When is a religion not a religion?

Caryn Riswold has some fun with right-wing pundits’ laughable game of heads-we-win, tails-you-lose — “Meet the NotReligions: Christianity, Islam, and …?

Riswold notes Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s recent claim that Christianity is not a religion, but a “philosophy,” as well as the claim by Mat Staver of Liberty University that Islam is not a religion, but a “political ideology.”

To make sense of this, understand that O’Reilly and Staver are both trying to justify Christian privilege. They want the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to apply to Christianity, and exclusively to Christianity (and maybe Jews, too, if they behave). And they want the no establishment clause of the First Amendment to apply to every religion except for Christianity.

Thus when O’Reilly is confronted with a situation in which civil authorities seem to be privileging Christianity in violation of the establishment clause, he makes the weird claim that Christianity is “not a religion.”

But that won’t keep O’Reilly from loudly defending the “religious” freedom of any Christians, should their free exercise be constrained in any way (even hypothetically).

This is similar to the popular theocratic game of pretending that secular government is, itself, a religion. Government cannot be secular, this “argument” says, because that would constitute an establishment of the “religion” of secularism. But of course the Christianists making this argument are not consistent in their logic. At the same time they argue that secularism is a “religion” that cannot be established, they insist that secular people have no free exercise rights because such people have no religion.

Staver is dealing with the opposite situation from O’Reilly. He’s trying to deny that Muslims have the constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion, so he makes the absurd claim that Islam isn’t really a religion.

When the subject is, instead, the supposed threat of “Sharia” law, of course, Staver reverses himself and shouts that it constitutes an attempt to establish religion in violation of the First Amendment.

The self-contradiction is necessary for Staver. When Muslims seek the constitutional right to free exercise, he wants to deny it to them by pretending that Islam is merely a “political ideology.” But if it’s a “political ideology,” then there’s no constitutional reason that Sharia law could not be legislated in America.

It’s difficult to tell whether Staver is just an appallingly cynical liar and bigot, or if he really is this stupid.

Probably both, but either ought to disqualify him from serving as dean of the Liberty University Law School.

As John Fea writes:

There are a lot of good and thoughtful teachers and scholars who work at Liberty University.  It is time for these cooler heads to prevail and do something about the Dean of the Law School, Mat Staver.

Maybe that’s too generous to Liberty. We’ll find out based on whether or not the school is willing to do anything to rein in — or rid itself of — this dishonest idiot.

  • hidden_urchin

    Is it wrong of me to want someone at the IRS to respond to this?  I’m thinking something like, “Christianity is not a religion? That’s news to us.  I guess we’ll have to revoke the religious institution tax exemption then.” My bet is that Christianity would become a religion again right quick.

  • Carstonio

    Uh, doesn’t Liberty University exist solely to train young fundamentalists to push US government toward theocracy, like Regent University and Patrick Henry College? 

  • Guest

    Didn’t O’Reilly take that back?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani Sharmin

    To make sense of this, understand that O’Reilly and Staver are both trying to justify Christian privilege. They want the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to apply to Christianity, and exclusively to Christianity (and maybe Jews, too, if they behave). And they want the no establishment clause of the First Amendment to apply to every religionexcept for Christianity.

    This, exactly!

  • Tricksterson

    I think he’s being sarcastic.  Or it could be Fred’s sometimes annoying habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt even when they don’t deserve it.

  • Carstonio

    Fred is technically right that whether Staver’s problem is bigotry or stupidity, that ought to disqualify him from serving as dean of the Liberty law school. But that doesn’t go far enough. I’m tempted to say that his problem should disqualify him from practicing law at all. But the real issue is that there shouldn’t be a Liberty University, at least with its current mission.

  • AnonymousSam

    Bread goes in, toast comes out! You can’t explain that!

  • stardreamer42

    Staver’s statement should be enough to get the accreditation withdrawn from Liberty University’s school of law.  Frankly, I don’t know how Liberty got (or keeps) the accreditation necessary to call itself a “university” in the first place; I was given to understand* that the regulations about that were fairly stringent. But maybe that’s the problem — more deregulation!

    * I was living in Nashville during the period when David Lipscomb College applied to become David Lipscomb University, and there was some discussion about the matter among various academics I knew.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I think it was last week I watched a video online where O’Reilly was emphatically stating that “Christianity is not a religion.” I was like, wow that’s a new one. I’m pretty sure Christianity is a religion…

  • lowtechcyclist

    “It’s difficult to tell whether Staver is just an appallingly cynical liar and bigot, or if he really is this stupid.

    Probably both, but either ought to disqualify him from serving as dean of the Liberty University Law School.”

    Doesn’t it take both attributes to qualify one for a position at Falwell U.?

  • Lori

     

    Is it wrong of me to want someone at the IRS to respond to this?

    No. No, it is not.

    O’Reilly is trying to have his cake and eat it too and it’s perfectly reasonable to want him to choke on it.

  • Magic_Cracker

    There are a lot of good and thoughtful teachers and scholars who work at Liberty University.

    And as a former educator, I can tell you that has fuck all to do with administrators, no matter the school. Still, the statement implies that Liberty U is anything other than a credentialing agency for people who want to destroy our civil secular society from within — which it isn’t.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Someone needs to remind Bill O. and Mat that philosophy is a walk on the slippery rocks. Religion is a smile on a dog.

    Hope that clarifies.

  • galactica_actual

    They’re not aware of too many things.

    They know what they know, if you know what I mean.

  • JustoneK

    wat.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    People like O’Reilly want Christianity to be in a strange quantum state where it simultaneously is and is not a religion, enjoying the benefits of both conditions and none of the drawbacks of either.

  • http://mousehole-mouse.blogspot.com/?zx=899fdf7701a6708f Mouse

    Ellanjay make a similar argument in the Left Behind: the kids series in which one of the RTCs says this headslapper of a statement: “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship with God through Christ.”

  • Victor

    Fred! You’re not helping matter here! As a matter of fact and “IT” does matter Fred that when some of your human being sarcastic remarks cells which are butt a spec of what you think about the University, I mean the universe. Any WAY, your thoughts sometimes are only annoying habits of giving people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t deserve “IT”  Fred. Bread goes in and then toast comes out! “IT” needs no splainin if ya know what “I” mean?  Come on so you must stop “IT” Fred. NOW! “IT” is just a matter of perspective cause if someone needs to remind Bill O. and Mat that philosophy is a walk on the slippery rocks the Religion is butt a smile on a dog butt humans will need a Magic Cracker to understand what is being said. Right folks? :(
     
     http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/2012/12/mercedez-benz-m-class-popemobile/#comments
     
    I hear ya! Mind if we human being ask who’s commenting here, is “IT” Victor and/or simply sinner vic who thinks that he owns 92% of Victor’s Universal flesh? :)
     
     
     

  • ReverendRef

    To make sense of this, understand that O’Reilly and Staver are both trying to justify Christian privilege . . .

    How small their faith must be to attempt having Christianity embedded into society by force.  I could go on a rant about what faith is and isn’t, but it most certainly is NOT beating people over the head with a Scofield Reference Bible and dragging them to church to show what good work you’re doing for God.

    And, as Mouse pointed out from the LB Kids’ series, if “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship with God through Christ,” then who really cares?  If it’s personal, it’s personal and leave them alone.

    Oh, wait . . . it’s only personal if it meets the RTC Approved Behavior List. 

    I need to go find a wall.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Even when I was very very young, I had a hard time getting my mind around most forms of bigotry. I mean, I could just about grok the idea of having an instinctive knee-jerk aversion to something. I mean, I was a kid, I had instinctive knee-jerk aversions to things all the time. But when you got to the point of wanting to use the law to enforce a bigotry, that just made no sense. I mean, if you thought that men were inherently superior to women or white people were inherently superior to black people or straight people were inherently superior to non-straight people, why in the world would you feel the need to have the law give your team an advantage? Surely, if you really were inherently superior, there was no need for that — your white-straight-male-ness would give you advantages over everyone else, so why would you want the law to be rigged to give you *extra* advantages?

  • Dantesque17

    I may be giving Bill O’Reilly too much credit here, but is it possible he meant that Christianity is too broad a term for a religion?  Maybe his point was that Catholicism and Presbyterianism are religions because they’re philosophies about God are distinct and narrow, while the word “Christianity” is more of an umbrella term. 

    I think it would be difficult to argue that Christianity itself is merely a philosophy rather than a religion, since the divinity of Christ is woven into its other aspects.  If you accept the basic tenets of Christ’s philosophy but deny His divinity, then what would you call yourself?  Does such a thing exist today?

  • Patrick Ingram

    I’ve heard plenty of people describe Buddhism as a “philosophy” and it doesn’t make any more sense there. One problem is that the word “religion” (like “game” or “art”) is notoriously difficult to define. Everyone has their own definitions, but there’s far more argument than for most words.

    Some people just think a religion needs God in it, ignoring those religions where belief in God is optional. Granted, the distinction between “religion” and “philosophy” is often quite blurry, yet almost everyone considers Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. to be religions.

    I love the quote, “[Blank] is not a religion, but a relationship with God”. I wonder if they realize it’s saying, “[Blank] is not a religion, but rather it is a religion”.

  • Victor

    (((I need to go find a wall.)))

    Hey ReverendRef can you ask the wall to say a prayer for Victor so that he soons learn the truth about http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution

    Don’t be silly sinner vic! You can’t fool U>S (usual sinners) cause there’s no WAY that you can pray to a wall unless “IT” is a Religion. Right folks? :)

    I hear ya Lord! Careful Victor cause your French is starting to show NOW. :(

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0t4VYyiKNM&list=AL94UKMTqg-9AO9M8OmvX5V_ynAtQEJEfG&index=10

    Peace

  • Carstonio

     Heh! I remember a radio station satirizing that song with Popeye as the singer (because of the chorus) and Bluto jeering.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Bread goes in, toast comes out! You can’t explain that!

    Let me introduce you to Knowledgeable Neil.  

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Or it could be Fred’s sometimes annoying habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt even when they don’t deserve it.

    Well, he’s Christian. It’s always weird to see someone in the U.S. who is loud about their Christianity act the way Jesus said people were supposed to act, but Fred does it. This give-everyone-the-benefit-of-the-doubt-no-matter-what thing is one of the reasons I’m not Christian any longer, as doing that caused me and others severe harm and only helped horrible people continue to be horrible,  but I do admire the fact that Fred is not a hypocrite.

    It could also be his sense of humor. Sometimes it’s so dry it’s impossible to tell that it’s humor. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I need to go find a wall.

    To write on, I hope.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    When it’s a jar?

  • Leum

    It’s really common for people not to want their beliefs associated with the label “religion.” You see it with Christians, with Buddhists, and probably with other groups too. I personally think that Alcoholics Anonymous qualifies as a religion (it’s a spiritual program that’s about your relationship to a higher power with regular meetings with other people on the same spiritual path) and the AAers I know have always vehemently denied it even though I see no reason to.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Hm. I’d call AA religious but not a religion in itself–participants might after all be Christian or Jewish or Hindu.

  • Mary Kaye

    “You can only have one religion” is not a universal logical requirement (there’s a cute discussion of this in _Life of Pi_).  Buddhist-and-something and Shinto-and-something are very common combos.  It doesn’t happen as often with Christianity or Islam due to both of those religions being invested in “one true way” thinking, and so a lot of Westerners find it strange.  Members of other cultures don’t necessarily.

    My particular flavor of martial arts comes with some philosophical content that I personally perceive as religious (though my sensei, who is an atheist to the bone, does not).  I have ended up agreeing with her to quietly sit out certain responsive readings which conflict with my main religion, and I work with the rest of it.  I don’t know that I’d call myself a believer, but I’m certainly a practicioner.

    I don’t find a great many things to be contrary to my Paganism.  But I flatly drew the line at a responsive reading which urged us to purge all dark, negative, or sorrowful emotions from our lives.  So we have an agreement that I pick my own readings when it’s my turn to read, and I can avoid ones like that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I was kind of thinking of it as this Shinto ceremony feels appropriate for this occasion and that Buddhist ceremony feels appropriate for that occasion and the person who does both as a matter of course isn’t really Shinto or really Buddhist but a sort of Shinto-Buddhist hybrid. But being able to be two distinct things at once makes sense, and also the above is me trying to label people who don’t want any of my labeling, isn’t it.

  • Ben English

    For years I’ve seen Bill O’Reilly take some of his more wingnut guests to task for arguing ‘Bible, therefore Law’ by pointing out the establishment clause. He opposes gay marriage but appeals to it based on ‘tradition’ which is, of course, code for “I’m comfortable in my privilege and wealth and fear change.”

    But… every year at Christmas time, it’s like any modicum of reasonable thought just abandons him. What is it about Nativity scenes and Christmas trees that makes him forget his stances through the other eleven months?

  • Makabit

    Moreover, they want Islam to be in the same boat, except it experiences the drawbacks of both conditions, and none of the benefits of either.

  • Tricksterson

    No wonder they supported Quantum Mitt then.

  • PatBannon

    The theory being, why not? Might as well, if you have the ability to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WingedWyrm Charles Scott

    Bare in mind that Scalia had argued that defaulting to crosses for graves didn’t violate the seperation of Church and State because crosses weren’t a religious symbol, but just a symbol of graves.  In a previous article, there was a discussion on how “In God We Trust” was accepted as a National motto for the US and survived challenge merely because it was reasoned to be so pervasive throughout society and so repeated that the phrase had become meaningless.

    When is a religion not a religion?  When it is so pervasive and so engrained into your own world that you do not comprehend that people who don’t share your faith truly exist.  And, when someone threatens that, it’s a war on your belief system.

  • Lori

     

    What is it about Nativity scenes and Christmas trees that makes him forget his stances through the other eleven months?   

    Ratings.

    The old folks that make up the majority of the Fox audience are the only ones who can remember a time when Christmas displays on public property were considered perfectly normal* and they love to complain about how Those People are ruining Our Country by making it not like The Good Old Days. Bill O figured out a few years ago that his core audience really like a big old outrage hit to go along with their eggnog and he’s been riding his War of Christmas hobby horse all the way to the bank every year since then.

    *One of my favorite scenes in Charlie Wilson’s War is the one where the good old boy from his district gets a meeting with Wilson to complain that his town is being sued by the ACLU for putting up a nativity scene on public property (I can’t remember exactly where, either City Hall of the fire station I think) and he wants Wilson to fix that for him. Charlie points out that the town has some ridiculous number of churches and that they need to movie the nativity to one of them and just let it go. I wish I could find the clip online because it’s amusing.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Syncretist traditions are always interesting. :)

  • ReverendRef

     I was thinking more along the lines of banging my head against it.  But maybe writing something might help as well.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani Sharmin

    To make sense of this, understand that O’Reilly and Staver are both trying to justify Christian privilege. They want the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to apply to Christianity, and exclusively to Christianity (and maybe Jews, too, if they behave). And they want the no establishment clause of the First Amendment to apply to every religion except for Christianity.

    This, exactly. In addition, there’s a significant amount of time spent on trying to explain why Christianity is so very different from all the other religions (sometimes exaggerating the differences) to justify this special treatment for it. So, if they want to say that freedom of religion only applies to Christianity, since Islam is political, then all the stuff in the Bible that has politics, rules, and laws gets ignored. If they want to say that Christianity should be allowed to influence government, they’ll talk about how Christianity has had historical influence, has certain parts that are respected by other religions, etc. as if that isn’t true about other religions as well.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    Whenever I see an Islamophobe claim that Islam isn’t a religion, I wonder why their listeners don’t immediately Godwin the discussion:

    “Argument 1: “You say that religion is a private matter. But you
    fight against the Jewish religion!”
    Counterargument: “Actually,
    the Jewish religion is nothing other than a doctrine to preserve the Jewish
    race.” (Adolf Hitler). – Kurt Hilmar Eitzen, “Zehn Knüppel wider
    die Judenknechte” (Ten Responses to Jewish Lackeys), 1936

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

     In response to a complete dismissal by Fox’s resident Catholic Priest, Bill reluctantly conceded that christianity was a religion and a philosophy.

  • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

    Agreed. And choking is a lot more likely if we not-so-secretly replace his cake’s flour with cement. That ought to take care of it.

    I’d love to see someone at IRS or FCC or wherever grab onto this and refuse to let go of it until either there are Consequences to O’Reilly or he makes a humiliating, extensively-detailed and -self-incriminating apology. Progressives are used to getting smacked down; blowhards like Billy O, not so much. Somebody really needs to run some karma over all the rabid dogma out there.

  • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

    The dangerous part is that they’re most certain that they know what they in fact do not know because it’s provably false… and the longer that people and institutions take them seriously, the deeper trouble we’re all in.

  • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

    As organised opposition to same, I propose The League to Free Schrödinger’s Cat. People with enough intelligence and education to get the joke ought to at least do a double-take and potentially get interested, and the Fox viewers will get a free laugh. Everybody wins!

  • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

    So, given that I’m never ever going to even seriously consider inflicting the kids’ series on myself, how did that character define a religion? “Belief in some magical God-that-isn’t-God that makes you do crazy things?” That’d be too close to home for a lot of people — in any religion, but especially Republicanism, I would think.

  • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

    Take a nice soft pillow with you, Rev. O’Reilly already does enough violence to our brains…

  • http://www.seven-sigma.com/ Jeff Dickey

    ISTR someone making a serious effort to organise a “religion”, or at least a 501(c)(3) “study” gravy train, around Jar Jar Binks.

    (It’s going to take me days to wipe that voice out of the back of my mind now.)

  • Cathy W

    …and yet even in The Good Old Days of the 1970s, my hometown had a big light up sign that said “Happy Holidays” on the roof of city hall, visible from the freeway. Am I not thinking old enough? Or is it just that as the Fox audience gets older, they’re more willing to believe that the past was what BillO says it was?


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