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Essential topic: the difference between theism and religion
Posted: 10 March 2011 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Yesterday Occam asked me a question on another topic: “I guess I’m missing something, PlaClair.  Could you clarify for me what religion would consist of if there were no theistic basis for it?”[ http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/10132/#121007 ]

I am glad he asked but it’s shocking to me that people of Occam’s erudition and distinction are unaware of the difference between theism and religion. In his introductory essay on “Nontheistic Religions,” Paul J. Griffiths writes: “Philosophy of religion as a Western (European and American) discipline has concerned itself very largely with questions about God. This is mostly because the discipline’s idea of what religion is has been arrived at by a process of abstraction from Christianity . . . and so has not been formed by any serious consideration of what religions very unlike Christianity might consider of philosophical importance. The topics discussed by Indian Buddhist scholastics, for example, often have little or nothing to do with God . . . What is the origin of human suffering and how (if at all) may it be removed?”  (Emphasis added.)
[http://books.google.com/books?id=HyPnrDiBM7cC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Charles+Talliaferro+and+Paul+J.+Griffiths,+Philosophy+of+Religion&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Indian Buddhist scholastics&f=false ]

If we are going to focus on religion, it is imperative that we understand this. What we are doing, and have been doing as Griffiths observes, is deriving our conception of religion from theistic Christians. If we do not agree with the Christian theists, then why are we letting them define our idea of religion? This falls under the category of “what the hell is wrong with us!” I truly wish that our members would address this question.

I offer again the reading list I suggested on the previous topic, in the hope that this doesn’t violate our rules:

Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions
Edward L. Erikson, The Humanist Way: An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion
Xinghong Yao, An Introduction to Confucianism
Charles Talliaferro and Paul J. Griffiths, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (see especially Part V: Nontheistic Religions)
David Fontana, Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality
Paul K. Moser, The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology (see especially p. 534)
Donald S. Lopez, Buddhist Scriptures
William Arthur, Religion Without God
Ray Billington, Religion Without God
Sherwin T. Wine, Judaism Beyond God

How is it possible (a) for a group of well-educated people to have allowed our adversaries to define a subject that is obviously of great concern to us, since we keep discussing it, completely unaware in some instances of the history behind the subject and oblivous apparently to what is going on; and (b) not to see how devastating the effects of that inevitably will be on our understanding of and stance on religion?

This topic is thousands of times more important than the topic opened a few weeks ago by someone who was arguing for a four-step proof of God. That topic generated hundreds of posts within days. How many posts will this topic generate, and what does that say about us?

I’m not kidding here, folks. The problems we secularists face are in large measure self-inflicted.

[ Edited: 10 March 2011 05:48 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 10 March 2011 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Very much agree with you here, Paul.

I just want to add that one even must not believe in any form of magic, souls or whatever, to be religious. One can be fully rational, accept all established results of science, and still be religious without any form of superstition.

The idea that we are determined, and that the self has no existence of its own, was already formulated in early Buddhism. Just as an example. Maybe you understand my disclaimer…

Edit after reading George’s posting… Sorry for the confusion.

[ Edited: 10 March 2011 12:27 PM by GdB ]
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Posted: 10 March 2011 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theism

Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.[1][2] In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God’s relationship to the universe.[3] Theism, in this specific sense, conceives of God as personal, present and active in the governance and organization of the world and the universe. The use of the word theism as indicating a particular doctrine of monotheism arose in the wake of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century to contrast with the then emerging deism that contended that God, though transcendent and supreme, did not intervene in the natural world and could be known rationally but not via revelation.[4]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

Religion is a cultural system that creates powerful and long-lasting meaning, by establishing symbols that relate humanity to beliefs and values.[1] Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

There’s a start.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’m all for sharing knowedge and making distinctions clear, but I am not sure how shifting the focus off of traditional christian faith helps our cause. Could you clarify?

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Posted: 10 March 2011 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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GdB - 10 March 2011 10:01 AM

One can be fully rational, accept all established results of science, and still be religious with any form of superstition.

I am not sure I understand you here. A “fully rational” person (whatever that means) could perhaps be religious (i.e., religious in the einsteinian way) but I don’t see how superstition fits in here. I don’t think it does. You can either be rational or superstitious, but you cannot be both.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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PLaClair - 10 March 2011 05:44 AM

If we do not agree with the Christian theists, then why are we letting them define our idea of religion?

You mean, your idea of religion. I guess this would fall under the category of “what the hell is wrong with you!”  cheese

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Posted: 10 March 2011 12:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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George - 10 March 2011 11:32 AM
GdB - 10 March 2011 10:01 AM

One can be fully rational, accept all established results of science, and still be religious with any form of superstition.

I am not sure I understand you here. A “fully rational” person (whatever that means) could perhaps be religious (i.e., religious in the einsteinian way) but I don’t see how superstition fits in here. I don’t think it does. You can either be rational or superstitious, but you cannot be both.

Ups, sorry an ‘out’ has fallen out. Corrected my posting.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Sarah Pseudoproblem - 10 March 2011 11:04 AM

I’m all for sharing knowedge and making distinctions clear, but I am not sure how shifting the focus off of traditional christian faith helps our cause. Could you clarify?

(1) One of the biggest mistakes an advocacy organization can make is to let its adversaries define its message, which is exactly what we are doing. By letting theists get into our heads and define our message for us, we’re doing them more good than we are doing ourselves because we come across as a weak and unreasoning adversary.

(2) Another thing that a well-advised advocacy organization does is fight the battles it can win and not make the fight about something it needn’t be about. We face an uphill battle as it is, considering how desperately a large percentage of the population wants to believe in a supreme being and an afterlife. We have a great case to make about the many problems of theism. If we broaden the battle to the entire field of religion, we’re dividing ourselves from our allies unnecessarily and simultaneously weakening our argument, both by dilution and by corruption.

(3) There’s no reason for us to focus on traditional Christianity. That’s the discussion Pat Robertson wants us to have. My question to you is why you think such a focus helps us.

(4) Our best strategy is to promote scientific naturalism and make sound distinctions. Refusing to acknowledge the fact that there are many non-theistic religions is just dead-flat ignoring the facts. We cannot hope to be taken seriously arguing for a reasoned, fact-based approach to things if we just make stuff up when it suits us.

(5) There’s a huge diffference between taking emotional satisfaction in bashing everything that looks, feels or sounds like religion, versus making a serious case about the problems of theism. We cannot expect people to take us seriously as advocates of reason when we just react to things because they “sound like” or “feel like” or remind us of the thing we oppose.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 01:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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George - 10 March 2011 11:57 AM
PLaClair - 10 March 2011 05:44 AM

If we do not agree with the Christian theists, then why are we letting them define our idea of religion?

You mean, your idea of religion. I guess this would fall under the category of “what the hell is wrong with you!”  cheese

It’s not about me, George. Your approach is like the guy who is so angry with someone that he spends all his time and energy trying to get even. If we let theists get so deeply under our skin that we react instead of analyze, then we give them the power to control us and simultaneously diminish our own power to make a persuasive case. You wouldn’t burn down your house because a priest sprinkled “holy water” on it - or maybe you would. It’s an obviously self-defeating strategy. How do you think it helps our common cause to let the Christians define religion for us?

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Posted: 10 March 2011 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Okay, Paul. The problem I see here, is that you certainly make it sound as if it was about you. You have said it many times before that you miss religion since you lost your faith in the Catholic Church. That is obviously none of my business but trying to make the rest of us feel guilty just because we don’t share your religious nostalgia sounds a bit (not sure what word to use here) pathetic—sorry.

And no, I am not angry at all. My mission is not get rid of religion, convert the religious or even try to “open their eyes.” It is people like you, intelligent, highly enthusiastic and a little fanatical with a dose of naïveté, that I try to watch for. The majority of the religious seem pretty harmless to me.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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(1) What is the message?  How would it change given a shift from a pedestrian understanding of theism to a careful distinction?

(2) What are we fighting exactly?  Maybe I’m alone in it, but part of what I dislike most about some people of faith is how they condescend and push their beliefs on others in the name of helping them live a better life.  I’ve always tried to live by example and to hold conversations and debates when and where they seem appropriate.  It’s a different matter when people with faith take action which harms themselves or others.  Then they are inviting intervention.  Fighting the pervasive influence, like discrimination against atheists, fighting the progress of science, vaccinations, things like that seem to have very little to do with this distinction.  Maybe I am missing your point.

(3) Christians are the ones in power in the USA.  If I had to pick out the two religious currently causing the most problems, it would be Islam and Christianity, which are both faiths that fall under the religion and theism umbrella. 

(4) Yes.  If you want to have a debate and look well reasoned it’s best to understand the terms and the facts.

(5) Maybe I too am misunderstanding the distinction between religion and theism, but for me the more pressing distinction is something like this: when looking at a practice, faith, religion, what have you, how much of their practice can be considered positive psychology in action or philosophy and how much is pseudoscience and bigotry?  When something feels like religion it irks me, but there are many practices out there that I’ve learned more about and come to accept because they actually do good and aren’t hurting anybody.  Some are just one more set of tools in the toolbox of how to be a good and functioning person.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 04:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Sarah Pseudoproblem - 10 March 2011 02:27 PM

(3) Christians are the ones in power in the USA.  If I had to pick out the two religious currently causing the most problems, it would be Islam and Christianity, which are both faiths that fall under the religion and theism umbrella. 

That’s the rub isn’t it? When an ideology becomes political, that’s when it starts feeling like a religion to me.

I think civil/legal laws should be what a person concerns themselves with. Any particular religious ideology should be irrelevant in our interactions with one another. The problem comes from a religious political power which can affect our civil laws.

Who cares if your boss is Christian, Muslin or Jew. Probably there no reason to even know another person’s religion. Certainly not needed to deal fairly with each other.

Political power comes from like minded people coming together to impose their ideology on others.

I’m not a joiner. I don’t like the expectation that I have to think like someone else.

Doesn’t it rub anyone the wrong way this expectation from others to/to not call yourself a religious humanist/secular human/or just plain old humanist?

I suppose it’s politically necessary to gather up as many like minded individuals as possible.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Merriam-Webster
re·li·gion noun \ri-ˈli-jən\
Definition of RELIGION
1a : the state of a religious <a > b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
— re·li·gion·less adjective
Examples of RELIGION
Many people turn to religion for comfort in a time of crisis.
There are many religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
Shinto is a religion that is unique to Japan.
Hockey is a religion in Canada.
Politics are a religion to him.
Where I live, high school football is religion.
Food is religion in this house.

Origin of RELIGION
Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at rely
First Known Use: 13th century

Related to RELIGION
Synonyms: credo, creed, cult, faith, persuasion
Antonyms: atheism, godlessness
Related Words: church, communion, denomination, sect; doctrine, dogma, theology; deism, heathenism, monotheism, paganism, pantheism, polytheism, theism.
Near Antonyms: agnosticism, know-nothingism; atheism, godlessness, nonbelief, secularism, unbelief
see all synonyms and antonyms
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I see #4 as the most problematic. Ardor and faith are so closely related to insanity that any religious practice at that level is unbalanced and dangerous

As to the theistic implications, see the antonyms to religion.  Religion inevitably expresses itself as “faith without knowledge”.

[ Edited: 10 March 2011 05:01 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 10 March 2011 05:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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George - 10 March 2011 01:40 PM

You have said it many times before that you miss religion since you lost your faith in the Catholic Church. That is obviously none of my business but trying to make the rest of us feel guilty just because we don’t share your religious nostalgia sounds a bit (not sure what word to use here) pathetic—sorry.

You should be sorry because I have never said that. I have always considered myself to be deeply religious, so there has been nothing to miss.

The fact that you misinterpret me that way tells the story. I never said you should feel guilty. I merely pointed out the fact that there is a difference between theism and religion, and noted the obvious point that if we do not acknowledge the facts, we do ourselves and our causes a disservice.

It’s not a matter of emotion but a matter of reason, a point that I made abundantly clear. The fact that you reframe it in emotional terms suggests that you may be projecting - because I didn’t frame it that way, you did and then you accused me of it.

George - 10 March 2011 01:40 PM

And no, I am not angry at all. My mission is not get rid of religion, convert the religious or even try to “open their eyes.” It is people like you, intelligent, highly enthusiastic and a little fanatical with a dose of naïveté, that I try to watch for. The majority of the religious seem pretty harmless to me.

What threat do you think I pose?

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Posted: 10 March 2011 06:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Write4U - 10 March 2011 04:52 PM

I see #4 as the most problematic. Ardor and faith are so closely related to insanity that any religious practice at that level is unbalanced and dangerous

As to the theistic implications, see the antonyms to religion.  Religion inevitably expresses itself as “faith without knowledge”.

The ignorant are easily mis-led. Problem is the ignorant don’t usually know they’re ignorant. People get fed some pseudo ideology from some person they feel, for whatever reason, they can trust. That becomes the basis of their knowledge. Just never crosses their mind to ask/check if the claim has been scientifically tested.

Religious leaders… Yikes! why the heck trust them? Religions don’t bother me. I don’t care what anyone claims unless they can back it up with some scientific proof. Still so many allow what some religious leader says to influence what they think is true. That’s what is scary about religions isn’t it?

Maybe it’s instinctive to accept the thinking of the “herd” leader. In order to be accept in the group. Numbers mean survival.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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PLaClair - 10 March 2011 05:37 PM

What threat do you think I pose?

The threat that you may get too many people thinking like you, instead of like me.  tongue laugh

I’m kidding kind of, and I certainly don’t mean to or think I could possibly answer for George. But isn’t that almost always the case?

What you think/accept as true, I don’t care. You get too many other people thinking the way you do, it might become a problem.

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