Dave: Just FYI, in case its not obvious since the forum is going through some changes:
1. Everyone here loves to talk and engage on topic of mutual interest, even to argue (as opposed to quarrel). You’re new here. So be friendly, and give everybody the benefit of the doubt. We’re all on the same side here, in that we care about asking the same sorts of questions, so dont be so quick to anger or invective. Disagree with others agreeably. The forum has rules to encourage good debating, so remember you’re part of a community here with standards for getting along. Lets have some fun with these conversations!
2. I recently addressed exactly this question about the definition of religion in the pages of Free Inquiry, for a sidebar in an article Tom Flynn wrote reviewing a book entitled “One Nation Under Man.” An early version of it is below to further the discussion:
Wordplay for the Kingdom of Heaven
by D.J. Grothe
David Noebel, Tim LaHaye, Brandon Howse and other popular conservative writers such as Ann Coulter, David Limbaugh and Phyllis Shlafley all use a very broad definition of religion when they argue that secular humanism is the official religion of America’s public schools. They use a definition of religion which is outmoded and which no scholars in the field today use. They use a functionalist definition, which says that something is a religion if it looks like a religion, if it functions in the lives of its proponents as a religion. (According this the functionalist definition, baseball could be argued to be literally America’s religion, because of ritualized elements among the cheering fans, masses of people beginning the assemblies with a hymn, prayer or song, high states of emotion and fellow-feeling, etc.) But contrary to Noebel and his fellows, scholars today argue that whatever else a religion is, it at least needs a supernatural component, and as such, secular humanism, which is a naturalistic ethical outlook on life, can not be a religion, even if it functions in some of the ways religion does.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to debate David Nobel on a number of occasions at universities and in the media. At one of these debates on Bob Grant’s radio show out of Colorado Springs, Noebel and I discussed the definition of religion, as a first argument in the debate on whether or not secular humanism is a religion. After dismissing what I said was the consensus definition of the word religion, Noebel quoted Wittgenstein, and said that maybe it is all just a matter of one definition versus another. He proposed we look at an authority on world religions instead of merely debating terms among ourselves, and asked me to read aloud on air the table of contents from The World Religions Reader, by Ian S. Markham, a noted scholar. He asked me to start reading from the bottom of the first page of the table of contents, and to work my way upward to the first chapter. I read aloud chapter headings for Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Shintoism, Chinese Religion, Buddhism, and Hinduism. As I got closer to the top of the list, Noebel asked me to pause, and dramatically requested I read the title of the first chapter heading in the book, which he reminded me was The World Religions Reader.
That chapter was titled “Secular Humanism.” There was a pause on-air, and it seemed like a real “gotcha” moment—here a noted religions scholar included secular humanism before all the other chapters on religion in his acclaimed book on world religions. Did this not prove, indeed, that secular humanism is a religion?
Like almost never happens, I remembered an exact page number from that book which I was just weeks before reading casually. I asked Nobel to turn to page six of the book, where Markham says that of course, secular humanism “is not a religion,” even if it shares some features with religion. After an even longer dramatic pause on air, Noebel changed subjects, and we continued with the general discussion about the role of religion in education and whether “teaching the doctrines of secular humanism in the schools” was constitutional.
Why recount this story? Because certain religious activists are playing fast and loose with definitions in order to persuade school boards all over the country that by teaching evolution, they are unconstitutionally establishing secular humanism as the official religion of the United States. In fact, there is reason to suspect that Nobel and Howse seek to replace the whole liberal arts and scientific curricula, which they see as being steeped in the religion of secular humanism, with their alternative, called “Biblical Christianity.” In almost every area of inquiry, especially issues commonly surrounding the “Culture Wars” such as stem-cell research, cloning, euthanasia, gay rights, feminism, the role of religion in politics and education—and not just in science education—they argue that secular humanism and the scientific outlook has one take, and the Christian Biblical point of view, another. With this I would agree.
By knowing how they use word play to advance their agenda, citizens can be on guard and keep religious activists’ rhetoric from further influencing public policy and education in America.