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User:Philip J. Rayment/Definition of religion

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This is an essay by Philip J. Rayment.
Please comment only on the talk page.

Do atheists use the term fairly?

Philip J. Rayment

Christians often claim that atheism or related beliefs such as humanism are religions, whilst atheists deny that they are religions. On the other hand, I've encountered many Christians who deny that they are religious, or even that Christianity is a religion.

This is an issue in particular when it comes to saying that "religion" or "religious" views should not be taught in schools. So creation (which atheists say is a religious view) often cannot be taught, while evolution (which atheists deny is a religious view) is taught.

Whether or not one considers atheism and its ilk "religion" really depends on the definition of the word. And herein lies part of the problem, because, like most words, it has more than one definition.

"Religion" can be defined, roughly, in at least the following ways:

  • A set of rites and rituals followed by adherents.
  • A belief in God
  • A set of core beliefs, or a set of beliefs in which one bases one's life.

(Note: Although I'm one who tends to use the third definition, I'm happy to accept that "atheism" is not so much a religion as a type of religion or category of religions, just as "theism" is a type of religion or category of religions. And in this essay, references to "atheism" should be taken as general references to either atheism or atheistic views such as Humanism.)

According to the third definition above, atheism can be classified as a religion. But atheists will generally opt for the second definition. I argue here that although all definitions are "correct", the second definition is unfair and unreasonable to use in cases such as considering what can be taught in schools. I am going to illustrate this by drawing an analogy between religion, worldviews, and political views.

The table below compares and contrasts worldviews on the left with political views on the right. In this, I'm taking the view that "worldview" is equivalent to the third definition of "religion" given above, and that "religion" is according to the second definition, and is therefore a subset of worldviews. That is, "worldview" includes both atheistic views such as humanism and theistic views such as Christianity.

Worldviews Political views
worldviews are analogous to political views
religion (belief in God) is analogous to right wing view or conservative view
atheism (belief in no God) is analogous to left wing view or liberal (U.S. sense) view
belief in creation is analogous to belief in the free market
belief in evolution is analogous to belief in government regulation
keeping religion out of schools is analogous to keeping right wing/conservative views out of schools
Teaching evolution but not creation is analogous to Teaching government regulation but not the free market

Hopefully this helps illustrate that atheistic claims of creation being religious and therefore unscientific, and of religion needing to be kept out of schools, whilst their own views are treated as neutral and scientific, are unfair, unreasonable, and self-serving nonsense.

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