A RELIGIOUS NON-COMBATANT
For some reason, when some folks discover I’m a humanist, they seem to think I want to argue about religion. I don’t want to argue about religion. As far as I’m concerned, religion is a lot like bingo: you’re interested or you’re not. Some people grow up in families or communities that virtually require interest. Some develop an interest for one reason or another.
Some, like me, were interested once upon a time due to circumstance but lose the interest as they mature or move to other places. Others just don’t see bingo.
I really don’t want to argue about religion any more than I want to play another bingo game. But, like bingo, I understand that religion is a thing for a lot of people. Bingo and religion—they’re categories.
IT’S A GAME
The twentieth century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein thought a lot about language and how it works. To get a handle on how we think in language, Wittgenstein considered this whole category that we call “games:” Bingo. Chess. Tennis. Tic Tac Toe. Baseball. And on . . . We understand that all these games fall under the general category “games,” but what do they all have in common? How do we know that bingo and basketball are both games?
After all, some games we play with a pencil; some we play with a ball. Some we play with those tiddlywinks things. For some games we wear particular sorts of clothing.
Some play games for fun; some play games for a living. What do all games have in common?
Well, so, “games” is an abstraction, isn’t it? We can even find what we might call an “essence” of games, perhaps. That’s another thing Wittgenstein tried to figure out: what, if anything, is the essence of “games.”
Over time I’ve tried to solve Ludwig’s conundrum concerning what all games have in common. For my money, the philosopher Bernard Suits got closest. Suits has been called the “gamer’s philosopher.” He defines games as, “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” Allow me to repeat that: “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”
BINGO EXISTS AND THIS IS WHAT IT REQUIRES OF YOU
What can we make of the category called “religion”? Wittgenstein avoided that one. But it’s what I get paid to do. (I don’t get paid to argue about it.) So, I ask: what is the essence of the category “religion”?OK, here goes: Religions tend to make truth claims; truth claims such as—“god exists and this is what god wants . . .” But that doesn’t sum up the category “religion” does it?
Ask some, and you’ll hear about the category “religion” requires one god or another. Others will say that some sort of truth claim concerning the supernatural is required. Yet, some religions, like Buddhism, for instance, don’t make claims about gods or the supernatural. Well . . . what do we make of that?
Might Bernard Suits be on the right track with his definition of games, “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”? The category “religion” might be described as something like “the voluntary attempt to overcome inevitable obstacles . . .”
Life, like golf, has it’s sandpits, right? And tiddlywinks has its . . . tiddles.
Perhaps Ludwig Wittgenstein did have something to say about religion, despite himself, however. He did say this:
One could say “every view has its charm,” but that a would be false. The correct thing to say is that every view is significant for the one who sees it as significant (but that does not mean, “sees it other than it is.” Indeed, in this sense, every view is equally significant. (“Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough,” emphasis added.)
Oh, dear. Ludwig is getting seriously close to relativism there, isn’t he? But here’s the thing: bingo is significant to me if I see it as significant, correct? And, like religion, some people are required to play particular games, like it or not. (Volition is the hole in the definition that B. Suits offers—a Western and class bias.)
Which is my point—religions, like games, are a matter of taste, at least for the fortunate ones on our shared planet. Why wouldn’t they be? How couldn’t they be?