Monday, April 28, 2008

What is a religion?

I've been prompted to write about this for two reasons. One, a post at the Volokh Conspiracy, is titled Soldier sues army, saying his atheism led to threats. The other is the website Fundamentalists Say the Darndest Things, which I check from time to time.

While Volokh's discussion of possible unfair discrimination against atheists in the army is evenhanded, the quotes featured on FSTDT new are: it is a repository of things that are supposed to be far-out. It encourages a kind of distancing, since most of the quotes are from political Christians, and this allows us, as readers, to dismiss the entire movement as a 'bunch of crazy people'.

First, about the army. I don't doubt there are some people in the army command structure who want their soldiers to all be Christian. Some may promote this either by preferring Christians or discriminating against non-Christians. This has doubtless happened. This particular case, I am not entirely sure since I haven't read enough about it. And if something improper did occur, the army has a culture in which it rarely admits such mistakes. It will probably not do such a lot in this case, not because it shares a Christian agenda but because it does not appreciate outside pressure or transparency.

But is atheism, as so many commentators on FSTDT say, a religion? Basically the answer is "maybe." To know if something is a religion, we would have to define what 'religion' is. Yet I've never seen a satisfactory definition of religion in my life. I'm tempted to just ask atheists if it is religion, but no matter what they tell me, that won't solve it. Many Africans who practice traditional religions see these practices as part of their culture, not their religion. The entire term is so annoyingly subjective.

The fact is that atheism is a system of belief. It receives input from science and logic and reason, but so do other systems that we commonly consider religions. I can imagine atheists who are horrified as a say this but atheism may indeed be a religion. And so what if it is? There are wonderful arguments that patriotism forms a kind of civil religion, since it comprises a large number of the same functions as things we commonly see as religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.).

Eventually I will start a series of posts on various topics from FSTDT, simply because it captures a massively important part of American culture that just isn't given the serious appraisal it deserves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting. this site about fundamentalist "sayings," which I had no knowledge of before, has one person saying: "Well, you walking into a Baptist Church doesn't make you any more a Christian than walking into McDonalds makes me a hamburger."

What great twisted reasoning and logic and semantics and sentence structure is that!!!

lapsed John Knox Presbyterian