Friday, December 20, 2013

How do you determine if someone's beliefs are religious beliefs?

Updated on Jan 14 to remove some redundancy and lack of clarity.

Simple! If they say their beliefs are religious, then they are!

Oh, alright, the full answer is a bit more complicated...

This post comes from a conversation I was having with my mother about Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty) who has been suspended from the show due to homophobic remarks. In the conversation, I had (somehow — I don't remember the exact phrasing) referred to his beliefs as religious beliefs. She questioned if that was stretching it a bit far. In my mother's defense, perhaps she was unaware at the time that Robertson himself had said that they were. From the GQ article (page 2):
What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

But never mind my mother. Whatever her view, it did get me thinking about some of the silly defenses of religion that are out there. The main defense is to claim that beliefs like Robertson's aren't really religious, but rather that these people are using religion to justify their horrible beliefs. I can agree with this to a point. The point where I disagree is that this is the way religion often works. Even if there is a god or gods, it should be pretty obvious no religions were inspired (well, maybe bits and pieces, but certainly not the parts that are relevant to this discussion) fully by it or them and are largely, if not fully, made up by humans. So what do you think they are going to write into their religions??? If you answered "Their own beliefs," give yourself a prize! It's no surprise, then, to see modern day humans doing the same thing! (This often means interpreting what someone else wrote long ago to fit the modern age.)

And then the other part to that that may be worth mentioning is that these defenses often try to claim that religion is something good and positive. I almost saw this on Good Morning America's report Thursday, where the guest, Howard Bradman, said, "He used religion as a weapon rather than the tool it is meant to be." I can only assume he thinks it is meant to be a tool for good. Bullshit! Because religion is bullshit. And, therefore, it isn't "meant" to be anything. That's not to say it can't be used for good. The larger point in all of what I am saying is that religion is largely subjective! And when people defend religion, they are quite often defending those subjective parts, but the fact that they are defending them basically forces them to take a position of thinking them to be objective.

One last thing. I should point out that some of these defenders of religion may not be trying to defend religion but are doing it more by accident. There are some who may use similar arguments that have come to the conclusion that many of people's beliefs are cultural. They would then say Robertson's homophobia is cultural, but that he's using religion to defend his culture. So this is slightly different from the above, but it has the same flaw of failing to recognize that this is what religion tends to do. Culture influences religion and then religion turns right back around and influences culture! The two are too intertwined to be able to make a clear distinction. It is mainly for this that I say you should just take someone's word if they say their beliefs are religious. It is not to say that those beliefs are only religious, but to recognize that religion is playing a roll.

As an example of what is objective and what isn't, it is objective that the New Testament speaks a lot about a man named Jesus. But, as an example of what is more so subjective, was Jesus really a man??? There are some who think he was. Many think he was not just a man, but that he was God! Then, I think, there are even some out there (but this would be a very small minority group) that think he was really a space alien who disguised himself as a human. And, I can't forget, there are those who think Jesus was no more than a fictional character, a figment of the imagination. Now, realize that there is an objective truth as to what Jesus actually was. But we just don't have enough evidence to really determine what that truth is. Also, there are people who do try to reach their conclusions on what evidence there is — such people are trying to think more objectively about this. It is primarily the people who just read from the New Testament and come to their conclusions from that and that alone who I am talking about. Or, worse, the people who just accept what ever their church tells them. They're not thinking about this very objectively, therefore, I think it correct to label their beliefs as subjective.

Similarly, there is objective truth to what the authors of the various parts of the Bible actually meant. (For example, did they mean what they wrote literally or metaphorically?) But only those authors could ever fully know (we can certainly try to guess, but that's about it). And they are all dead. So we'll never know. So then anyone who says, "This is what this verse really means!" is full of themselves. (But don't let apologetics fool you! I would agree that someone could go and say, "This is what I think this verse means because..." and then they proceed to give their reasoning. These people are trying to objectively think about this. Apologetics can often look like it's doing the same thing. The problem I often have is the degree of certainty to which they claim they are correct in comparison to the reasoning they offer. It has always seemed to be that they are more certain of themselves than they should be.)

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