the defining characteristic. There are many problems with this, not the least of which is how it overly simplifies complex issues. Even more significant flaw is how it encourages people to improperly exclude from a concept anything deemed inconvenient.

In religion, for example, people will deny that something is part of "real" religion whenever they don't like it.

Read Article: Religious Extremists Hijack True Religion, Give Religion a Bad Name

Comments
July 13, 2006 at 1:32 pm
(1) Dave says:

I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Avalos, and read his book. Many of the issues that he discusses ring very true in todays world which seems filled with religiously inspired violence and hatred.
It’s unfortunate that works like this aren’t getting to into the hands of the average person. Because he explains how we need to change the way we look at our world, and everyone in it before we fall into a new dark age.

July 19, 2006 at 2:26 pm
(2) Todd says:

Excellent!

Two traits common to all religions:
- Convert them or kill them.
- Cherry pick passages to say whatever you want to do is good and right.

Violence for a cause is not endemic religion alone, any belief system can justify whatever it wants to do. If not by using passages or quotes, the believer who wants to do X must either do X or face the possibility that X is wrong and their world and self view is also wrong. That is a terrifying prospect (for a weak mind).

Xians get really worked up when you explain all the reasons their religion is inconsistent, immoral and foolish. Not because you are insulting them or their beliefs, but because they fear your are right. If they are secure in their belief, your arguements won’t phase them. So they must convince you or at least get you to stop, because that’s less scary than admitting they are wrong about *everything*.

If someone called me a martian, i wouldn’t care, because i have no fear that it might be true. If they said my hair looks stupid, that would, because they might be right.

i’m not concerned about the majority of easy going members of a religion, only the ones that want to kill me. Do i care more about my left hand in warm water or the right one in boiling acid?

July 19, 2006 at 4:42 pm
(3) atheism says:

Two traits common to all religions:
- Convert them or kill them.
- Cherry pick passages to say whatever you want to do is good and right.

Really? Can you identify how these traits appear among Religious Humanists, Unitarian-Univeralists, Ethical Culture, or Raelians?

July 20, 2006 at 10:11 am
(4) Todd says:

YA RLY. i would contend that those listed are not religions. A Humanist is a person who (claims) to believe in the philosophy of Humanism, Humanism is not a religion. i would seriously doubt someone could genuinely be both humanist and religious. Those that say they are both, to me, are people who believe in humanism in their heart but can’t let go of the invisible sky wizard. Or, they are religious and left of center and calling themselves the wrong thing.

Unitarians are spiritual, but not religious IMO.

Ethical Culture seems to be “Religious Humanism” with a different name (at a cursory glance).

Raeilians look like a wacko cult. But one’s cult is anothers faith.

To me, something is a religion if it has many adherents, a heirarchy, a monolithic mythology, rituals and rules to say “you should/not do this”, temporal/political power and a disdain for anyone who is not like them, and that disdain is proportional to how unlike them you are. i don’t consider Buddism a religion either. i see it as a spiritual way of life.

i’m less concerned with dictionary definitions that i am with what a word actually means (when people say it). For instance, the word slut is supposed to mean “promiscuous woman”, but it often means “woman who will sleep with anyone but ME”.

Perhaps the R word means something else to you, and that is the disconnect. Spirituality + Government/organization = Religion. Religion is spirituality taking itself too seriously and gone wrong, often missing its own purported point.

July 20, 2006 at 11:05 am
(5) atheism says:

i would contend that those listed are not religions.

Why? What definition of “religion” do they not meet? They are certainly recognized as religions by the law.

A Humanist is a person who (claims) to believe in the philosophy of Humanism, Humanism is not a religion.

Religious Humanists say that it is a religion for them. On what basis do you claim that they are wrong about their own beliefs?

i would seriously doubt someone could genuinely be both humanist and religious.

What about Christian Humanism? Are you aware of the fact that modern humanism started out in a religious and Christian context?

Unitarians are spiritual, but not religious IMO.

Well, yes, I already know that this is your opinion. I’m trying to find out if there is any substantive basis for that opinion. Unitarian-Univeralists have churches, congregations, ministers, and are recognized as a major religious denomination all across America.

Ethical Culture seems to be “Religious Humanism” with a different name (at a cursory glance).

Ethical Culture is also a well-established religious organization and is recognized as such under the law. How can you seriously deny that it is a religion after only giving it a “cursory glance”?

Raeilians look like a wacko cult. But one’s cult is anothers faith.

What if they are a “wacko cult”? How are they not a religion?

To me, something is a religion if it has many adherents, a heirarchy, a monolithic mythology, rituals and rules to say “you should/not do this”, temporal/political power and a disdain for anyone who is not like them, and that disdain is proportional to how unlike them you are.

Did you just make up this definition on your own, or is there some basis for it? Are you aware of what a “straw man” argument is?

i don’t consider Buddism a religion either. i see it as a spiritual way of life.

Why isn’t it a religion?

i’m less concerned with dictionary definitions that i am with what a word actually means (when people say it).

I don’t believe that you are concerned with what the word “religion” means when “people say it” because you completely dismiss how Religious Humanists, Unitarians, Buddhists, Raelians, and others mean the word when they say it. You are establishing your own non-dictionary definition and comparing belief systems to it, not basing a definition on actual belief systems.

Perhaps the R word means something else to you, and that is the disconnect.

Perhaps? I have a couple dozen articles examining the issue.

Spirituality + Government/organization = Religion. Religion is spirituality taking itself too seriously and gone wrong, often missing its own purported point.

Religion and spirituality really aren’t that different.

July 21, 2006 at 11:48 am
(6) Todd says:

ďWhy? What definition of ďreligionĒ do they not meet? They are certainly recognized as religions by the law.Ē
*Reduced from detailed response to ďthe gistĒ*
Again, they are might be using a different word. These groups filled out the paperwork and have recognition in a legal sense, but they donít show the behavior of say, Catholicism or Islam. The Pastafarians might fill out that paperwork someday, but i wouldnít call them a religion. They donít have an ancient text and they donít tell me iím a bad person and should do the lindy-hop on Tuesday or iíll go to hell. Is there a word for what i mean? If so iíll use it. No sarcasm there, iíd like to know.
As for substance of an opinion: ďItís got a good beat and I can dance to itĒ is all the substance an opinion needs. Itís a feeling translated into words. Were i writing policy or an essay for school, i would have a thesis and do research and care about denotations. But iím not; iím just talking from feeling. What degree do I need to be a person with opinions?
To me, something is a religion if it has many adherents, a hierarchy, a monolithic mythology, rituals and rules to say ďyou should/not do thisĒ, temporal/political power and a disdain for anyone who is not like them, and that disdain is proportional to how unlike them you are.
Did you just make up this definition on your own, or is there some basis for it? Are you aware of what a ďstraw manĒ argument is?
The caveat ďto meĒ clarifies this in the first two words of the snippet. The basis is observation, experience and my own informal study. My basis is 31 years of life. iím not representing anyone but myself, so i have the luxury of hyperbole, and pathos and donít need to appear objective. Iím not writing a thesis or policy.
iím aware of it, and i donít see how it applies. i know the position of theists, iím not misrepresenting it. iím not saying this group *thinks* they meet my definition. iím saying this group meets/does not meet *my* definition. There is a difference. i think they misrepresent themselves.
iím less concerned with dictionary definitions that i am with what a word actually means (when people say it).
ďI donít believe that you are concerned with what the word ďreligionĒ means when ďpeople say itĒ because you completely dismiss how Religious Humanists, Unitarians, Buddhists, Raelians, and others mean the word when they say it. You are establishing your own non-dictionary definition and comparing belief systems to it, not basing a definition on actual belief systems.Ē
Let me amend that: iím less concerned with dictionary definitions than i am with what a statement/word really means. That not a claim that i can read minds.
i think they think they mean the dictionary definition, unless they are cynical/objective enough to realize what the word really means when they say it (as i described in the snippet you show). Someone can think they mean to say this, but the statement has meaning outside of their intent. They can hide behind the denotation, but the word means organized mind control via fear of the unknown and unknowable (as far as iím concerned).
When they say it, regardless of which definition they mean, i *hear* my definition. Thatís my own cynicism. Yes, i dismiss it, because i think they are trying to give their irrational beliefs legitimacy and power over others. And i acknowledge that is *my* belief, if i didnít make that clear initiallyÖ. i dismiss the guy calling Jenny a slut as well. The words donít matter that much. What Bob says, what Bob thinks he means and communicates can all be very different. i know bloody well heís saying ďshe left me and it hurts, but I canít admit it so Iíll call her namesĒ. It doesnít matter (to me) what he was thinking he was saying. In the case of Unitarians i dismiss them as being a religion because i wonít lump them in with the Baptists as a matter of courtesy. If the Unitarians start knocking on my door and telling me what to eat, i might reconsider.
And itís not an individual thing, itís systemic. Religion (my definition) creates, thrives on and insists on these behaviors.

July 21, 2006 at 12:31 pm
(7) atheism says:

These groups filled out the paperwork and have recognition in a legal sense, but they donít show the behavior of say, Catholicism or Islam.

Begging the question, if you are presuming that the behaviors you have in mind are necessary for being a religion.

The Pastafarians might fill out that paperwork someday, but i wouldnít call them a religion. They donít have an ancient text and they donít tell me iím a bad person and should do the lindy-hop on Tuesday or iíll go to hell.

Why would that be required for a “religion”? It sounds like you are trying to define religion negatively rather than neutrally.

Is there a word for what i mean? If so iíll use it.

There are lots of adjectives for what you mean: dogmatic, arrogant, presumptuous, annoying… After all, people do analogous things in the context of nonreligious belief systems (like politics or even sports). Religion can be dogmatic and annoying, or quiet and unassuming. Religious people can be arrogant and intolerant or humble and welcoming.

As for substance of an opinion: ďItís got a good beat and I can dance to itĒ is all the substance an opinion needs. Itís a feeling translated into words.

Well, as long as you aren’t trying to imply that the opinions in question are rational, reasonable, well-founded, etc…

i think they think they mean the dictionary definition, unless they are cynical/objective enough to realize what the word really means when they say it (as i described in the snippet you show).

Actually, the “dictionary definition,” like most dictionary definitions, is simplistic and superficial. Moreover, religious groups often define “religion” in different, non-dictionary ways. Religious humanists, for example, define “religion” primarily in functional ways. Chritains who say that Christianity isn’t a religion but a “personal relationship with Jesus” define religion completely differently. Netiher are using the standard dictionary definition. Instead, they are basing their idea of “religion” in precisely the way I said: how they and millions of others use the concept in their daily lives.

When they say it, regardless of which definition they mean, i *hear* my definition. Thatís my own cynicism.

It’s also unfair, because you are consciously interpreting words and statements in a manner other than how you know they are meant.

In the case of Unitarians i dismiss them as being a religion because i wonít lump them in with the Baptists as a matter of courtesy.

Saying that they both have “religions” is no more an insult than saying that they are both human, or that both fascism and republicanism are political, or that both capitalism and communism are economic philosophies. Above I said that it sounds like your purpose is to define religion negatively; here you reinforce that perception because it sounds like you exclude from the outside the possibility that “religion” as a concept can be neutral, having negative as well as positive manifestations. Why? Surely you don’t do that with other related human systems like politics, economics, and philosophy.

Moreover, if you do this, then every attempt you make to discuss religion will automatically suffering from various ad hominem fallacies (specifically poisoning the well in most cases, I think).

July 21, 2006 at 3:56 pm
(8) Todd says:

“Why would that be required for a ďreligionĒ? It sounds like you are trying to define religion negatively rather than neutrally.”

My experiences with and observations of religion are negative. i have no positive information about them to inspire me to be neutral. There’s nothing in the pro side of the biggest religions.

What about this? There are Faiths, Religions and Cults. The three all have similar trappings, but each has very different details. Faiths are easy going and exist outside of organizations and buildings etc. Religions are organizations of people of a faith, or that created a faith (with all the attendent negative qualities i’ve mentioned). Cults are full blown wackaloons as defined by George Carlin.

i’d still be tempted to say a religion is a big cult with wide acceptance. Hehe.

“There are lots of adjectives for what you mean: dogmatic, arrogant, presumptuous, annoyingÖ After all, people do analogous things in the context of nonreligious belief systems (like politics or even sports). Religion can be dogmatic and annoying, or quiet and unassuming. Religious people can be arrogant and intolerant or humble and welcoming.”

So there is no sub-genre of religions that are pushy/preachy vs. easy going? It also seems that the neutral definition is very loose, if it lumps Islam/Judaism with Raeilians.

“Well, as long as you arenít trying to imply that the opinions in question are rational, reasonable, well-founded, etcÖ”

Hehe. Most aren’t. i’m not writing as a pro or as someone with influence. Just a guy with his own thoughts and experiences.

“Itís also unfair, because you are consciously interpreting words and statements in a manner other than how you know they are meant.”

(offtopic) Do you think people choose what they believe/perceive?

Still, going back to Jenny and Bob. People don’t always say what they think they are saying. For instance i’m saying “religion = bad, because religion and religious people hurt me and killed millions”.

“Saying that they both have ďreligionsĒ is no more an insult than saying that they are both human, or that both fascism and republicanism are political, or that both capitalism and communism are economic philosophies. Above I said that it sounds like your purpose is to define religion negatively; here you reinforce that perception because it sounds like you exclude from the outside the possibility that ďreligionĒ as a concept can be neutral, having negative as well as positive manifestations. Why? Surely you donít do that with other related human systems like politics, economics, and philosophy.”

Because religion has no positive meaning in my mind. An individual might do something positive, but if they do it because a book said to, or to gain access to heaven or avoid hell, i don’t see that as good. If they do something good because it is good, points for them, but it wasn’t because of religion. Or specifically, religion wasn’t necessary. If the whole church does something good, it doesn’t mean they don’t also do any of the myriad bad things religions might do.

A lifetime of bad experiences and hearing virtually nothing good about religions poisoned the well. Reading about the crusades and the witch hunts and jihads was enough. The bad vastly outweighs the good. That’s why i try to keep ‘religions’ like Wicca out of the same category as the others.

An individual might be good, but not because they sang holy holy. They could do so with no texts, no judgement of others, no fear of hell or promise of eternal reward, no rituals, no sky wizards etc.

i’ll leave it to you to be neutral, objective, well reasoned and founded. i avoid debate and discussion of religion in general with the religious. They go into Argument from Ignorance mode and it’s over. So, yeah, not much objectivity or neutrality coming from here.

Are you defending religion or the definition of it? Or logic/rhetoric process in general?

July 21, 2006 at 4:33 pm
(9) atheism says:

My experiences with and observations of religion are negative.

Once again, you appear to be begging the question, unless you have no experience at all with Buddhists, Unitarians, Religious Humanists, Ethical Culture, etc.

Besides, even if you have only had negative experiences with religion, this doesn’t mean that religion must be defined as inherently negative. An abused child may only have negative experiences with “parents,” but shouldn’t therefore define the concept “parent” as inherently negative.

i have no positive information about them to inspire me to be neutral.

Buddhism, Unitarians, Religious Humanists…

There’s nothing in the pro side of the biggest religions.

Granting that for the sake of argument: this doesn’t mean that religion as a concept must be defined as being necessarily negative. There is more to religion than just the biggest ones today.

What about this? There are Faiths, Religions and Cults.

Sounds like an ad hoc rationalization to retain the negative definition of religion – i.e., just a means to keep saying that religion is bad even though there are clearly religious belief systems which aren’t as bad as the religions you usually have contact with. You do this by defining “faith” as inherently good. Thus, religions you don’t like are “religion” while religions you do like, or are OK with, are “faiths.”

Defining concepts in order to achieve pre-determined ideological goals is not the way to define things.

So there is no sub-genre of religions that are pushy/preachy vs. easy going?

Not really, no. Even “fundamentalist” doesn’t count because you don’t get much more “fundamentalist” than the Amish, but when was the last time you saw Amish people being preachy and pushy? I have, moreover, received emails from self-admitted fundamentalists who agree with me in what I say on things like gay marriage. Sure, they oppose gays marrying, but they also oppose the government defining marriage in order to exclude gays. So there are even non-Amish fundamentalists who are not preachy and pushy.

Remember, the loudest examples of a type aren’t necessarily the most representative examples of that type.

These are the types of religion generally acknowledge in scholarly literature.

It also seems that the neutral definition is very loose, if it lumps Islam/Judaism with Raeilians.

Religion is a very broad concept – but that’s not a drawback. It simply reflects the diversity of human culture and belief. Consider how “loose” the neutral definition of “art” is in order to encompass what passes for “art” throughout human history.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t differences between Judaism and Raelians, obviously. There are lots of ways to make distinctions between them, with the biggest being “monotheist” and “atheist.” They are still examples of human religion, just as Jackson Pollock, Mozart, and the Pantheon are all examples of human art.

(offtopic) Do you think people choose what they believe/perceive?

No, I’m an involuntarist when it comes to beliefs. However, people do make choices about things which influence what they end up believing. I choose to read one book rather than another, for example, and that in turn will influence what I end up believing.

Still, going back to Jenny and Bob. People don’t always say what they think they are saying. For instance i’m saying “religion = bad, because religion and religious people hurt me and killed millions”.

Why not define politics as inherently bad? Why not define “human being” and “human society” as inherently bad? After all, politics, human beings, and human society have killed millions.

A lifetime of bad experiences and hearing virtually nothing good about religions poisoned the well.

That’s a fair reason to be cynical and suspicious of anything labeled a religion, but I don’t think that that’s a good reason to insist that religion be defined negatively and those religions which you recognize as not being so bad be labeled something else. It’s almost like you are trying to hold on to and preserve your negative opinion about “religion in general” rather than simply limit it to certain religions, certain types of religion, or something like that. Why would you want to do that?

Are you defending religion or the definition of it? Or logic/rhetoric process in general?

I’m trying to defend clear thinking. I don’t believe that it’s possible to seriously and substantively discuss an issue without having clear definitions and understandings of the basic concepts at hand. Ergo, defining religion in a way that happens to lump all bad things under one label and declaring that all the “good” religions aren’t “really” religions undermines the whole point of the conversation. It’s the mirror-image of Christians who declare that people who do bad things aren’t “real” Christians; Muslims who declare that suicide bombers aren’t “real” Muslims; Republicans who declare that conservatives who support gay marriage aren’t “real” Republicans; and so forth.

It’s the No True Scotsman fallacy and it’s wrong.

January 8, 2008 at 10:14 am
(10) tracieh says:

>Two traits common to all religions:
- Convert them or kill them.

Many aboriginal tribes believe in gods and spirits and don’t give a hoot if anyone else believes in them. I don’t recall Native American Indians going on rampages to convert anyone to their belief systems.

Also, Hindu is not particularly concerned with conversion. While I can’t say I know for a fact that Hindus have never tried to go out and Crusade for their religion, I do know I’ve read nothing in their literature that commands them to go convert people.

There are both secular and spiritual branches of Taoism. But I’ve never heard of a Taoist killing someone who wouldn’t convert.

As with Hindu, I can’t say I know for a fact that no Buddhist movements haven’t been launched to convert people, but there are gods referenced in Buddhist writings, and they believe in spirit, I’d say that’s religious, and they have no command to kill people who won’t convert.

I’ve never heard of Pantheists or even Panentheists killing people who refuse to convert.

Same with Shinto. I guess there could have been some point in the past where a Crusade occurred, but I don’t know of any rule in Shinto to go and convert people, or kill those who won’t convert.

Some religious views include the idea of conversion, some do not.

January 8, 2008 at 5:46 pm
(11) Pearl Ostroff says:

Actually, Tracie, it is technically impossible to be a Hindu unless you are born a Hindu. That’s because of the caste system. On the other hand, a group of people can be absorbed into the caste system as one caste or another, usually depending on their occupation, and thus become Hindu (or not, depending whether they want to or not) but still be part of the caste system (various groups of Jews are an example of that). Individual people have, however, because of devotion have been accepted as Hindu, even if they weren’t born Hindu. By the way, the correct word for the religion is Hinduism. But Hinduism, the Krishna Consciousness people notwithstanding, does not historically have the concept of conversion.

February 23, 2008 at 7:37 am
(12) tracieh says:

Pearl:

Thanks for the pointers. I guess Hinduism would be a terrific example, in that case, of a religion that wasn’t killing people to convert them!

April 24, 2010 at 6:37 am
(13) White Knight Leo says:

Er… I suppose most people don’t know that every religion has had followers commit murder in its name.
Even Buddhism.
Really, you ask? how do they get around the prohibition against killing?
Easily. Men who are killed by Buddhists are given injuries from which they won’t survive without medical attention, and then affixed in place so they cannot pursue medical attention.
In Tibet, for example, dissidents to the rule of the Lamas meant execution by means of being staked out on a hill, exposed to the elements, naked, in winter. No one survived a single night.

May 4, 2013 at 6:43 pm
(14) Conservative Atheist says:

See atheist Ali Rizvi’s article at HuffPo, published yesterday: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/an-atheist-muslims-perspective-on-the-root-causes-of-islamist-jihadism-and-the-politics-of-islamophobia_b_3159286.html

“I also understand that extremism in any ideology isn’t a distortion of that ideology. It is an informed, steadfast adherence to its fundamentals, hence the term “fundamentalism.” When you think of a left-wing extremist, do you think of a greedy capitalist? Would you imagine a right-wing extremist to be dedicated to government-funded social welfare programs? The “extremists” and strict followers of the Jain faith, which values the life of every being, including insects, don’t kill more than their average co-religionists. Instead, they avoid eating foods stored overnight so as not to kill even the microorganisms that may have collected in the meantime. In a true religion of peace, the “extremists” would be nonviolent pacifists to an extreme (and perhaps annoying) degree, not the opposite.”

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