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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  13:07:31  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
This topic keeps coming up, most recently in the Suicide Bombing - AAI and Scientology threads. Anyway, I felt it could be explored further. I wrote:
Skepticism is not the opposite of religion… Religion is one of those things that doesn't have a single definition that can be summed up in a sentence or two. Religion has historically in most cultures including the Western tradition been as much about practices and institutions as it has been about a set of beliefs.


Humbert responded:
Faith must be an integral part of anything calling itself a religion. It is how you choose to use the word religion which is in error.


Dude concurred:
There is no definition of religion that does not involve something that is incompatible with skepticism.


I do not consider my above statement to be my opinion. I consider it to be an observable fact. I observe religious practice that disregards faith in anything supernatural three times a week at my job – teaching at a liberal Quaker school. The "inner light" that is part of the Quaker worldview can be and often is interpreted by individual Quakers as a symbolic concept, not a literal claim of the supernatural. If you read Quaker publications you will see the occasional mention about "atheist Quakers" as well as agnostic and Buddhist ones, for that matter. Liberal Quakerism is religion without dogma or theology. It is a humanistic religion.

Skepticism is not a religion and never will be, but that's not because skepticism is the opposite of religion or incompatible with all forms of religion. Skepticism is not a religion because it is a method for evaluating claims of fact. Being this and this alone, it is not sufficient for a complete worldview, which typically religions offer. By worldview I mean anything from a rigidly defined dogma to a much more loosely interpreted and cultivated mindset about the nature and meaning of existence. Worldview deals with the great unknowns. In addition to skepticism being insufficient as a worldview, it also has no proscribed rituals or code of ethics, which religions also typically offer.

As skepticism relates to religion, I could compare it with theism. Simply being a theist (believing in a God or gods) does not make one religious. Theism by itself is not sufficient. But theism is a characteristic of many religions. And, indeed, skepticism is a value promoted by some religious groups. An example of a religion which is overtly non-theistic and which holds skepticism as one of its professed values is Ethical Culture. Another is the religion I identify with: capital "H" Humanism. I don't see why people here keep insisting that for something to be a religion it must include claims of the supernatural when the plain fact is that a minority of recognized religions do not make such unsubstantiated claims.

Religions deal with the great unknowns. That doesn't mean they must offer answers to the great questions. Oftentimes it is about cultivating a particular mindset or attitude in the face of these ultimate mysteries, with ritual and a certain code of ethics. It does not require faith or any supernatural concepts at all, only a personal need for a holistic approach to existential angst.

All this said, I challenge anyone to come up with concise definition of religion which excludes all institutions which are not regarded as religions (such as philosophy clubs or sports fandom) but which includes all institutions which are regarded as religions. And for the sake of argument, let's say that to prove something is truly "regarded as a religion" it must have at least one source from authorities with the institution itself labeling it a religion, and also at least one outside source, such as an encyclopedia, also labeling it a religion.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com


Edited by - marfknox on 11/06/2007 13:10:41

On fire for Christ
SFN Regular

Saudi Arabia
1265 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  13:16:23   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send On fire for Christ a Private Message  Reply with Quote
oh great another semantic debate.

How about we just use a dictionary?

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  13:47:11   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by On fire for Christ

How about we just use a dictionary?
Try it. Others have, and failed. The word "concise" is the tricky part.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  16:25:35   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by On fire for Christ

oh great another semantic debate.

How about we just use a dictionary?
Okey-dokey.

Religion, n.:
A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
~~ The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

Howzat for concise?




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

Edited by - filthy on 11/06/2007 16:27:36
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  16:54:42   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
oh great another semantic debate.
Yeah, except this is explicitly starting as a semantics discussion, opposed to when discussions over other matters devolve into mere semantics debates. Nobody said you have to join.

How about we just use a dictionary?
Because dictionaries are excellent for learning the meaning of words which have simple, straightforward meaning, and often horribly insufficient for learning the meaning of much more complex concepts which are largely dependent on cultural context and/or understanding through experience.

filthy, regarding Bierce's elegantly-worded definition, does the "ignorance" refer to lack of knowledge about the unknowable, or lack of knowledge that the unknowable is unknowable?

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  17:06:55   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I like Wiki's definition, which I think is about as "concise" as is possible:
A religion is a set of common beliefs and practices generally held by a group of people, often codified as prayer, ritual, and religious law. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and mystic experience. The term "religion" refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.



Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  17:15:44   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I like the Wiki definition too, even though it is broad enough to mistakenly include things which are not considered religions by either the practitioners or outsiders. Fanatic sports fans could be said to have group rituals and communication that stem from a shared conviction.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

Edited by - marfknox on 11/06/2007 17:15:59
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  17:19:37   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
filthy, regarding Bierce's elegantly-worded definition, does the "ignorance" refer to lack of knowledge about the unknowable, or lack of knowledge that the unknowable is unknowable?


I think that the esteemed Bierce used it as a description of the 'human condition,' for lack of a better term. We tend to blindly follow the best-sounding gift of gab, especally if speaks of impossibility. Some other terms, less kindly, come to mind.

Or, he might have been just yanking our collective chain with word games. He was good at that.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  18:11:49   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I think that the esteemed Bierce used it as a description of the 'human condition,' for lack of a better term. We tend to blindly follow the best-sounding gift of gab, especally if speaks of impossibility. Some other terms, less kindly, come to mind.

Or, he might have been just yanking our collective chain with word games. He was good at that.
The reason I ask is that I feel that definition could apply to me if the ignorance is referring to not knowing the unknowable. But I am not ignorant of the fact that the great mysteries that religions either try to answer or at least creatively contend with are indeed unknowables.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  20:06:51   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by marfknox

I like the Wiki definition too, even though it is broad enough to mistakenly include things which are not considered religions by either the practitioners or outsiders. Fanatic sports fans could be said to have group rituals and communication that stem from a shared conviction.
Yeah, I think if Wiki errs on this, it does so on the side of inclusion. The writer(s) wanted to be able to stuff every religion he/she/they could think of into that bag, like they were having to evacuate before a brush fire. ("Pack 'em all, and we'll sort 'em out later.") The definition probably needs an excluding clause, also.

We seem to need some kind of qualification such as, "Religions are founded upon non-rational belief systems." somewhere in there. Or some debatable thing of that sort.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
Edited by - HalfMooner on 11/06/2007 20:09:35
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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  20:10:32   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
How do you know that something is unknowable?

Precisely what is it that informs you that there exists some unknowable thing?


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  20:14:17   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dude wrote:
How do you know that something is unknowable?

Precisely what is it that informs you that there exists some unknowable thing?
I almost qualified that last statement with something along the lines of "currently unknowable" or "unknowable, at least in my presumed lifetime", but I didn't, thinking that would be patronizing. (Edited out two sentences that were here to censor my own sarcastic tone.)

By unknowable I mean things about the nature and history and possible higher meaning of the universe and existence itself that more-than-likely aren't going to be solved by science or anything else any time soon.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

Edited by - marfknox on 11/06/2007 20:31:29
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  20:30:11   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Halfmooner wrote:
Yeah, I think if Wiki errs on this, it does so on the side of inclusion. The writer(s) wanted to be able to stuff every religion he/she/they could think of into that bag, like they were having to evacuate before a brush fire. ("Pack 'em all, and we'll sort 'em out later.") The definition probably needs an excluding clause, also.
That's really my point. Consider this - two religions which are pretty much opposites in every way: Catholicism and Ethical Culture. One is hierarchical, dogmatic, theistic, the other champions the individual, reason, science, a godless worldview, and a humanistic ethic. When we find what they have in common, is that enough to base a definition of religion on? And also, is what these two religions have in common something they have in common with all religious institutions? See, this is the problem with trying to find a concise and completely accurate definition of religion - we can come up with a list of traits and tendencies, but no one trait or traits seems to be necessary or sufficient on its own. I think the reason is that religion is such a huge thing, and had varied so much throughout history and from culture to culture, and is so interwoven with other aspects of culture, that it just defies nice, neat, academic defining.

That doesn't mean it is not a useful concept, because clearly we use it meaningfully. But it does mean that depending on who you are talking about, you are going to have to qualify it. Among self-declared atheists, I find a lot of general criticism and bashing of "religion", but when I once said something very mildly critical of religion to a Buddhist priest, he was offended and we ended up in a long conversation that ended with him saying that theism was the problem truly concerning me. I've heard other people say the problem is dogma. I've recently come to tentative conclusions that the problems often associated with religion are fanaticism and self-righteousness. I bring this up because at this point it does offend me when skeptics and atheists just bash religion in general. Also, I think the conversation is valuable and interesting because I keep gaining new insights and thoughts from it, and for whatever strange reason, I've been rather obsessed with religious studies for the past couple years (10 years ago it was human evolution and 5 years ago it was Physics.)

We seem to need some kind of qualification such as, "Religions are founded upon non-rational belief systems." somewhere in there. Or some debatable thing of that sort.
No, that would exclude Ethical Culture and Humanism which both explicitly champion reason and science as part of their worldview. And both of those qualify as religions since there are authoritative voices within the communities and authoritative outside voices which label them religions.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

Check out my art store: http://www.marfknox.etsy.com

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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  21:14:55   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by marfknox

Halfmooner wrote:
We seem to need some kind of qualification such as, "Religions are founded upon non-rational belief systems." somewhere in there. Or some debatable thing of that sort.
No, that would exclude Ethical Culture and Humanism which both explicitly champion reason and science as part of their worldview. And both of those qualify as religions since there are authoritative voices within the communities and authoritative outside voices which label them religions.
This is where I personally suspect a sort of cognitive dissonance may come into play. If Humanism and Ethical Culture are fully rational, then I personally would not consider them "religions." At this point, I would disagree with the authorities you cite.

But this brings up one question: Does the mere self-identification of a group as a religion make them one? I'm unsure, though I doubt this would be meaningful.

The kind of skeptical, agnostic atheism I follow certainly isn't a religion. I'm personally as anti-religious and anti-dogma as I am anti-theist. I use "atheism" as a shorthand for all these, though that's not strictly accurate. But in the real world, almost all of the religious I encounter are not only theists, but dogmatists as well. That would include the vast majority of people who follow the Abrahamic religions, and some who follow the Dharmic and Taoic religions, as well (in those sects that in practice invoke gods and or dogma).

Edited to add:

This is a diversion, so please feel free to ignore it. But I was thinking (as always, as I've said, dangerous). We've discussed and generally accepted as fact that there can be religions without theism and religions without dogma. But I was wondering, can there be theism without religion? My brain created a little sci-fi plot outline in which this is the case:

We meet an ancient ET entity that is so advanced that It is indistinguishable from a god. It even tells us that It came from long before the Big Bang, and due to certain physics information it shares, our scientists are inclined to agree. It will happily answer almost any question we present It, but doesn't care a fig whether or not we "worship" It, and has no ritual to suggest we perform. Believers in It might be theists without any religious trappings, right?

(Likewise, the ancient Hebrews were told by Yahweh not to worship competing gods. Often, these were actually named, and their existence was not questioned by Yaweh. So presumably at least some of the ancient Hebrews believed in a whole raft of gods -- including those of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and Phoenicians -- that were not part of their religion.)


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
Edited by - HalfMooner on 11/06/2007 22:53:46
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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  22:40:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
marfknox said:
By unknowable I mean things about the nature and history and possible higher meaning of the universe and existence itself that more-than-likely aren't going to be solved by science or anything else any time soon.

So you are using it as a synonym for unknown.

So you could say that people who contemplate the unknown are practicing a religion, by your definition.

So you have redefined the word to the point that science and skepticism are religions. Good job.


(formatting/spelling edit)

Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
Edited by - Dude on 11/06/2007 22:41:12
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 11/06/2007 :  23:54:18   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dude

marfknox said:
By unknowable I mean things about the nature and history and possible higher meaning of the universe and existence itself that more-than-likely aren't going to be solved by science or anything else any time soon.

So you are using it as a synonym for unknown.

So you could say that people who contemplate the unknown are practicing a religion, by your definition.

So you have redefined the word to the point that science and skepticism are religions. Good job.


(formatting/spelling edit)
The unknown is not the unknowable. If we accepted this (and Creationists would probably be happy if we did) there'd be no science, no history, not even any walks through unfamiliar neighborhoods.

We now generally know which questions have unknown answers, but that does not preclude us from finding them in the future.

For instance, Dawkins says in The God Delusion that technically he's an agnostic atheist, as today's science cannot disprove any god's existence. But he also mention that he thinks this may not always be the case. Though he knows of no way to disprove god through science, he accepts that some unknown science of the future might be able to do so.

We often can't even begin to approximate the probability of any unknown thing becoming known in the future. How probable would it seem to a 1920's paleontologist that today we would be comparing the genome of Neanderthals to those of Homo sapiens and to chimps? In those days, they only had Gregor Johann Mendel's (recently rediscovered) genetics, and an understanding that genes were on chromosomes in cellular nuclei. They had no real molecular genetics, nor a concept of DNA. So it would have been impossible for them to have had any way of foreseeing the comparative genomics that are being done now.

Some things indeed may remain forever unknowable, but we don't know which things these are -- and may never know.




Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
Edited by - HalfMooner on 11/06/2007 23:56:52
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