Bill O’Reilly claims Christianity isn’t a religion

So a bunch of people around teh atheist interwebs have noticed a story about Bill O’Reilly claiming that Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a philosophy. This is actually just a variation on a popular Christian meme, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a personal relationship with God.” I also once heard a Muslim claim that Islam isn’t a religion, it’s a “way of life.”

One way to look at this, as an atheist, is to immediately declare victory over religion. I mean, if nowadays even conservative Christians see religion as a bad thing, we must be doing something right!

On the other hand, I really wonder what all the people who say things like this are thinking. It’s one thing to claim atheism is a religion, since it’s at least a stance on religious beliefs (though people ordinary use “religion” to mean more than that). But to claim Christianity isn’t a religion… Christianity is a paradigm case of a religion! How can it not be obvious to everyone who says this that they’re not just redefining words for the sake of rhetorical convenience?

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  • eric

    On the other hand, I really wonder what all the people who say things like this are thinking.

    Well its pretty clear what O’Reilly is thinking: if we say that Christianity isn’t religion, then the US government can establish Christianity and give it preferential treatment…over other religions.

    Of course this is clearly not a serious or deep ideological position, because the 1st carries with it protections as well as limitations, and neither O’Reilly nor anyone else using this like would likely give up their first amendment protections. Basically, they want their cake and to eat it too: to be covered by the first in terms of limiting government regulation, but to not be covered by the first in terms of establishment.

    • Delphi Psmith

      Ah, but it won’t be tax-exempt any longer. Do you really think they want to give that up?

      Of course now that Pat Robertson is coming out in support of evolution I suppose all bets are off…

  • Tony

    Right. It’s postmodern word games at their disingenuous best.

  • tubi

    I was watching this at the gym last night, so I might not have had the full flavor of it, but it seemed like O’Reilly was getting hung up on Silverman saying that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of A religion. O’Reilly said Christianity is not a religion, it’s a philosophy, but if the government had said, now you all have to be Methodist, or some such, that would be different. Basically distinguishing between “Christianity” as the umbrella set of principles and each sect under that as having specific religious beliefs and practices. It’s bullshit, of course.

    It made me wonder, though, if he would be willing to say that Islam is not a religion but that Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Ahmadiyya, etc, all are. Or that Judaism is not a religion but Reformed, Orthodox, etc, you get the drift. Obviously, he’d have to agree in order to be consistent, but because it’s BO I can’t help but wonder.

    • eric

      You really wonder? I don’t. Of course he would be unwilling to be consistent.

      • tubi

        I don’t either. I guess I meant that rhetorically.

  • baal

    I once had a devout Muslim say that I, open atheist, was better at being a Muslim than most of the practitioners he knew. It was more about right behaviour than specific beliefs to him. I suspect he was a bit of a rare bird though it did let him metaphorically beat up the other local Muslims for lack of doing it right. O’Reilly is just making his usual noise. I don’t mind that overly much on a utility argument; he says bad arguments in simplistic easy to dismiss way. That hurts the xtian side more than it helps them and he’s doing it for personal attention.

  • Kodie

    The problem with this philosophy is that it’s awfully attached to its symbolism and ritual. It’s the symbolism and ritual we clash over year after year, not the sentiment of the “philosophy”, as I would take to mean, “how to act as a Christian does, within a framework of ideas or ideals” not where those ideals supposedly originated or how those ideals or a deity are worshiped. Some of those ideals are to keep gay people from having the right to marry, for example. So I don’t agree with this framework of ideas or that the government shouldn’t shed association of any laws bearing on this philosophy or any other philosophy also known as a religion.

    But philosophies don’t generally attach meaning to symbols. I could be extremely wrong about that. But a tree is not a part of a philosophy. It is a symbol of a holiday, and the holiday is also not part of a philosophy. It may be like celebrating Darwin’s birthday or have a Nietzsche quote on your coffee cup. It’s your favorite mug so you’d be mad if someone at work broke it, if they could have had a dialogue and left the property alone. But that doesn’t make the mug precious. Philosophy isn’t a precious token or day off.

    Traditionally, it’s nice to acknowledge the passage of time or seasons or anniversaries with a gathering, and any time there’s a gathering, there is food and decorations and music. And if you couldn’t do that every once in a while, or you were left out when everyone else is doing it, you’d get depressed. Maybe. Some people do. But we’re social creatures and we do mark the time with ritual gathering and we like to do it.

    But after all these people accuse us of being a Grinch (or a fascist) and steamroll over our rights with their not-part-of-a-philosophy, have they even seen or read How the Grinch Stole Christmas all the way to the end? He couldn’t stop Christmas from coming at all. Boom. “Philosophy” intact. We’re not, atheists, given enough credit for knowing what’s important. A tree is important to a philosophy like environmentalism, but a chopped down tree brought into the living room (or courthouse?), festooned gaudily, and dismantled and discarded by January 2 is not vitally important to anyone’s “philosophy”. Discarding it “on time and not one day later” might be more vitally important to some people’s “philosophy” than almost anything else about this holiday (I’ve noticed).

    I would still call it Christmas as much as I call today Thursday and this year 2012. That’s its name, and I think it’s huge, culturally unavoidable (like Silverman says), but still Christmas. I don’t attach religious significance to it and never have. I think O’Reilly is way too protective over the symbols and rituals, kind of a bridezilla, could I suggest? about Christmas. Defending Christianity as a philosophy does not have context here as it might if they were talking about marriage equality or abortion or something toward which a philosophy might apply. It’s Jesus’ birthday, traditionally, for Christians. The rest of us were imposed upon, and we traditionally participate in many of the rituals because it’s actually not going to acid-burn us to be of cheer, exchange presents, or gather intentionally, despite the ritual shared by Christians’, additionally going to church, singing songs in praise of their king, and gathering with their families; I much prefer that to the ritual of accusing atheists of being fascists or taking away their fun. Bitter and philosophically irrelevant.

  • MNb

    “How can it not be obvious ….”
    Open door. O’Reilly wants attention, because attention generates money. So I only shrug.

    @Baal “It was more about right behaviour …”
    That’s correct, but the islamic source of determining what is right behaviour still is up up high in the sky.

  • Callan

    I think we might be missing an important point here. This statement by O’Reilly just proves that the man hasn’t got the capacity to think things through adequately. It is very simple. If Christianity isn’t a religion but a philosophy, then Christianity has no right to a tax-free status. Now is the time to start taxing all Christian-based philosophies. And indeed all Bible-based philosophies, because the biblical teachings of “god’s book” reflect, and are the basis of, at least three major religio-philosophies, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. So hold onto your hats, all you religious demagogues, every tax department in the world may be looking through your records for at least the last seven years. Thanks, Bill, you have done the world a service, albit unintentional.

  • smidoz

    Apart from the obvious fact that he’s just talking garbage, Christianity is a religion in every sense of the word, why should it being a phlosophy make it less a religion? I’m not entriely certain I’m necessarily defining a philospohy correctly, but if it is a system for examining and thinking about the world, that includes ethics and a way of examining the world that presupposes a desginer, then it could be a philosophy of sorts, but still a religion. Likewise, the bit about Islam being a way of life, I normally here this about Buddhism, “it’s not a religion, it is a way of life.” Buddha claimed to have received his knowledge from a supernatural source and that it was the only way to live, so while it is not a religion like the Abrahamic variety, it is a religion, and way of life, which is what itany religion chould be. I don’t understand the whole it’s not this it’s that mentality when mutual exculsivity isn’t remotely an issue.

  • Don Gwinn

    O’Reilly knows what he’s doing. He wants to make Silverman splutter and yell back at him, because spluttering and outrage and shouting are what make his show entertaining. The important thing about declaring that Christmas trees are secular, that Christianity is not a religion, and that atheists are a merry band of fascists is that they all cause Silverman to make his meme face, and O’Reilly’s viewers get what they came to see.

    It’s stupid, but it’s not like O’Reilly doesn’t know that. He also knows, in my opinion, that there’s an explanation for why the tides come in and go out without miscommunication. Like my cousin Skeeter, he sells bait for a living. He’s making more money than Skeeter, but the smell is similar.

  • Ik

    It’s almost like Buddha is taking revenge on the West for their goofy nontheistic perception of Buddhism.