We Don’t Know What We Are Talking About When We talk about Religion

Another pointed article from Nassim Nicholas Taleb. My view as follows. It is correct to say that any attempt to define religion is a problematic enterprise. For a start, Judaism strictly speaking, is not a religion in the same sense that Christianity is. Christianity historically, turns on belief as the criterion of identity, an emphasis on a theology. Being a Jew is to belong to a group – beliefs are secondary. A.J. Toynbee’s search for a common essence, a statement of necessary and sufficient conditions across all religions, was doomed to failure. We are dealing with a Wittgensteinian family resemblance concept; the idea that there are overlapping similarities, typical features, between a variety of things by virtue of which we bring them under the heading of “religion.” Religion is a blending of intellectual, experiential, ritualistic, aesthetic and the institutional. Of course, for many the defining mark of religion is that there is some altered state of consciousness that is often attributed to supernatural agency. If someone has a religion, we typically expect to find: (1) An acceptance of a set of propositions, a set of beliefs, about the nature of ultimate reality; (2) A certain specific emotion of awe and reverence; (3) A desire and yearning for a different condition of oneself in the light of (1); (4) A commitment to a way of life. Two immediate comments: First, the set of beliefs in (1) would normally be thought to include a belief in God. It might appear the height of paradox to say that there can be a godless religion. Buddhism is often accounted a religion but a Buddhist does not believe in this kind of God. Second, the way of life mentioned in (4) may include: (a) ritual, ceremonial prayer and worship etc. and, (b) an ethical code. Matthew Arnold’s definition of religion as “morality touched by emotion” is generally regarded as inadequate. I, however, consider it a good reading of (2) and (4). That religion as essentially a practice is noted by many. Indeed, on this view there can’t be any such thing as religious actions in the sense of actions embodying religious beliefs because what we refer to as religious beliefs are not really such. Put another way: if, for example, “sin” is a concept without an objective correlate – if the concept and “beliefs” involving it don’t correspond to anything in the natural or supernatural world – there can’t be any sinful actions. No ontological inventory will include sin or actions embodying it. On the other hand, a person plainly can act sinfully, and be judged by others to do so, relative to practical commitments and attitudes. Some religions, for instance, stress conformity with the regulations of religious law in (4) rather more than others. Note, the ethical element is far from trouble-free. For example, are certain kinds of action good because God wills and commands them, as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham held, or does God will and command them because they are good, as Aquinas held?

IYIs, being naive and label driven, would have a different attitude towards Salafis if theirs was labelled as a political movement, similar to Nazism, with their dress code an expression of such beliefs. Banning burkinis may become palatable for them if it were made similar to banning swastikas: these people you are defending, young IYI, will deprive you of all the rights you are giving them, should they ascend to power and would force your spouse to wear a burkini.