August 12, 2011

Horse 1219 - Everyone Has Religion... Everyone

On Census night (9th August) we had the opportunity to give the Government and future generations a chance to take a statistical snapshot of the nation.
In particular there was a question to do with what religion someone is. Rather than giving people the opportunity to make a postive statement that they were Atheist or Agnostic, the option given was "No Religion". I happen to think that this is a logical impossibility.
Further research confirms my suspicion that it is a logical impossibility.

In Horse 1128 I gave what I thought was a pretty solid sort of definition for Religion:

"Religion for want of a better word is a set of practices based on or that follow as a result of one's faith. To put it more simply: Faith is where and what you believe in; Religion is what you do about it."
As far as I'm concerned it is a case perfect definition, since this describes all people in all circumstances.

I then thought I'd look in a Etymological Latin dictionary to find where the word came from.
religio - Latin, accusitive singular - noun: conscientiousness, scrupulousness
As far as I can make out the word itself was coined by Cicero in his work De Officiis (On Obligations) in 44BC. Most likely the word comes from two roots: re - to go over, and lego - read. Taken together re-lego probably should mean something like "consider carefully", which fits in nicely with the Latin dictionary defnition that I've found.
The problem is that it doesn't really describe anything useful in relation to what people believe.

Then I thought that I'd go to be Bible to find instances of related words. As far as I can tell, the word only appears in two distinct places in the Bible. If so, then this is worth investigating to find out how the word is used in context.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you."
- Acts 17:22-23 NIV

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said,
"Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. "
- Acts 17:22-23 KJV

Where the NIV uses the word "religious" the KJV uses the word "superstitious". So what's going on here?

The Greek word in question is the monster "deisidaimonesterous"; it means something like "more afraid of demons" or "sprits". Given that according to verse 16 "the city was full of idols", the people of Athens obviously did something about what they feared.
Does my definition still hold that Religion is "is a set of practices based on or that follow as a result of one's faith"? I think so.

The only other place where the word Religion appears is in James' letter:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
- James 1: 26-27 NIV

The word which is used here is either "threskeia" or "threskos", they are derivatives and mean a "ritual". Since a ritual is something you do because you believe in something, does my definition again still hold that Religion is "is a set of practices based on or that follow as a result of one's faith"? I still think so.

I will admit at this point that I actually cheated before coming up with this. There already is a storehouse of words, and that is the Oxford English Dictionary. It says:

religion: n.
2 - a particular system of faith and or practices (OED3)

In the broadest possible sense, everything that people do is based on what they believe. If I go to the train station and buy my weekly ticket for $48, I have faith that my $48 will be accepted as a form of exchange and so does the ticket seller (look up the word "fiduciary" and tell me that it's got nothing to do with faith), since religion is what you do, then by doing something based on what I believe, I prove my faith.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia which ran a "No religion" Campaign during the run up to the 2011 Census, did so because they believe that there is no God. By the fact that they're running the campaign in the first place, they were in fact doing something based on their faith (in this case that there is/are/were no God/god/s).
Again I ask the question, do the Atheist Foundation of Australia by their actions show that they are exercising their religion, considering that is a "set of practices based on or that follow as a result of one's faith"? Yet again I think that the answer is "Yes".

Even someone who chooses to disagree with me and/or write a comment, does so because they believe something to be true.

I think that for anyone to have absolutely no religion at all is a logical impossibility by virtue of the fact that everyone does something. It might not be organised, or formally recognised but it's still something.

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