When is a religion not a religion?

When is a religion not a religion? December 10, 2012

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.

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  • Nicanthiel

    It’s usually fundie-speak for “Catholics (and often mainstream Protestants) aren’t really Christians because they don’t have a personal relationship with Jeebus like  we [we = X tiny denomination of fundie Protestants that speaker belongs to] do. They’re a ‘religion,’ just going through the motions.”

  • Carstonio

     That would have gone over my head – I might have assumed that most Christians would say they have that relationship.

  • LL

    Yeah, this. 

  • Lori

    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?  

    I think it’s mostly this, combined with differences in where people grew up and therefore what they see as “normal”.  Some places never really went in for the creche on the city hall lawn and other places did.

    In spite of what the wingers are now trying to sell, “Happy Holidays” is not some new thing, invented by evil multi-culti liberals to dis the baby Jesus. It’s not only been around for a long time, it used to be totally fine with them. It was simply an acknowledgement that the holiday season has more than one holiday, which is true even for fundies since New Year’s come for us all.

  • Hellboy

    Judging from the words spoken by Bill O’Reilly and Jason Bethke; Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a cult that redefines words like for PR and political purposes.

  • Hellboy

     Dammit, strike the word “like” from that.

    I should do a better job of re-reading before I hit “post.”

  • Tricksterson

    I thnik most religions are syncretist.  it’s just that some admit it and some don’t.  But then I was raised Catholic (sort of, my family was itself a case study of syncretiam in action) so I had a front row seat to the worlds largest Syncretist religion-in-denial.

  • Tricksterson

    I believe the way it was phrased was “Religion is man reaching out (or up) to God, Christianity God reaching out (or down) to man.”  Make of that what you will.

  • Tricksterson

    I believe “jedi” os a registered religion in Britain.

  • Tricksterson

    “It’s not only been around for a long time, it used to be totally fine with them.”

    No!  We have always been at war with Eastasia!

    Does anyone else remember back in the 60s, a similar kerfuffle being raised about the use of “Xmas”?

  •  My father often says that it seems to him that in his memories of growing up, there was a lot more religious tolerance back in his childhood than there seems to be now — that people did not assume someone was unpatriotic or untrustworthy if they happened to be muslim or atheist or whatnot.

    I think my father is wrong about this in a nostalgia-filtery kind of sense, but I think that while wrong, he’s *close* to right. By which I mean that what he’s actually remembering is a time when the cultural hegemons felt secure enough in their privelege that they didn’t feel the need to turn everything into a culture war. It was okay if they said “Happy holidays” because they knew that “holidays” meant “Christmas. But we’ll throw a bone to the Jews too because we’re feeling generous”. And they didn’t have to get all up in arms if the muslims wanted to build a mosque, because they knew when they sent little Zazu to public school, her teacher was going to say that “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings” and it was a Christian angel they were talking about.

    They didn’t need to make a big show out of protecting their privilege, because they felt secure that the system would protect their privilege for them.

  • AnonymousSam

    Oxygen deprivation. His brain starts to starve because he can’t stop howling about the War On Christmas.

  • Does anyone else remember back in the 60s, a similar kerfuffle being raised about the use of “Xmas”?

    Oh, lord, I remember this back in the late 80s or early 90s. Someone wrote a letter to the editor, as I recall, bloviating about the whole “X-mas isn’t the REAL Christmas” deal because ZOMG AN X.

    (it really did boil down to almost that ridiculous of an argument although I’m obviously paraphrasing)

  • Tricksterson

    Yes, I remember my insane grandmother defining it as a Protestant plot (along with the use of “Holy Ghost” instead of “Holy Spirit” and the different way of making the sign of the cross) as way of seducing and corrupting Catholics.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Well, ‘tmas’ wouldn’t suit, too many fonts have the little side bit at the bottom of the vertical bar, and also it doesn’t look like a proper noun should but a capital T doesn’t have any vertical bar above the crossbar.

  • The part that amazes me now, looking back, is the idea that a common culturally accepted shorthand for a secularized holiday should be a cause for pearl-clutching fainting-couch concern.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    That would have gone over my head – I might have assumed that most Christians would say they have that relationship.

    “Personal relationship with Jesus” and “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and saviour” are particularly evangelical phrases.

  • Our Founding Fathers Drew a Line
    in the Sand


    The Declaration of Independence begins
    with a preamble under the heading ‘The Unanamous Declaration of the
    Thirteen States of America,’ and continues, “When in the
    Course of human events, It becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the
    political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the
    powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of Nature
    and of Nature’s God…”, the Lord Jesus Christ, “…entitle
    them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should
    declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”


    Said preamble needs now in our time at the helm of our ship of
    state to be amended by the following sentiments inserted after the words ‘which
    have connected them with another’ by extending the wording to address
    the enemy we face today, the murderous cult of Islam, and read as follows:
    ‘…which have connected them with another even to the degree of tolerating
    intolerable ideological or religious beliefs which have and do define
    themselves through the actions of adherents to such beliefs as the enemy of the
    liberty which with we are endowed by our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.


    Since the murderous cult of Islam has throughout its history and
    does today explicitly hold to doctrines of world domination and the dhimmitudinization of
    non-Muslims, ‘We the People’ must recognize that those values
    espoused in the teachings of Islam are incompatible with a free society and
    that the murderous cult of Islam cannot – must not – be tolerated in the United
    States of America or any of her territories.


    It was the contention of the signers of The Declaration of
    Independence in recognizing the entitlement of separate and equal
    station availed by the laws of Nature and Nature’s God, the Lord Jesus Christ,
    unto a free nation that any such nation’s citizens should rightly exercise the
    action of decently respecting the opinions of mankind in the Course of human
    events by declaring the causes which impelled them towards separation from – In
    the trial of their time -Great Britain.


    Americans today should as well decently respect the opinions of
    mankind in the Course of human events and declare as we face the trial of our
    time—the world-wide expansion of the murderous cult of Islam, an enemy as
    insurmountable in its dimensions as Great Britain seemed unto our Founding
    Fathers—the causes which impel us now unto the separation from and the
    rejection and exclusion of the murderous cult of Islam.


    America must determine to defeat Islam. Nothing short of unconditional
    surrender will suffice for to permit Islam participation within a
    society is an invitation for the viral spread of the murderous cult which holds
    fundamentally to aspirations of world domination under a one-world Islamic


    Holding the truths which are self-evident as did our founding
    fathers denies the toleration of any encroachment upon those same truths by
    erroneous ideologies which deny the Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, from Whom
    we are endowed with ‘certain unalienable Rights.’ The truth
    that ‘…all men are Created equal, that they are endowed by their
    Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and
    the pursuit of Happiness’ rings familiar and true in the hearts of
    all those who would call themselves Americans. Those words are the very
    tintinnabulation resounding for generations within ‘We the People’ of
    the United States of America of the Spirit of ’76’, the American Spirit of
    Liberty, revered and saluted symbolically in America’s Liberty Bell which,
    though cracked and silent, still loudly rings in the hearts of all those who
    assent to the truth that all men are, in fact, endowed by their Creator with
    certain unalienable rights.


    The Declaration of Independence continues, “That
    to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their
    just powers from CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED, –that whenever any Form of
    Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to
    alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on
    such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem
    most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will
    dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light or
    transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are
    more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves
    by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. BUT WHEN A LONG TRAIN OF


    The freedom of religion determined by and for ‘We the
    People’ in the First Amendment to the Constitution needs
    not be extended unto adherents to the murderous cult of Islam for the
    words ‘When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing
    invariably the same object…’ are a working definition for
    Islam’s doctrinal strategy – that is to say, ‘design’ – of DHIMMITUDE.


    Islam advances an invariable pursuit of an object: namely, a
    one-world Islamic Caliphate, and evinces a design to reduce America under the
    absolute despotism of Sharia. It is our right and our duty to throw
    off and throw out such a murderous cult as Islam as sure as it would be to
    throw off any government that would arise which so clearly met the description
    of that government our Founding Fathers chose to give us warning.


    It is our duty to provide a ‘New Guards’ for
    our future security: a new, legal, legitimate president who will lead us in the
    war in which we are engaged with the murderous cult of Islam.


    Our enemy, Islam, reduces all non-Muslims unto the status of dhimmi;
    a status with no rights under the absolute despotism of Sharia law.



    The words written to protect America from abuses and usurpations
    by an hypothetical derelict American government apply equally, indeed
    more so, as instruction as how to proceed against any foreign enemy which
    meets the description in the warning from our Founding Fathers so precisely as
    does the murderous cult of Islam.


    Islam is not just a religion. It is a cultural
    mandate unto every dimension of a society antithetical to the American
    experiment in ‘government of the People, by the People and for the
    People.’ It is the right and the duty of those who would defend the
    Constitution and American Liberty to exclude the murderous cult of Islam from
    the religious freedoms bought with the blood and toil of Americans and throw
    out of our country adherents to such a murderous cult which espouses an agenda
    of world domination through terror.


    America must expel all Muslims who advance any dimension of
    cultural jihad in order to guard her future security
    and she needs now to terminate any further immigration of adherents to Islam.


    If we do not take this drastic step now future generations of
    Americans shall suffer the same fate as the citizens of all non-Muslim
    countries where Islam has conquered in its recorded history. Future generations
    of Americans shall have to take up the fight under far worse conditions wherein
    the murderous cult shall have entrenched itself more deeply within our borders.






    No free society should tolerate Islam.


    America must determine to defeat her enemy and demand nothing less
    than unconditional surrender.


    History clearly illustrates that compromise with the murderous
    cult of Islam inevitably leads to subjugation.


    Please watch the 9 minute
    and 26 second YouTube video ‘Four Stages of Islamic Conquest’
    published on July 20, 2012 by libertyLSA.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So you wanna explain how you know that the author of the Declaration–the same guy who cut all the supernatural bits out of the Book of Matthew–meant ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ when he said ‘Nature’s God’?

    And take the anti-Islam bullshit elsewhere. We are not having any.

  • Gen. Douglas McArthur marched the Emperor of Japan at the point of a bayonett to a microphone where the emperor announced over the radio to the people of Japan that he was not a God. At that moment the deification of the Japanese emperor along with the religion constructed around his deification, Shinoism, effectively ceased to exist.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, that, that obviously explains how on my sister’s trip to Japan a couple years ago the Shinto shrine she visited was all alive and active and shit, not dissimilar in that respect to the Catholic church she attends at home.

    I don’t know jack shit about the history of Shinto in Japan particularly as pertaining to WWII. I certainly don’t know whether the incident you describe ever happened. Hell, I can’t be bothered looking up whether Shinto folk consider their emperor a god at all, and if so, whether that applies before he dies or only afterwards. None of which matters just now, because these people did certainly know that emperors die and that sharp pointy things kill. IF this incident happened and IF Shinto folk consider living emperors gods, I’m betting that the reason Shinto didn’t collapse on the spot (aside from, y’know, thousands of years of history and many other deities and spirits and holidays and traditions) is that THE JAPANESE PEOPLE KNEW THE EMPEROR WAS LYING IN ORDER TO AVOID BEING KILLED ON THE SPOT.

  •  Shame on you.

  • Tricksterson

    That’s not answering the question.

  • Tricksterson

    They used to.  MacArthur did not “march him at the point of a bayonet”.  His declaration of nongodhood was however a feature of the treaty.  Shinto is primarily pantheistic believing that every tree, rock, etc has a divine spirit within it.  Some spirits however are more equal than ohters  The Emperors were   considered to be directly descended from Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, I remembered the descended from Amaterasu bit, but divinity before death doesn’t necessarily follow. The relevant point remains that Shinto is alive and well and has recovered from any injury dealt it circa WWII if indeed such injury was ever inflicted.

  • fraser

     Well we’ve had far more acts of terrorism committed by right-to-life Christians than we have by Muslims. So presumably we should kick Christianity out too.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s not terrorism. You know it can’t be terrorism because it was conservative white folks done it.

  • Victor


    (((That’s not terrorism. You know it can’t be terrorism because it was conservative white folks done it.)))Sarcasm! Right EllieMurasaki?Hey Folks! Victor figured that out for himself cause we 92% gods didn’t say a word!Does that mean that there might be some hope for (U>S) sinner vic? :)Peace

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     In the words of Ivan Stang, “They DON’T mean well, and they AREN’T stupid.”