Meet the NotReligions: Christianity, Islam, and …?

So, apparently, we’ve been doing it all wrong.  Christianity isn’t a religion!  It’s a philosophy.  Here’s how Bill O’Reilly explains it to us:

Also you heard an atheist on this program last night say the federal holiday of Christmas imposes religion on him. What religion would that be? He says Christianity. But Christianity is not an organized religion, a church that can be imposed. There are many different churches that promote the Christian philosophy in many different ways.

Does the atheist think the federal government is promoting Mormonism? Lutheranism? Catholicism? What? After that interview the crazy Web site People emerged screaming that I’m wrong. Christianity is indeed a religion. This people are so stupid, it’s painful.

Christianity is a philosophy. You don’t have to believe Jesus is God in order to admire his view on life.

Millions of Muslims admire Jesus as a prophet. In fact the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian philosophy, that’s what shaped our constitutional tenets. Again if you are stone-cold dumb and don’t understand the difference between an organized church and a philosophy, I cannot help you.

And guess what!  Islam isn’t a religion either, so those Muslims BillO mentioned are super-confused.

Here’s how Warren Throckmorton sums up what Liberty University’s Mat Staver said:

Mat Staver, Dean of the Liberty University Law School told OneNewsNow, the “news service” of the American Family Association that Islam is more political ideology than religion and as such does not merit the same religious liberty protections.  Staver said

“One of the issues, however, that needs to be considered is whether or not there will be much emphasis placed on advancing the Muslim cause,” he notes. “Certainly that could be a concern to many people around the country.”

He explains why that should be a concern in a law school.

Islam is a political ideology. Certainly it takes characteristics of religion, but by and large, at its core, both in the United States and around the world, it is a political ideology,” Staver asserts. “Consequently, to use the same kind of laws for an advancement of a political ideology that you would for religious liberty could eventually cause some concerning issues that we want to address.”

O’Reilly apparently corrected himself the next day, and who knows if Staver will choose to correct himself and clarify that indeed Islam is a religion.  I’m betting no on that.

These are two recent and blatant examples of mischaracterizing a religion in service of one’s own political ends:  Nativity scenes at federal courthouses, and continued marginalization of and hatred toward Muslims.

Who’s next?

God Bless America?

Maybe Jon Stewart can help:


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About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Pseudonym

    Buddhism is the one I most often hear called a NotReligion.

    To most “new atheists”, of course, “Religion” is defined as “anything I don’t like” and “NotReligion” is defined as “anything with at least some redeeming value”. So to Sam Harris, for example, Buddhism is NotReligion because he practices it. To Christopher “religion poisons everything” Hitchens, sending his daughter to a Quaker school was fine because it’s NotReligion. Oh, and Stalinism is Religion, but Trotskyism is NotReligion.

  • Judy

    Since I don’t watch FOX news, I was totally unaware of this HUGE blunder. Thanks for the entertainment and disturbance. Unbelievable!

  • Luke Hannington

    Mis-characterizing another’s position does not do your point any credit. Hitchens does not argue that Stalinism is religious, merely that it was promoted in a way that would appeal to a highly religious culture. The excerpt you refer to is . . .

    “For hundreds of years, millions of Russians had been told the head of state should be a man close to God, the czar, who was head of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as absolute despot. If you’re Stalin, you shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you can’t exploit the pool of servility and docility that’s ready-made for you.”

    • Pseudonym

      That’s not the only Hitchens comment I had in mind, but I hope you could tell that I was using just a little bit of hyperbole. FWIW, Hitchens also didn’t literally define “religion” as “anything I don’t like”. (However, he did literally claim that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King were not really Christian. Sort that one out if you can.)

      My point is that it’s not just religious people who deny that something that they like is “religion”. All the cool kids are doing it.

      “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” — James 1:27 (NRSV)