The Religion Of Tallness

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Paul Flesher is the Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming. He also writes a twice-a-month column called "Religion Today" that he solicits comments for on his heavily-comment-moderated blog, also called "Religion Today".

His last column was called "The Religion Of Atheism", and it was a jumbled mess. First, he made up his own definition of the word "religion":

[Paul Flesher] Definition: A religion is a group of people who join together because they share a belief about the nature of god or gods, in order to encourage each other in that belief.

Then, after the six people who commented on it handed him his own ass, he wrote a new column called "Organized Religion and Everyone Else" in which he backpedals a bit - apparently astonished that the six previous commenters had the temerity, the unmitigated gall to correct his awful definition of religion.

So, he changed it to now read:

[Paul Flesher] "[A] group of people who share a belief about the nature of the existing god(s)."

*facepalm*

Here is how I responded:

(Continued after the fold...)

[Brent Rasmussen] Paul Flesher said:

They wanted the definition to read as, "a group of people who share a belief about the nature of the existing god(s)."

Uh, no, they did no such thing. No where, in any of the 6 comments that you received on your last post, did anyone say that religion should be defined as "...a group of people who share a belief about the nature of the existing god(s)."

I call strawman. You're just making this up out of whole cloth, on-the-fly, as you go along.

Here is what they DID say - and that which you conveniently chose to ignore in this, your most recent post on the subject:

[Commenter "Dave"] Atheism, plainly and simply, is the absence of a belief in one or many gods, which is an important difference from how you defined it. Here are some metaphors that may help.

If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color, hunger is a food, silence is a song, and barefoot a kind of shoe.

If atheism is a religion, then unemployment is a career, not collecting stamps is a hobby and health is a disease.

You just don't seem to understand, do you? Let me try and clear things up for you a bit. Now, please pay especially close attention to this:

NEITHER theism or atheism are "religions". Rather, they are descriptions. "Theist" describes a person in whom god-belief is present, and "atheist" describes a person in whom god-belief is absent.

That's all. The end. No more. Done.

Now, a religion may *incorporate* atheism (Buddhism) or theism (Catholicism, Pentacostal, Mormon, Baha'i, etc.), but atheism and theism CANNOT, in and of themselves, be religions.

There. That wasn't so hard to understand now, was it?

Not that I expect you to read this, or post it, but I hope you'll surprise me.

After that, he posted my comment, but with all the formatting stripped away, and as "Anonymous". Weird. I think he probably deleted it, then thought, "Crap! that's just what he said that I'd do!" Then he probably had to go and grab it from his cache and post it as "Anonymous" himself to save face.

Heh. Maybe not.

In any case, there is an ongoing conversation going on there right now. He has just responded to my comment, and I have responded to his response.

We'll see if it actually gets published over there, but here it is just in case:

[Paul Flesher] Dear Mr. Rasmusson,
Despite your rudeness, I will not only publish your comment, but respond to it.

OK, you want to redefine atheism as a species belonging to the same genus as theism. Alright, you have redefined the terms I used, but my point still holds, I just need to adjust my claim slightly.

Applying your terminology to my argument, you are correct, "atheism" would not be a religion. However, the beliefs and activities of groups such as the Atheist Alliance International or the Humanist Society indicate that these societies and those like them are religions.

Here's my (as yet unpublished) response:

[Brent Rasmussen] First of all, why was my comment deleted, then re-inserted without formatting under an "anonymous" monicker? Also my name is "Rasmussen", not "Rasmusson", thanks.

My rudeness? I'm sorry Paul, but I don't see that I was being rude, merely instructive. You were incorrect in your definition of atheism, and I corrected you.

> OK, you want to redefine
> atheism as a species
> belonging to the same
> genus as theism.

(An aside; What is with the biological terms, Paul? Why not just be precise with your language? Why all the fuzzy logic and clunky analogies?)

I am not "redefining" anything. Atheism and theism are two sides of the same coin. Anyone who understands how the English language works at even an elementary school level should be able to figure that out.

> Applying your terminology to my argument,

It is not my terminology. It is the correct definition of both theism and atheism.

> ...you are correct,
> "atheism" would not
> be a religion.

...and you just tanked your own argument. Paul, atheism is a description. It is literally *impossible* for it to be a "religion". It's like calling "tall" a religion.

> However,
> the beliefs and
> activities of groups
> such as the Atheist
> Alliance International
> or the Humanist Society
> indicate that these
> societies and those
> like them are religions.

Those groups are not synonymous with "atheism". There may be people within those groups who can be described as atheists, but this does not mean that the group and atheism are interchangeable. Again, it's like saying that the Bird Watchers Society is equal to "tall", because some tall people belong to it. It is just downright silly.

You are confusing the word "religion" with someone, or a group of people, who practice something "religiously". Don't worry, it's a rookie mistake. You see, someone may follow a hobby, or an interest "religiously". This is a legitimate use of the word "religiosly" - to apply it to a non-religious activity like bird watching, or coin collecting, or crossword puzzle solving. "He solved the New York Times crossword religiously every day for 20 years."

Does that mean that he is *worshipping* the NYT crossword? That it is his *religion*?

Of course not. Someone may watch Nascar religiously, but that does NOT mean that they think that Dick Trickle is god.

I'd tell you to go on over there and participate, but as I mentioned, it seems that Paul moderates comments heavily, so it might not be worth it. I'll just continue to respond here on UTI if it gets too heavy-handed over there.

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gray lensman's picture

I know a man whose name is

Richard Flicker

Milo Johnson's picture

"WE'LL BURY YOU, ATHEISTS!"

What a charming display of superstition-inspired goodness...

Jim Downey's picture

Just a troll.

Yeah, you're right, but this is the same troll who shows up periodically under different names claiming all kinds of such crap. I also regularly get email from the idiot. Just ignore him, and he'll get bored and go away.

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like Science Fiction? Read *or listen to* my novel, Communion of Dreams, for free.

pzdummy's picture

We'll bury you

WE'LL BURY YOU, ATHEISTS!

i think this will be more effective:

visit

http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/11853/

to see how we WON THE MILLION DOLLAR PARANORMAL CHALLENGE

and CRUSHED the entire atheist movement...

and PZ too....

predict the future too!

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.music.depeche-mode/browse_thread/thre...

richg's picture

That's Rude?

[Paul Flesher] Dear Mr. Rasmusson,
Despite your rudeness, I will not only publish your comment, but respond to it.

You were rude? Man, some people have thin skin! I read your posts, and although I don't necessarily agree with all you wrote, it was polite and intelligent.

"I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion." -G.K. Chesterton

John S. Wilkins's picture

Genus and species

He's using these terms as they are used in classical logic - briefly a genus is a general term, and a species is a special term. Think superset and set.

The biological senses do not arise from the logical senses, as both genus and species are also terms of vernacular Latin (roughly, tribe and form respectively).

mtully's picture

How Moderated Is It

I submitted two comments to the site.

I congratulated him on his ability to redefine a circle as a polygon without corners. I also defined what equivocation was and stated how that was viewed by the epistemologically rational.

I wonder if those replies will make it on to the blog?

mtully's picture

Hey Don't Bother Me Now

I don't have time to reply to your post. I'm actively involved in my favorite athletic endeavor.

I'm not playing baseball right now!

I'll reply later when I'm finished not playing.

george.w's picture

Well if you like, Humanism is a religion

...and many Humanists are also atheists. Humanism has a body of beliefs and principles; atheism does not. Buddhism is a religion, and many Buddhists are also atheists. Same with Judaism.

Short concept test: who ever says their religion is "Theist"?

Todd's picture

This is the best academic theology has to offer

One of the criticisms of the so called New Atheists is that they do not have the academic background to deal with the more sophisticated understanding of religious belief. We are often told to stop arguing with the uneducated rabble and deal with the experts. One of these days, we may be confronted with one of these brilliant experts, but I suspect that they are as rare as gods.

Hank Fox's picture

Sophistication

I actually picked up a book in the library today that said something about debunking the new atheism. I read the cover flap, and it talked only about philosophical materialism (as opposed to some sort of spiritual viewpoint), with a long list of various philosophers on both sides of the issue, concluding that materialism had never been proven. The book was dense inside with all sorts of philosophical arguments.

I suppose the writer is one of those who thinks he has a sophisticated understanding of religion, but I'd bet nothing in that book takes up the simple question of whether or not gods actually exist, or whether or not the Bible is any sort of reliable guide to that answer.

To me, the type of "sophistication" some of those people talk about translates as "smokescreen." You can't be deeply knowledgeable about a subject which has no depths.

That's actually one of religion's strengths. If it WAS so deep and difficult to understand, the yokels wouldn't be able to get it so easily.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Rabble Rabble

Truth, Todd! As demonstrated most entertainingly and eloquently by P.Z.'s "The Courtier's Reply".

wantobe's picture

How 'bout that Dick Trickle

He never won a NASCAR cup race (from what I understand, but I'm not a fan myself), but for some reason his name is synonymous with the sport.

Rob Miles
--
There are only 10 types of people in the world;
those who understand binary and those who don't.

Jim Downey's picture

Good lord,

who would do that to their kid, name them "Dick Trickle"???

Jim Downey

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Like Science Fiction? Read *or listen to* my novel, Communion of Dreams, for free.

Mike's picture

yeah, why are parents so cruel sometimes

I once met the son of a Mr. and Mrs. Head. His name was Richard

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Dick Trickle Is My God Now

"Suck it Jesus! Dick Trickle is my God now!"

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