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Religions Differ

March 8, 2012
The Great Buddha statue, Kōtoku Temple, Kamaku...

The Buddha: An Atheist

One of my major intellectual frustrations of the last ten years has been the growth of loose—usually hostile—talk about ‘religion.’ The impetus for this seems to be a desire to react strongly against the attacks of 9/11 without singling out Islam in particular.

Religions are too different for this kind of talk to be useful. Some are militant, some pacifistic. Some are charitable, others not. Some are theistic, others are atheistic. Some religions are basically philosophical, others are rooted in historical claims. And for the same reason, there is often no great difference between any given religion and something which we might rather call a value system, or an ideology, or a philosophy, or a set of superstitions or myths.

The truth is that anything that matters to people has all sorts of effects and can be exploited in all sorts of ways, good and bad. This applies to religion, philosophy, ideology, nationality, kinship, love, and so on and on. That is literally the only thing to say about the role of religion just in general. Anyone who tries to make more of it than that is simply not a fit conversational partner for an informed person.

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Edit: Skarphedin observes that people “do not realize the significance of higher and lower groupings of concepts.” For instance,

atheism and theism are the ultimate groupings of ideologies by belief or non-belief in God, and that’s about all one can say. When Buddhism, forms of Hinduism, Secular humanism, Marxism, etc., fall into the atheist category, and Shamans, Quakers, Taliban, and other forms of Hinduism fall into the theist category, then how can you compare one specific ideology of one category with the whole of the other category?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2012 2:40 pm

    This fits in with annoying comparisons people make, in which they apparently do not realize the significance of higher and lower groupings of concepts. So people compare theism to some contemporary form of secular humanism instead of atheism. Or, in the other direction, atheism in general to some specific religion, like Christianity (or even a sub-branch).

    Atheism and theism are the ultimate groupings of ideologies by belief or non-belief in God, and that’s about all one can say. When Buddhism, forms of Hinduism, Secular humanism, Marxism, etc., fall into the atheist category, and Shamans, Quakers, Taliban, and other forms of Hinduism fall into the theist category, then how can you compare one specific ideology of one category with the whole of the other category?

    • March 8, 2012 3:13 pm

      That’s right. I’ve noticed that atheists are always insisting that atheism is not a religion. Which is true, of course, but only for the same reason that theism isn’t a religion. But what *they* seem to think is that atheism is the absence of religion. Which shows 1) that they aren’t that well informed and 2) that their atheism is actually something more than a bare philosophical thesis.

      Lots of religious people buy into this nonsense too, with blather about being “people of faith.” As if bare “faith” just as such is a bond between people or has some substance or merit.

  2. Gunn permalink
    March 11, 2012 11:34 am

    Western atheists in general rage against Judeo-christian or islamic beliefs; they’re clueless when it comes to indic or oriental systems. Further, they are even clueless about mystical branches of the abrahamic religions.

    They claim that their superior intelligence makes them embrace atheism, but then they treat science as a religion, looking to it for their answers (and quite often create entirely arbitrary humanistic systems on top to ground whatever morality they want to believe is ‘axiomatic’).

    I think some may have motives around 9/11, but I think that for many such as Dawkins its arrogance that drives them; i.e. they believe that their mastery of their scientific discipline affords them greater insight to the truth of the world than philosophers and theists.

    Ironically, I suspect its because they have inferiority complexes about their branch of science; very few physicists or mathematicians are as rabidly anti-god as biologists or other soft scientists, because they (the physicists and mathematicians) actually use hard scientific methodology or deductive reasoning in coming to their conclusions, and they know precisely what its limitations actually are.

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